Scouting Film Locations From Your Santa Barbara Vacation Rental

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Santa Barbara vacation rental guests are often curious about film locations, and with good reason. There are a lot of iconic Santa Barbara locations that crop up in movies and TV shows. Read on to find out why our fair city is the setting of choice for so many popular productions and how you can recognize and visit famous filming locations in and around the Santa Barbara area.

A lot of visitors feel a strong sense of familiarity or belonging the first time they explore Santa Barbara. We’re not going to discount anyone’s claims of psychic powers or a past life lived on America’s Riviera, but chances are more like that they’ve seen one of the over 200 different movies and TV shows filmed in whole or in part here over the last 100 years.

Don’t leave your vacation rental in search of locations made famous on the silver screen until you read the Santa Barbara Film Commission’s full list. You’ve probably seen at least one or more of these popular productions:

2009 It’s Complicated

2006 Pirates of the Caribbean III

2006 There Will Be Blood

2006 Psych

2006 The Bachelor

2006 Top Chef 2, Bravo

2005 Monk

2005 Oprah Winfrey Show

2004 Flight of the Phoenix

2004 Monster-in-Law

2004 Sideways

2003 Hidalgo

2003 Seabiscuit

2003 Sorority Life

2001 The X-files

2000 Bedazzled

1999 Double Jeopardy

1998 Star Trek: Insurrection

1996 The Long Kiss Goodnight

1996 G.I. Jane

1996 Face/Off

1995 Nixon

1994 A Walk in the Clouds

1994 Congo

1994 Young Indy/Hollywood Follies

1993 Pelican Brief

1990 Rocketeer

1984 Scarface

1980 The Postman Always Rings Twice

1978 The Frisco Kid

1967 The Graduate

1964 Batman pilot

1923 The Ten Commandments

1914 The Perils of Pauline

It’s Complicated

The most recent high-profile film to come out of our region was last year’s Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin romantic comedy It’s Complicated.

The film’s director Nancy Meyers chose Santa Barbara for a definite reason that any tourist or native film enthusiast will be able to relate to. In an interview with Santa Barbara Magazine, Meyers said that “Santa Barbara felt right for so many reasons – the natural beauty everywhere you look, the state of mind I feel when I’m there, the calm…It feels as close to the good life as you can get.”

It’s Complicated is a beautiful film that seems to show off our fair city to its finest advantage.

The operative word here is seems. Most of it was shot on a sound stage in Brooklyn in the middle of winter. Only three brief scenes were actually shot here.

  • There’s a scene where Jane is jogging through her Montecito neighborhood and her architect friend Adam pulls up in his car. This was actually filmed in her little burg, as you can tell from the unique wooden street signs. If you want to walk in Jane’s Montecito shoes stop by The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore, which may have been the inspiration for the hotel where Jane and her ex-husband had their aborted rendezvous.
  • When Jane lies in wait for her therapist at the fictional Santa Barbara Medical Center, she is actually lurking at the Anacapa Street back entrance of El Paseo, an outdoor Spanish-style shopping arcade.
  • While we have a dizzying array of Farmers Markets, the one Jane shops at was actually set designed for her outside the 1920s Spanish-Moorish style Santa Barbara County Courthouse on Anapamu Street.

Sadly, there is no such place as Jane’s luscious and comfy-looking business Village Bakery. The set was built inside Picnic House in Brooklyn. But hungry visitors will be able to find close facsimiles at Jeannine’s or Xanadu (temporarily closed until April, 2011 due to a fire) in Montecito or Renaud’s in downtown.


The wine-tasting buddy picture Sideways was a sensation when it was released in 2004. Filmed primarily in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley, it spawned a whole new appreciation for wines (just not Merlot!) from the area, and a cottage industry grew up around people who wanted to retrace the footsteps of the film’s questionable protagonists.

Fans of this movie often search for “the Sideways Map” which will lead you on a car tour through the movie’s highlights.. Many of the destinations even have a sign bearing the Sideways logo. If you want to travel by bike, the Sideways bike map will help you find the sites.

Different locations in Santa Barbara Proper

There are a lot of local locations that crop up in movies that aren’t even set in the area. This is because of the profusion of beautiful features in the area that blend so seamlessly into other locales.

  • Stearns Wharf is a 19th century landmark, located at the bottom of State Street. It is the oldest operating wharf on the west coast, and the second longest pier on the Pacific coast at just a hair under 2,000 feet. In the 1940s, actor James Cagney and his brothers were part owners of Stearns Wharf. It has appeared in A Date with Judy and My Favorite Martian and the 1966 version of Batman. “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
  • State Street features many familiar landmarks. It has appeared in the movies Cutter’s Way and Steal Big, Steal Little, among countless others.
  • The Old Town Clock at State and Haley streets was featured in The Pelican Brief.
  • Santa Barbara County Courthouse on Anacapa Street was also in Steal Big, Steal Little.
  • Mission Santa Barbara was in Sunset Boulevard and Cruel Intentions 3.

