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Santa Barbara Courthouse

Santa Barbara, California, United States


The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is an exceptionally beautiful courthouse, with a sunken garden, and a tower with 360 degree views of the ocean, city, and mountains.
From the moment you enter the courthouse from Anacapa Street, you are treated to the finest in art and architecture. There stands the fountain, Spirit of the Ocean, made by an Italian sculptor. Look above the archway next to you and see the sculpture of the goddess of agriculture on the right and the goddess of justice on the left. Next walk through the elegant archway to the sunken gardens. They are filled with deep green grass, plush pines, and palms from all over the world, some extinct in their native regions. There's the Chilean wine palm that is endangered in Chile because its sap is used to make palm honey. There's the Blue Hesper Palm, near the center of the gardens, with its blue-green leaves and long arching spikes. There's the Senegal Date Palms, near the stairway to your right, short thin palms that suggest a hot West African day. Weeping Cabbage Palms from Australia stand to your left.
Immediately across from you, see the jailhouse. Notice how the architecture in the courthouse is purposely asymmetrical in many places. The jailhouse windows are a classic example of this. The three rectangular windows at the top belonged to the men's exercise room. In the corner by the jailhouse notice the spiky Canary Island Date Palm. How majestic the palms and architecture are at the courthouse! You can hardly take in all the beauty! Walk around the gardens or sit on the many sets of stairs to take in the green around you.
Next, for amazing views, enter the courthouse and take the elevator to the top. Peer through the gorgeous white archways at the beaches lined with palms, the thin strip of blue sea, the red-tiled roofs all around you, and upper Santa Barbara, which is dotted with gorgeous cathedrals. Plaques label the buildings for you.
On your way up to the top you will encounter the clock gallery. It's an amazing place to stop a while and watch the intricate workings of the clock and bells. Come on the hour at 1pm or 2pm and you can watch the hammers hit the bells one by one. The deep blue art in this room is exquisite, as are the Spanish benches. Try to time your visit so you can come when the clock gallery is open, which is from 1-2pm on Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday.
Take the elevator down to the second floor and have a look at the mural room. Note the ceiling decorated with Zinc and Copper alloy. The designs are Moorish. When Ferdinand and Isabella took over Spain from the Moors, they kept the Moorish artists so that they would beautify Spain. That is how Moorish aesthetics found their way into Spanish architecture. Their influence is found throughout the courthouse. Near the mural room are the stairs. Notice the colorful tilework from Tunisia in this area! The tiles are handmade and each is slightly different. Look up at the ceiling above the stairs and notice the Jewish designs from Spain. Behind you, notice the Christian rose window and the angels painted above. As you walk down the halls, you walk on tile made in Seville, Spain. Notice some archways are pointed and some are curved. And see the pretty lanterns.
The courthouse was built in 1927 following the major earthquake that turned downtown to rubble. Its walls are hollow and it was built with wire and concrete, not wood. The "wood" you see in the ceiling beams is actually concrete.
Everything in the courthouse is symbolic. There is the cockle shell arch that symbolizes St James. There are paintings of early Santa Barbara, including the lovely one of a marriage taking place at the Casa De La Guerra.
Two places that are often overlooked are so lovely you mustn't miss out! There's the law library upstairs. Stroll inside it and see the star-studded pale blue vaulted ceiling! Then there's the Hall of Records, which you enter on Anapamu Street, near the Anacapa Street corner. You will be wowed by the copper door outside and the ceiling inside. Walk through it and out the exit door and you come to a little exit ramp with gorgeous architecture above you. Wow, they excelled themselves when they made the courthouse!
Take the tour- it's short (45 minutes) and it's fascinating! Usually I don't like to get stuck in a tour but this one is worth it! Pick up a brochure of the sunken gardens for 50 cents at the booth across from the elevator. It has a map that shows all the wonderful plants in the garden.
Across Anacapa Street from the Courthouse is the back entrance to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, a small museum with a late 19th century European collection, an Asian art collection, and great temporary exhibits.
Near the back entrance to the art museum is the entrance to La Arcada, a Spanish arcade with colorful flags, sculptures, historical buildings, and magic everywhere! You can eat here at a cafe if you're hungry, or grab something quick at Jeannine's Bakery.
For more Santa Barbara history, walk south two blocks to El Presidio and Raffour House and do a walking tour of your own, similar to the red tile tour the tourist office offers.
To be where the action is, head a block west to State Street and shop, eat, listen to musicians, or people watch.

Photo Gallery

The jailhouse and sunken gardens, as seen from the tower.

Red-tile roof of the courthouse.

Spirit of the Ocean fountain is dry now, during the drought.

Looking back on the courthouse from the gardens.

Rose window.

Ceiling above the stairs.

Hall Of Record's copper door.

An amazing tree.

Courthouse from Santa Barbara Street.

Incredibly cute offices at the courthouse.

Sandstone bricks, arches, stained glass, lantern...

View from the tower: Alameda Park, the mission, the mountains.

View of the sunken gardens, Santa Barbara's Upper-East side, the Riviera, and the Santa Ynez mountains as seen from the Courthouse tower.

Oh, sweet Santa Barbara...

The courthouse is lit beautifully at night- it reminds me of buildings in European cities.

Looking up at one of the balconies.

The clock gallery, where you can stand and watch the intricate workings of the clock and bells.

Spanish benches in the clock gallery.

People relax on the lawn at lunchtime- what a life!

The ironwork railing at the top of the courthouse.

Tropical trees and bell tower.

Stunning tree!

The south side of the building.

Adorable turret!

Purple flowers.

Bird of Paradise flower.

Tree with knobby trunk.

Gorgeous shapes and high heights.

The old jail.

Purple wisteria, in early March- amazing!

Blue tiled bench.

Magnolia, delightful in early March.

Magnolia petals everywhere!

A lovely carving.

Pretty lantern and gold artwork.

The old courtroom, where weddings are now held.

Lantern with star at base.

Hallway with ironwork gate.

At the top of the courthouse- a wonderful place with 360 degree views!

A wedding at the courthouse.

Merman sculpture.

Looking past the red roof to the sea.

Views from the top of the courthouse on an amazing clear day.


This is an interactive map, you can zoom and move it.

The courthouse is on the corner of Anacapa Street and Anapamu Street, at 1100 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara CA 93101.
Exit Highway 101 at Carrillo Street. If coming from the 101 northbound, turn right. If southbound, turn left. At the fourth street, Chapala Street, turn left. Go two blocks and turn right on Anapamu Street. Turn right on Anacapa Street and pull into the driveway for the parking lot immediately on your right.
Parking costs $1.50 an hour. The first 75 minutes are free.
Courthouse hours are Mon-Fri 8-5, Sat and Sun 10-4:30pm. The clock gallery is open from 1-2pm on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
Free tours are at 10:30am on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday; and 2pm every day but Sunday.
Admission is free.
Call (805) 962-6464.
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