Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara – 2023 Living & Visiting Comparison

Do you have a hard time deciding where to move to or travel between Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara? We get it. It’s a hard choice, considering these two beautiful cities in California are quite similar. They are both beachfront cities situated on a south-facing section of the California coastline. 

Their favorable climate makes them popular resorts and tourist destinations to visit all year round. But it also makes these cities fantastic places to settle and live your best life.  Let’s not forget about their relative proximity to Los Angeles as well. 

But, we all know that beauty stands in the details. Every town has its unique aspects that may persuade you, ultimately, to bet boldly on Santa Monica or Santa Barbara. If you are curious about these details, make sure you read through our detailed guide, where we break down the most important differences.

Depending on your lifestyle and desires, we researched the main aspects of these two attractive Californian cities that give you better insights into what makes each of them unique. These include:

  • Climate
  • Cost of Living
  • Job Market
  • Things to Do for Travelers
  • Things to Do for Residents
  • Culture

Let’s dive straight into a more detailed overview of today’s comparison study of these two magnificent cities, Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara.

1. Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara – Overview

Santa Monica, California

As a quick overview, Santa Monica is located in western Los Angeles County and has a population of about 90,000 people. Thanks to its proximity to Los Angeles, the city became a renowned resort town by the early 20th century, with many celebrities building beachfront houses on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Santa Barbara, California

When it comes to Santa Barbara, the population difference is not great. The city has about 88,000 people. But, it offers a diverse economy with a large service sector, education, health care, technology, and others.

When referring to Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara in terms of walkability and bikeability, Walk Score gives us the following results:

  • Santa Monica – Walkability: 83
  • Santa Barbara – Walkability: 61
  • Santa Monica – Bikeability: 88
  • Santa Barbara – Bikeability: 68

Santa Barbara has some walkable neighborhoods like Downtown, Lower State, and Lower East, and is somewhat bikeable. 

But, Santa Monica offers excellent walkability, has good public transportation, and is very bikeable. So, if you are thinking about leaving your car and living a more green and active lifestyle, then Santa Monica should be your choice. 

On our latest ranking of the best areas to live in California, Santa Monica didn’t make our list, while Santa Barbara got 5th place.

2. Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara – Climate

Does the climate matter when comparing Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara? We know that both cities are pretty hot, but not overbearing. 

Santa Monica’s climate is a coastal Mediterranean, with an average of 310 days of sunshine a year. The highest temperatures tend to be reached in September, while the hot, dry winds of the Santa Anas are common in the winter season.

Santa Barbara’s climate is a warm-summer Mediterranean climate and was ranked as the number 1 weather in the United States. Thanks to its position, the city has moderate temperatures resulting in warmer winters and cooler summers.

Are you looking for snow or heavy rains? Sorry to disappoint you, but you will not experience either in Santa Monica or Santa Barbara. Instead, these are perfect places for sun lovers and continuous warmth.

3. Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara – Cost of Living


Moving to a new city like Santa Monica or Santa Barbara requires some valuable information about their cost of living. And honestly, you need some extra cash to live in one of these areas. 

The overall price index shows that living in Santa Monica is 19.9% more expensive than in Santa Barbara

The biggest difference lies in housing, with a 31.6% difference between these two cities. Considering the area, the home values exceed the national average about four times. The average price for homes in Santa Monica reaches up to $1.9 million, while in Santa Barbara, it is about $1.4 million.

Overall, if you consider moving to one of these two cities, make sure you have the money for that, as costs are pretty high.

4. Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara – Job Market

The job market in Santa Monica follows a positive trend, with an average salary of $74,534. The unemployment rate is higher than the national average, at a rate of 7.9% compared to 6.0%. However, the wages there are also higher, which is a great plus and is logical considering the prices.

On the other hand, the job market in Santa Barbara has had a growth of 2.7% in the past 10 years and has almost half the unemployment than in Santa Monica.

So when comparing the job market in Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara, it may look like the latter has a slight advantage, though not by much.

5. Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara – Things to Do for Travelers

Santa Monica Pier

As one of the leading resorts and tourist destinations in California, Santa Monica offers everything you could wish for. If you’re an active person, you can choose from mountain bike tours, hiking trails, helicopter tours, surfing, and many others.

Or, maybe you would like to visit some galleries, go on some historical tours, or take a private tour of Los Angeles, where you can see the famous Hollywood neighborhood. Sounds awesome!

How about things to do in Santa Barbara? Here you will find slightly different activities. Though you can also choose from things like hiking or mountain bike tours, Santa Barbara has some of the best wineries and vineyards, culinary and gourmet tours, historical sites, and other cultural places.

Now, it’s up to you which one you like the most.

6. Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara – Things to Do for Residents

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

Let’s shift our focus and move on to the things to do for residents. After all, choosing to live in Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara requires additional details. Santa Monica is a lively city, with great views and inviting people. One thing you’ll see here is the numerous multi-million dollar mansions.

Though it’s a small city, one big pro is its proximity to Los Angeles, as you can reach downtown LA in about 20 minutes. So, living in Santa Monica and working in LA is not a problem. 

Another thing is the high quality of the public education system. If you want your kids to study in some of the best schools, Santa Monica is the right destination for living. 

Besides, let’s not forget that there are some of the best beaches in the USA nearby and you can always enjoy good dining options.

When comparing Santa Barbara’s way of life, the two cities are very similar. You can mainly find the same pros and cons. 

In Santa Barbara, there is a high cost of living, which corresponds to the lifestyle. Another thing is the tourists, which may bother residents a bit. 

7. Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara – Culture

On the cultural side, comparing Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara is not so difficult. Both cities offer a mix of cultural activities and places to enjoy, like mountains and beaches, arts and entertainment, luxury events, art galleries, theatres, music centers, and much more. 

There are not many things you can not find in both cities. But if you do, think about it as an opportunity to start.

Speaking of differences, Santa Monica’s specifics include the proximity to LA and Hollywood and outdoor activities. While Santa Barbara focuses on tours, historic sites, wineries and vineyards, and other similar activities.

Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara – Summary

Let’s face it, choosing between Santa Monica vs Santa Barbara is not like choosing between day and night. Both cities are comparable and offer similar experiences, both in terms of living and visiting. 

Now, it’s up to you to choose the best fit for your lifestyle. Overall, whether you pick Santa Monica or Santa Barbara, these are two of the best cities to live in in the USA.