Santa Barbara, California, is known for being a celebrity haven—the Montecito area has been home to everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Oprah Winfrey in its time and is an evergreen attraction for A-listers in need of rest and relaxation. Indeed, the palm tree-studded swath of land between the Santa Ynez Mountains (awash in hyper-orange California poppies from March to May) and the Pacific Ocean (stunning azure and filled with dolphins year-round) is paradisiac, making it an ideal spot to head when you want to unwind in style. Its location—between the excitement of L.A. and the lush wine regions further north, also makes it a convenient addition to any coastal California itinerary. Here, what to do should you find yourself in the lucky position of exploring “the American Riviera.”
Begin your day with—what else?—a coffee, best served by the French Press (any location works). The cafés serve local, fair trade Dune Coffee Roasters beans, use La Marzocco machines, and make extras like matcha lattes, hot chocolate, and a “magic bowl” (non-dairy milk with chamomile and honey) well, too. Take your drink up to the roof of the Santa Barbara Courthouse—its orienting views are open to the public, or perhaps enjoy it under the city’s 140-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree, which casts 21,000 square feet of shade and is a landmark to say the least.
Some say La Super-Rica Taqueria makes Santa Barbara’s best tacos—it’s famous for being Julia Child’s favourite restaurant late in life.
Grab breakfast in the form of a cinnamon roll from D’Angelo Bread or a croissant from Helena Avenue Bakery. The latter will leave you in the Funk Zone, Santa Barbara’s artsy 16-block neighbourhood of warehouses converted to house all manner of breweries, tasting rooms, restaurants, galleries, and boutiques. Walk around—hidden gems are beyond every corner, including epic murals and a tiny boutique selling pricey koi fish for private ponds. Stop for a cheeky midday beer at Brass Bear Brewing, which has been run by a husband and wife team since 2009. What, lunchtime already? Get in line early at Funk Zone favourite Mony’s Mexican Food (their salsas are many and amazing—think pistachio, avocado, mango, and roasted tomato to start). Some say La Super-Rica Taqueria makes Santa Barbara’s best tacos—it’s famous for being Julia Child’s favourite restaurant late in life—but Mony’s are impeccable. You may need to try both to decide the winner for yourself.
If you’ve earned a nap come afternoon, head to Salt, a subterranean pink Himalayan salt cave where you can take a 45-minute siesta breathing mineral-rich air said to contain healing power. From May to October, catch an elite-level match at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club—they’re open to the public. Do a little foodie shopping at the Public Market, or browse an elegant selection of luxe, international clothing, shoes, and homewares at Diani. Come dinnertime, Smithy is highly recommended—chef Lauren Herman’s contemporary Californian dishes are divine, and her wife, pastry chef Christina Olufson, crafts some of the city’s best sweets (ask to sit out back, beneath fairy lights draped through the branches of ancient olive trees transported here from Greece).
Finish off by retiring at the Hotel Californian—a gorgeous property with a sleek, Moroccan-inflected design and views of the beach. In the morning, should you feel like taking a trip, drive 45 minutes north to explore the Danish-American town of Solvang. The architecture here recalls a quaint, almost Disney-esque Scandinavian village, windmills and all, and the pastries at the town’s many bakeries are unbelievable concoctions of butter, almond paste, sugar, and cream. From here, you’re only a stone’s throw from countless wineries—should tastings leave you longing for a nearby place to snooze, look no further than the Landsby—a contemporary boutique hotel that epitomizes Scandi-fornian decor. Whether you then decide to head further north or luxuriate in Santa Barbara for a few more days is up to you—there are no wrong turns.
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