Except for the price, it's awesome.
I've lived in the city since coming her for university in 1980 (and my wife has been here since her early childhood ... 1967). We love it.
There has been change, both bad and good like most places. There has been some growth, but compared to sprawl in many other locations (like my hometown Riverside or anywhere in San Diego, county), it is actually fairly minor.
It is very expensive ... and for good reason. It is beautiful. Both the natural and built environment. Our weather is always comfortable. I wear shorts and flip-flops 90% of the time (just had some Canadian's who moved to town 4 years ago pointing out happily how the pleasant weather makes you soft). Someone who is from Miami that reviewed this city complained of it always being cold at night. I rarely am, even without a jacket. I suppose if you need a jacket in the 60's that's fair ... but a light jacket as opposed to oppressive humidity I would take any day. I think finding a light hoodie or sweater in the closet isn't that big of a deal. On the other end of the mercury, we start complaining that it is extremely hot when it hits the mid-80s. It's all perspective, but our mild-Mediterranean climate is hard to beat.
Due to a bit of orographic precipitation (mountain created ... we sit at the beach and look a few miles inland at a steep mountain front rising to 3000-4000' with nice hiking trails!) the hillsides stay fairly green (evergreen chaparral), but also around town we have beautiful, mature vegetation from all around the world. Lots of flowers year-round in well maintained gardens that if not drought tolerant (all the rage) are possibly fed by water from our revamped desalination plant (it's good water!)
While extremely expensive, those of us in the middle class (I am a teacher) who love this town can, with some good fortune and a fair bit of effort ... can you say "fixer upper", manage to live here. You just have to live very simply and treat the Santa Barbara region as your backyard since you probably won't have much of yard where you live.
Previous reviews both noted a lack of pretension and the opposite. I think it is the former. I have sat at youth soccer games watching the kids play along side hospital orderlies and famous movie stars. The very rich that have had us over for a meal, don't balk at our humble abode, when it is our turn to host. For a city with many multi-millionaires and billionaires, you'd hardly know it. When our toniest part of town was devastated by a major mudslide, the community, rich and poor worked together to help in the recovery. Turns out in that exclusive part of town, those who lost their lives included people of all economic strata and various ethnicities. Sure, if for you look for it you might find some who flaunt their wealth or as a previous reviewer implied pretend, but most of the folks we have interacted with these past four decades have been down-to-earth. It may not quite by Midwest hospitality (though we do have friends from the the center of the country who live here now ... and they don't seem put off from extending that good neighborly graciousness of their upbringing and find the responses from the longer-term residents also congenial, though more of the "hang loose" style.
For those coming to visit, it's not Las Vegas, but does have a wide variety of activities especially of the outdoors variety (bring or rent a bike!), but also art, theater, shopping (not my cup of tea ... less of the mom & pops, but still may unique establishments), and good restaurants/watering holes (the current rage is the revamped Funk Zone down by the wharf with it's brew pubs, wine tasting rooms, and hip restaurants.) Fun for visitors and locals alike. Young and old.
While wealthy, fair-weather coastal towns do attract homeless and it will be hard to avoid the issue if you are here for a while, it isn't overwhelming (sort of waxes and wanes ... and there are a number of great social services working with that population). As for crime in a city of our size, it is fairly mild. We live in a downtown neighborhood and often do not lock our doors. Neighbors keep an eye out for each other.
May not be everyone's cup of tea, but the cost of housing gives a hint that this is a very nice place (it's not a pretentious zip code that attracts folks, but a way of life).
Steve | Santa Barbara, CA