Santa Barbara is both splendid and sweet
~ By Katharine Fong.Santa Barbara has always been a magnet for Bay Area vacationers seeking a SoCal getaway that’s manageable: a picturesque, eminently walkable and bikeable town with a temperate climate, sweet parks and beaches, culture, shopping, excellent wineries and food.
Not to mention its lush, jewel-like setting between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
Whether you’re in the mood for romance, keeping the kids busy or yearning for a touch of luxe or adventure, Santa Barbara has something for you. So go ahead, make plans for fall on “the American Riviera.”
Stroll Santa Barbara Harbor at sunset; before or after, try the spicy oyster shooters at Brophy Brothers. Another sunset hotspot: Butterfly Beach.
Explore the Funk Zone, east of State Street near the waterfront, and SoCo (south of Cota), also east and just south of State; both neighborhoods boast an eclectic mix of artists’ studios and galleries, surf shops, wine tasting rooms, live-music venues and more.
Check out Olio e Limone for sophisticated Italian food and a well-stocked wine cellar, or its more casual salumi-and-wine-bar sister next door at Olio Pizzeria; the latter’s breaded cauliflower and artichoke hearts, and dramatic black ink calamari, are exceptional.
Orchid Inn — Orchids everywhere, even on breakfast plates. Manager Francine Talmadge keeps them in perfect bloom with a tub soak and thorough draining every three weeks. Eight charming, intimate rooms; chat with other guests at the communal breakfast table.
Out of town
Bacara Resort & Spa, Miro restaurant in Goleta. Superb, 42,000-square-foot spa features 60 different treatments, fitness classes, tasty cafe. Sunday brunch at Miro is an orgy of seafood, meats, salads, fruits, cheeses and charcuterie, made-to-order omelets and waffles, and over-the-top desserts.
Wine country. Four official appellations and more than 180 wineries; home to the region’s famed varietals. A 30- to 45-minute drive from downtown. (Or just hit the Urban Wine Trail, urbanwinetrailsb.com, a cluster of tasting rooms in town.)
Lotusland in Montecito. Made real by 1920s Polish opera star Madame Ganna Walska; 37 acres of exuberant greenery, including rare plants.
Root 246 restaurant in Solvang. Chef Bradley Ogden now calls the Santa Ynez Valley home; his New American menu draws locals and visitors alike.
El Capitan Canyon offers “nature lodging,” from a luxe two-bedroom cabin with full kitchen, fireplace and sweeping views to spacious yurts with comfy beds. All include a firepit with grill and picnic table. Free beach cruisers, pool; wireless access.
Old Mission Santa Barbara, founded in 1786, and nearby Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. Santa Barbara County Courthouse, a National Historic Landmark; climb its 85-foot clocktower for a panoramic view and admire the luscious sunken garden. (The courthouse is a stop on the Red Tile Walking Tour, a 12-block, self-guided tour of 22 architectural and historic landmarks.)
The renovated Granada Theatre downtown books local and global performing artists, and will host the Santa Barbara Symphony’s opening gala on Oct. 20. Love concerts al fresco? See the Black Keys at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Oct. 2.
Diani, Dressed and Ready for women’s fashions, K. Frank for men, women and children, in Santa Barbara; Angel and Wendy Foster in tony Montecito. Plus gorgeous jewelry and home décor boutiques.
Picnic and play at Chase Palm Park along the shore, Leadbetter and Miramar beaches.
Ty Warner Sea Center at Stearns Wharf is small and hands-on for kids who want to reach out and touch ocean life.
Maritime Museum: Older kids will like the permanent multimedia exhibit “Surf’s Up!”, homage to Santa Barbara’s surfing history and culture.
La Super-Rica, 622 N. Milpas St. Julia Childs’ fave local restaurant. Join the line out the door, try the #16 especial: pork, cheese and green peppers on soft, fluffy tortillas.
Hotel Oceana: A prime location across from the beach near Stearns Wharf. Free bicycle cruisers, two pools and complimentary breakfast with hardboiled eggs, cheese, ham and fruit.
Cafe Stella: Booths perfect for families; kids’ menu includes an ice cream sandwich with vanilla ice cream between two chocolate chip cookies. Yummy sliders and a dog patio..
Mark your calendar
Epicure.sb: A Month to Savor Santa Barbara, Oct. 1-31. A month of culinary festivals, cooking classes, winemaker dinners, gallery-noshing and more.
The California Avocado Festival, avofest.com, Oct. 5-7
Harbor Festival, harborfestival.org,
Santa Barbara County Celebration of Harvest, sbcountywines.com, Oct. 13
Downtown’s main artery is State Street. Along the waterfront on Cabrillo Boulevard is a popular bike/walking path. Rent a bike, trike or Segway from one of the myriad vendors; hop the Downtown or Waterfront shuttle for
Santa Barbara encourages – and rewards – car-free tourism. See SantaBarbaracarfree.org for info.
Wine on the way
The Central Coast is home to one of the state’s top wine-producing regions
Just north of Santa Barbara is the Central Coast, with more than 180 wineries and a winemaking history that dates back to 1790. Drive the Highway 46 wine route from Cambria to Paso Robles, a gently winding byway that meanders over grassy hills and past rows of verdant vineyards. Here are suggestions for a few wine-and-dine stops – most wineries are open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; tasting fees vary.
Turley Wine Cellars — One of the early champions of Zinfandel in the region; turns out big, brash zins from vines that date back 80 years.
Cypher Winery — Tucked behind Farmstand 46 (a perfect spot for a farm-to-table picnic lunch; try The Badger, a pressed panini of roasted squash, eggplant, red peppers, tomatoes, onions and goat cheese), it focuses on “freakshow” wines and unconventional Rhône blends. If it’s available, try the Eclectic Red, a blend of Portuguese varietals, Carignane, Petite Verdot and Petite Sirah.
Shale Oak Winery — A recent addition to the region, it’s a small, sustainably run winery housed in a building straight out of a Mondrian painting. Produces small-batch Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
Pipestone Vineyards — This family-run organic winery is part of a fun renegade group of “Far Out” wineries. Rhône-style wines made from Syrah, Gre-nache and Mourvèdre come from vineyards farmed by hand using draft horses.
Summerwood — Set in a gracious whitewashed estate that also includes a nine-room inn, it features locally grown Rhône varietals such as Viognier, Syrah and Diosa Blanc — a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne.