There’s nothing quite like getting out of town, even for just a few days – it’s my favorite way to recharge, get inspired and immerse myself in discovery. And, talk about a happy place – mine is Santa Barbara, an idyllic coastal haven about 90 minutes from Los Angeles on a good traffic day. Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and Pacific Ocean, this wonderland has something for everyone – – seaside dining, jaw-dropping Spanish architecture, botanic gardens, wine tasting, the historic mission, aquarium, museums, and of course, the beach! A heaping slice of utopia that melds a high dose of culture with a soothing laid back vibe. Whether planning a romantic getaway or family adventure, Santa Barbara always casts a memorable spell. Here, my top picks of where to stay, dine and play...
Perched high up in the “Riviera” with idyllic ocean views, this seductively charming landmark hotel is ultra luxurious without an ounce of pretension. There’s even a quaint lily pond (turtles and fish abound) and storybook wishing well amidst the dozens of picture-perfect Craftsman and Spanish Revival bungalows . Get swept away at the zero-edge pool or simply roaming the dense foliage covered gardens on the grounds. The food is A-plus and even more delicious dining on the outdoor patio complete with live music. Not to be missed is getting pampered at the Spa. This is the kind of oasis that seeps into your soul and beckons for a speedy return.
Craving beachside? Look no further than this California dream just across from the shores of Butterfly Beach in Montecito. Lush jungle-like gardens flank every inch of this Spanish Colonial estate. Roam the red pathways to the regal Moreton Bay Fig Tree. Upon arrival, I always head straight to this magical tree – mesmerizing. Choose from two pools – the tranquil tropical splendor on property or glide a few steps across the way to the Coral Casino private beach club, dripping in retro decadence.
Wine & Dine:
The wait is usually an hour or more but it’s well worth it for the fresh seafood and views from this beloved harbor mainstay. The time flies after a stroll down the docks, watching the fisherman haul in the local sea urchins.
Santa Barbara is filled with epic Mexican food and this casual, family-friendly gem in Montecito is quite the stand out.
No trip is complete without a visit to this hip marketplace of gourmet food purveyors. Here’s my drill – Oysters (and sometimes a Poke Bowl) at Big Eye Raw Bar followed by Hangover Noodles and Green Papaya Salad at Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar (if the line for a seat at the counter is long, and it usually is, just order the food to go and eat at one of the many tables), and top it all off with Rori’s Artisanal Creamery (in other words, totally epic ice cream).
This is a town filled with culture and fun, enriching activities for the entire family. A little overview to tickle your fancy: Old Mission Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara Zoo, Sea Center on Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara Public Courthouse (don’t miss the views from the clock tower), and the newest arrival, Moxi: The Wolf Museum Of Exploration and Innovation. Finally, for a little grown-up time, the Deep Sea Tasting Room on Stearns Wharf featuring Conway Family Wines and knockout views is always a treat.0