This month, for personal and professional reasons, The Boys* had to come out from New York to Santa Barbara, so I decided to fly down for the weekend. It was a bit pricey, but, not only would I get a chance to see two of my favorite people in the world, I would also be able to cross a few more missions off my list. Win-win.
I always intend to visit Santa Barbara when I drive down to L.A., but it suffers from being a bit too close to that city (and you just want to get there already, and not stop and play tourist). On the one occasion that I did pass through, I only had time for lunch at La Super-Rica Taqueria.** I drove by the Santa Barbara Mission; however, it was Memorial Day weekend and the annual festival of I Madonnari (Italian street painting) and therefore I realized instantly that it would be insane to try and find parking anywhere near there, so I headed back to 101 and up the coast.
What I didn’t realize was that there’s so much to see and do in Santa Barbara (beyond the Mission) that it merits more than a detour, and has earned its place as my first weekend getaway.
First on your list should be the Courthouse, one of the loveliest you’ll ever see. Located at 1100 Anacapa Street (on the corner of Anapamu Street—and, yes, there are many similar sounding and confusing street names in this city), this building is a marvel inside and out, with hand-painted ceilings, spiral staircases, Spanish tiles, carved doors, and gorgeous murals depicting early California history.
From the tower, you get a great view of the surrounding city, ocean, and mountains.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is one of the top ten regional museums in the country, and can serve as a nice respite from shopping on State Street. While we originally went to the museum to see the sand mandala created by the monks of the Sera Mahayana Buddhist Monastery in South India, the exhibition that really caught my eye was that of stop-motion photographer Ori Gersht, who had some incredible pieces inspired by one of my favorite artists, Henri Fantin-Latour.
What can I say? I have a weakness for flowers, even when they are exploding.
Speaking of flowers, worth a trip into the hills is the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden on Mission Canyon Road. The gardens, which cover 78 acres, feature indigenous plants of California, with a meadow section, redwood section, desert section, etc. We were lucky to catch a number of plants in bloom, especially cacti. Absolutely beautiful.
Another fascinating freak of nature, and I’m not talking about the dolphins down by Stearns Wharf (although, dolphins!), is the Moreton Bay Fig Tree at the intersection of Chapala Street and Highway 101. Planted in the 1870s and now a city landmark, it is ginormous.
Of course, as any viewer of Sideways can tell you, Santa Barbara County is also wine country. Just over the San Marcos Pass and through the Los Padres National Forest is the Santa Ynez Valley, home of killer pinot noirs and chardonnays. If you don’t have time to go vineyard hopping, on any trip down 101, I highly recommend a detour to the small town of Los Olivos and a visit to the Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop.
While in the neighborhood, be sure to stop in at the Disneyesque town of Solvang where almost all of the stores and hotels look like this:
La Purísima Mission is just down the road in Lompoc.
Finally, a shout-out to the Bath Street Inn—a large, comfortable Victorian Bed & Breakfast close to the center of town. My room was actually larger than it seems in pictures and I had a lovely balcony to boot. In addition to afternoon tea and evening wine and cheese, they serve a delicious, filling breakfast, with homemade granola and such dishes as stuffed French toast and baked eggs (which were so good I raved about them and they printed out the recipe for me unasked). A great place.
Word to the wise: If you ever fly in to the Santa Barbara Airport, be aware that the relatively short taxi ride from the airport to downtown will set you back about $45, including tip. The shuttles you see parked right next to the taxis outside the airport will make the same trip for only $27-30.
* See future posts on Utah. One of The Boys took the profile pic on this page.
** La Super-Rica Taqueria at 622 North Milpas Street is reputed to be Julia Child’s “favorite taco stand”; however, a local who knew her swears she told him she had no idea where that rumor got started. Regardless, the roasted pasilla chile stuffed with cheese and the chorizo tacos were almost worth the ridiculous wait in line.