5 Iconic Features of Santa Barbara's Architectural Identity

5 Iconic Features of Santa Barbara's Architectural Identity

Are you looking to infuse your home with the unmistakable charm of Santa Barbara's iconic Spanish architecture? From the allure of the red-tiled roofs to the timeless appeal of whitewashed walls, Santa Barbara embodies the essence of Spanish Colonial Revival. Discover how incorporating these five iconic features of Spanish architecture can seamlessly honor the rich heritage of Santa Barbara within the walls of your own home.


1. Red Tile Roof

Usually made from terracotta or slate, red roof tiles are a necessary component of Santa Barbara Spanish style architecture. Some noteworthy historic buildings in Santa Barbara with this feature include the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, Lobero Theatre, and El Presidio. This detail is easy to spot when looking for Spanish style buildings.

2. White Stucco

A white stucco exterior is another identifier for the City’s Spanish style. This textured material is a mix of water, cement, and sand or sometimes lime. While modern technology has made stucco a stronger, more durable material, we can’t deny the charm of an old Santa Barbara building with aged white stucco. You can find many houses on the Upper East and the foothills near the Mission. 

3. California / Drought Tolerant Plants

The Spanish style through history and even today is popular in hot, dry climates. Starting in Spain, where the climate is dry and hot, water heavy landscaping was not a good idea. From the beginning, drought tolerant plants for landscaping were the go-to for styling courtyards, terraces, and more. You can see examples of this landscaping throughout Santa Barbara, but my favorite way is to drive the 192 through Montecito. 

4. Ironwork

It’s common to see ironwork around windows along with intricate iron gates/fences. Since iron was less expensive than other metals in the past, it quickly became a popular material to create accents for buildings. One of our particular favorites is the iron chandeliers and railings at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. If you like a little flair on traditional spanish ironwork, make sure to check out any of Jeff Shelton’s buildings. His brother David Shelton has created incredible ironwork.

5. Tiles

Last, but not least, Spanish tiles are vital to the history of Santa Barbara's architecture. I'm not just talking Saltillo tiles, I'm talking bright and beautifully decorated ceramic tiles. In Spain, during the Medieval times, ceramic artisan tiles became popular, as they were made to decorate churches and mansions. These tiles have carried on since then, adding color and art wherever they're used. The next time you take the stairs in Paseo Nuevo near Chapala and De La Guerra(next to Eureka), check out the gorgeous mosaic tiles.


Living in Santa Barbara really is a treat for architecture enthusiasts! The city's streets are like a stroll through history, with charming Spanish influences everywhere, from the iconic red-tiled roofs to the whitewashed walls. Even after the 1925 earthquake shook things up, the rebuilding process birthed a beautiful fusion of Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean styles that make every corner feel like a work of art. 

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