Both are university towns so feature a lot of activities - educationally, culturally, societally - and both are fairly expensive places to live. There are demographic and climate differences, though.
I'd suggest you first spend some time online reviewing local websites ranging from governmental, news, activities, real estate and such to get a feel for each community. Then you should invest in a trip to California. Rent vacation rentals and spend a week in each town. Wander around neighborhoods, visit the shopping areas, experience a little nightlife and, above all, meet local people to see how the towns stack up to your needs and expectations. If you prepare a list of things you're seeking in advance and keep notes as you go you will end up with a good basis for comparison.
Whatever your decision you will end up living in a dream area that many aspire to and few are able to realize.
My son was getting tired of his Mom quietly staying with him (I made myself "small" :-) and said "when I get home later, please get someplace. So, I did. What popped up and was available. It is in SLO (I've only been here a month and It's July 2014. Now, my God, I see that I'm on a little farm which surely used chemicals (which I am deathly sensitive to), dirt everywhere - no asphalt or landscaping. And I have not met one friend. I'm very bright, communicative, (maybe sound disillusioned here) but absolutely STARVING for LA and all the cultural and ethnic diversity it has to offer. I find really nothing to do here (I don't drink) except for ride my bike and climb hills. I used to go to Opera and Ballet, even in Seattle.
I'm 57, and grown sons. Very very very frustrated. Will continue looking in LA.
FYI: There are about 270,000 people living in SLO County and 425,000 people living in Santa Barbara County. http://dnorwood.com/US_CENSUS.aspx
David Norwood - Central Coast Real Estate â€“ 805-471-0828 David@Dnorwood.com