During my recent trip to Los Angeles my cousin Julie and I took a side trip to Santa Barbara. The drive takes about an hour and a half, depending (like everything else in L.A.) on the all-mighty Traffic. The drive is filled with an ever-changing landscape of green mountains morphing into cactus-covered hills transforming into flower-spotted trees. And that’s just to the east. The west is mostly consumed with ocean views, unless the fog is concealing them, which is common depending on the time of day.
Nick-named the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is packed with beautiful views of the coast contrasting with the Santa Ynez Mountains. The slow-paced city has a small town feel to it despite the mansions and country clubs that hide in its hills. Also home to UC Santa Barbara, the college town vibe is exposed late at night when the younger crowd adds energy to its bar scene.
My cousin Julie asked her friend Eve, a longtime resident of Santa Barbara, to give me a personalized tour of the city. Eve’s former company, Craving Adventures, was centered around that very task so she knows all the secrets on where to stay, what to eat and what to do. (Check out her blog, Through Eve’s Eyes & Palate for more Santa Barbara goodness.)
Eve started the tour with a pedi-cab ride through downtown, giving us an up-close look at the little shops that line Santa Barbara’s streets. Our first stop was the Santa Barbara court house, where we climbed to the clock tower to get a bird’s eye view of the city. Much of the city’s architecture is in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, creating a uniform look.
Eventually our pedi-cab ride took us to the ocean, where we rode along Chase Palm Park, Stearns Wharf and even got a glimpse of the giraffes in the Santa Barbara Zoo. (Peek through the trees near the Andree Clark Bird Refuge to see them!) If you’d rather ride your own bike (or a multi-person bike with a group), bike rentals are available near the water.
For lunch Eve took us to the exclusive Coral Casino, where we had lunch at Tydes. The fog lifted just in time for us to enjoy the amazing views on the patio and listen to the waves. (I was in heaven!) We chatted about growing up in our respective cities (Salt Lake City for me, Paris for Eve and Los Angeles for Julie) between sips of rose wine. The food wasn’t very memorable, but the view definitely was. While a membership is required for the Coral Casino, the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel next door allows non-guests into their restaurant that also has a great view.
We continued our wine streak with a visit to Anacapa Wine Tasting Room. Santa Barbara is full of wine tasting rooms sampling vino from the nearby wineries and many are located next to each other, perfect for a wine crawl. Anacapa focuses on teaching about wine; their wall is a knowledge board in itself, explaining nearby regions of wine, what influences each type and even providing samples of regional dirt for terroir smell comparisons.
Later that evening, Julie, her fiance Peter and I went to dinner at San Ysidro Ranch, where John F. Kennedy and Jackie spent their honeymoon in 1953. The hotel consists of 41 cottages on 500 acres of rolling hills nestled on the Santa Ynez Mountains. It has been named among the world’s best hotels several times, including 2012. We ate at The Stonehouse, located in a 19th Century citrus-packing house that transports you back in time (in the good way). Entrees run $41-68, but the chef will cater to your every culinary need, including creating a special dish if you don’t like something that’s offered.
The next day I woke to sound of rain pounding my tiny cottage at the Upham hotel and the chimes of the Mission Santa Barbara, the famous church built in 1820. Peter, who is an architect, took us on a tour of one of his recent masterpieces, a breathtaking mansion that overlooks the coastline. Then we visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, a delicate but surprisingly densely packed museum for such a small city. (This Monet was my favorite.)
Santa Barbara was such a contrast to the fast-paced, traffic-packed Los Angeles. Relaxing and beautiful, the city is packed with culture and plenty of things to do–a perfect side trip from Los Angeles.