Santa Barbara, California holds a special place in my heart. It was the first place my husband (then boyfriend) and I lived together elven years ago. After a rather idyllic year, he was laid off from his job and we could no longer afford to live in that wonderful seaside city. To our surprise, my husband’s current company has its headquarters there, so with great joy I jumped at the opportunity to join my husband in Santa Barbara for a few days on a recent business trip.
The easiest and most enjoyable way to get to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles International Airport is by car. Winding up north on the 101 Freeway for the eighty mile drive, one is greeted with rolling mountain vistas and fields of strawberries as far of the eye can see. Further along the way, the freeway runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean all the up to the outskirts of Santa Barbara. Cabrillo Drive is one of the main arteries into Santa Barbara. From here, one can easily reach the colony of hotels that populate a one-mile radius between downtown Santa Barbara and its harbor. We stayed at the aptly named Inn by the Harbor (433 W Montecito St, $163 a night). This wonderful boutique hotel is a half block from Santa Barbara Harbor which features a full complimentary breakfast, wine and appetizers in the evenings and a milk and cookie bar at night. Our room with state of the art amenities had a private patio where we spent several relaxing evenings watching the sun set slowly over the water.
The best way to travel in Santa Barbara is by bike. This city is one of the most bicycle-friendly areas I have ever encountered; every major road in the city has a bike lane. Rent a bicycle at Wheel Fun Rentals (23 E. Cabrillo Blvd, $45 for three-hour bike rental) and follow the bike route along Shoreline Drive, a three mile path that takes one up to Shoreline Park, a patch of green situated on a mesa which has one of the best views of the Channel Islands across the way. This bike route ends several miles down at Santa Barbra’s premier resort, the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel (1260 Channel Dr, $450 a night). Near this hotel is one of Santa Barbra’s best kept secrets, a small beach that features one of the best surf breaks in California. Spend the morning sitting on a piece of driftwood as you watch dozens of intrepid wave warriors battle for supremacy on the crowded breakers.
Good restaurants abound in this little seaside city. Head up to State Street, Santa Barbara’s main thoroughfare, to discover a myriad of different cuisines, everything from seafood to Cajun to Ethiopian. If one is in the mood for authentic Mexican food, go to Casa Blanca Cantina (330 State St.) for excellent margaritas and a to die for chili relleno. Another local favorite a little closer to our hotel is Brophy’s Bros. Restaurant and Clam Bar (119 Harbor Way). Try the local brew, Firestone Ale DBA, with a huge order of fried calamari so fresh it was caught only a couple miles from the harbor where boats depart to harvest squid nightly. If one wishes to enjoy the nightlife, Santa Barbara, a hopping college town, has much to offer. One of my favorite places to spend a evening listening to great music is the James Joyce Pub (513 State St). On any night of the week one can hear local bands playing to a packed Guinness-swilling crowd.
No visit to Santa Barbara is complete without of trip up to nearby Los Olivios. This is one of the best wine producing regions in California. Most of the wineries offer tastings as do the wine merchants that populate the small town. The best place to stay while here is the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn (2860 Grand Avenue, Los Olivios). Enjoy their fabulous spa and sample the local vintages at their attached wine store, one of the few places in the area that has beer tastings if wine doesn’t appeal to you. Recreate scenes from the movie Sideways while eating dinner at the Hitching Post II Restaurant (406 East Highway 246) in Buellton a few miles away. Order a glass of pinot noir and savor some of the best steaks in the west coast. Drive back into Santa Barbara via 154, the Chumash Highway. Enjoy the spectacular landscape while meandering through the Santa Ynez Mountains. Be sure to stop frequently at the view areas to see stunning vistas overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean thousands of feet below.