Different locations in the Greater Santa Barbara Area

There is so much more to this region than just the pretty red roofs of downtown. One of the reasons the region is so popular with filmmakers is its almost infinite variety.

  • Cold Spring Arch Bridge – Steal Big, Steal Little.
  • Lake Cachuma – The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • Gainey Vineyard – Seabiscuit and Of Mice & Men.
  • Downtown Los Olivos – Return to Mayberry.
  • Paradise Road – Seabiscuit and Star Trek Insurrection.
  • Gaviota Coast – Spartan.
  • Gaviota Trestle – Of Mice & Men.
  • Gaviota Tunnel – The Graduate.
  • Guadalupe Dunes – The Ten Commandments, Hidalgo, GI Jane, Pirates of the Caribbean III.
  • Santa Maria Airport – The Rocketeer and The Best Years of Our Lives.
  • La Purisima Mission – Seabiscuit.
  • Jalama Road – A Walk in the Clouds.
  • Surrounding Ranchland – Of Mice & Men.

Faking Santa Barbara

Sometimes a production may be set in Santa Barbara, but for whatever reason they can’t film there. In that case they may use a few stock footage-establishing shots, like the pier and tower seen in the TV series Psych.

In the movie I Love You, Man a wedding scene was supposed to have taken place at the fictional El Encanto Spa & Resort of Montecito. It was actually filmed at a private residence on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Sorry, a vacation rental concierge won’t be able to make you a reservation at El Encanto, but they’ll be able to find you a nice alternative!

Sometimes, scenes are shot with certain geographical liberties taken. In The Graduate, the scene of Benjamin driving south to Santa Barbara shows his car heading north through the Gaviota Tunnel, in the wrong direction. Even the church he banged on during the wedding was nowhere nearby. It is actually located in La Verne, east of Los Angeles.

Television Loves Santa Barbara

Moviemakers aren’t the only people infatuated with the area. Its glamour beckons on the little screen, too. Countless TV shows have been set in, had special episodes located in or just mentioned our name. There was even a nighttime drama in the ’80s called Santa Barbara.

More recently, our fair city has been featured or mentioned in episodes of Gossip Girl, Entourage, Victorious, Beverly Hills 90210, The L Word, Baywatch, Melrose Place, Privileged, L.A. Law, Zorro and Oceans Away.

Kind of Santa Barbara, but Not Really

Then there are the productions that are located in places that sound and look suspiciously like our lovely town, but are never overtly established as such. The television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a classic example.

Buffy’s hometown “Sunnydale” is described as being a coastal town, two hours north of Beverly Hills – check. Both towns are homes to branch campuses of the University of California. The architecture of Sunnydale looks very familiar. Both towns abut the Pacific Ocean, and suffered devastating earthquakes between the two world wars. Sunnydale was also described as being the home of the Chumash tribe who were indigenous to Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and many of the show’s establishing shots were of…you guessed it.

Most convincing of all is the fact that on several occasions throughout its seven-year run, characters used maps of Sunnydale that were in fact of…Santa Barbara. Now, we want to assure anyone staying in a vacation rental that there is no such thing as a hellmouth lurking under our utopian city. But you might want to bring a garlic necklace if you plan to wander around a lot after sunset.

Santa Barbara’s 100-Year History in the Movies

2010 marks the 100-year anniversary of a lively and thriving film presence in Santa Barbara. Starting in 1910 the Essanay Film Company made regular visits from Chicago in search of better weather and appropriate locations to shoot their wildly popular western genre short films. They were followed in July, 1912 by a permanent western branch of Flying “A” Studios, which was also looking for better weather and relief from the stranglehold of the Edison Trust in the east. They chose our town because they could find both urban and rural locations so close at hand.

Flying “A” took a big hit due to the combined effects of World War I, the flu pandemic and the beginning of the Great Depression. But we were already well established as a choice filming location. In 1923, Cecil B. DeMille shot The Ten Commandments on the sandscapes of Guadalupe (also used in Pirates of the Caribbean III), once again launching us back into the movie vanguard.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Coming up Next from Santa Barbara

The entertainment industry is alive and well here. Last June, the cast and crew of a new film called No Strings Attached set up shop at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church and The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore. Billed as a romantic comedy, the film stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher and is scheduled for release on January 21, 2011.

There are a lot of famous filming locations to visit. If you want to go out exploring on your own, offers three different itineraries that will lead you through the area, scoping out locations from some favorite high-profile films. And when you’re done for the day, you’ll have a Santa Barbara vacation rental to return home to, living a life the movie stars envy.

write by Nicole Putt

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