The last time I visited Santa Barbara was two decades ago. I am happy to report that it is just as beautiful as I remember. This coastal town oozes the Californian vibe so often bragged about by those lucky enough to call the west coast their home. With the Pacific Ocean to the west, rolling mountains to the east and a beautiful downtown adorned with Spanish Colonial architecture packed with high end retail shops and restaurants sandwiched in between, this city lacks nothing.
Paseo Nuevo & State Street
State Street is the main stretch of downtown that is filled with people enjoying a stroll through the Spanish tiled sidewalks, more restaurants than can ever be needed in a city with a population of less than 100,000 and a handful of adorable hidden courtyards, like Paseo Nuevo, that have even more dining and shopping options waiting to be discovered. I was really impressed with the overall large size of downtown in comparison to its pretty small population. While we soaked up the soothing energy of State Street we hit a Farmer's Market even larger than NYC's Union Square's market. The locals here have found a place that is not only surrounded by breathtaking views; they have found a place of bountiful everything- nature, produce at farmers' markets, space, stores, restaurants, sidewalks, sunshine etc... so much of everything for so few people. What a wonderful feeling it must be to feel like you have this all to yourself.
La Arcada is another example of a lovely courtyard hidden off the main path of State Street. With its fountains, sculptures and beautifully lit storefronts I just found this to be such a romantic nook.
Once a barren area of abandoned warehouses near the main drag of Santa Barbara, Funk Zone has recently brought a cool, urban vibe to this typically upscale neighborhood. This section of the neighborhood offers a beautiful walk amidst murals, gardens and dozens of wine tasting options in hip and cleverly decorated wine bars.
Japanese food is one of my favorite cuisines. That being said, I am very cautious about where I eat it and especially avoid eating sushi when traveling. Its been over four months since I have enjoyed a great Japanese meal. When Oku showed up as a highly recommended nearby restaurant with consistently fantastic reviews, I rushed to reserve a table. We ordered several dishes off the menu and every bite was fresh and delicious. The service is fantastic, the outdoor heat lamps add just the right amount of warmth and the proximity to the ocean directly across the street adds to a perfect atmosphere and experience.
Mexican food is another favorite cuisine of mine and one equally loved by all members of my family. Los Agaves appeared in my search as an award winning Mexican restaurant and on Yelp's top 5 list of best restaurants in Santa Barbara. Simple, fresh, authentic and delicious are the best ways to describe the food here. In addition, the service is warm and cheerful. This is a no frills restaurant - no reservations are taken and you order at the counter. Once you get past this, kick back, enjoy the beautiful weather and get ready for a memorable meal.
This is hands down one of the top five best vegetarian restaurants we have ever dined at. Oliver's offers a creative menu that even the biggest carnivores will enjoy, on a lovely patio with attentive service staff. We ordered nine or ten dishes to share and literally devoured every bite. If only we had more vegetarian restaurants like this in the world then perhaps those crying over climate change would be more compelled to take some action towards healing our planet by eliminating meat in their diet! Oliver's makes it very easy, and extremely enjoyable, to eat a vegetarian meal.
A forty-five minute drive outside of Santa Barbara will transport you to a fully immersive Danish experience in the town of Solvang. The small town was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who wanted warmer winters than the coast provided. They established a town that resembles Denmark to ease those nostalgic days of bakeries serving strudels and kringles on every corner.
An infinite amount of bakeries exist in this Danish town making it irresistible to calorie count while visiting. We made it our mission to try some traditional sweets from as many of them as we could handle without hitting a major sugar overload.
Olsen's Danish Village Bakery
Olsen's was our first stop in, and introduction to, the world of Danish baking. We ordered strudel, kringle (the most popular, and delicate, Danish treat to prepare and a must try!), meringues, macaroons and almond cake. We savored each bite on their cute outdoor patio overlooking the town's main street. Once we had a taste of Denmark's sweets and treats we were excited to track down more delicious bites during our explorations.
This bakery wins for its aesthetics and interior design. The shop is just adorable right down to the pink boxes they pack their baked goods in. The scent of freshly baked goods trickles onto the sidewalks immediately luring all who pass by. Don't get deterred by the long line, it goes by fast and is worth the wait. We selected roughly eight different pastries to sample, all extremely delectable. The unanimous winner is the bear claw - luckily I ordered a few of these!
We needed a little break from bakery hopping and found a perfect distraction in Ingeborg's Danish chocolate shop. This award winning chocolatier offers unique flavors that please the palates of all chocolate lovers. My favorite was the dark chocolate patty infused with Syrah sea salt coupled with the extremely dark chocolate. The saltiness was more dominating than typical salted chocolate which I found to make for an outstanding outcome.
The inviting, pink patio made it difficult to pass this adorable bakery without entering. We proceeded with excitement but unfortunately were deterred by the bees that like us, could not resist the wafting smell of sweetness. Unable to leave without buying something we quickly purchased a pound of their butter cookies which are oh so buttery, creamy and delicious! This bag didn't last more than a few hours.
Dansk Bageri Conditori Kafe
It suddenly dawned on me that we were missing breads in our collection of baked goods. We turned to Dansk Bageri to help us continue our difficult task of tasting all things Danish. Here we ordered an onion cheese loaf and a baguette. Although quite good, I say leave the baguettes for the French who honestly do it best. While the sweets we bought were unanimously a hit, we all agreed that breads are not a forte of the Danes. You can't be great at everything!
We rented a home through VRBO tucked in the rolling hills surrounded by vineyards and farmland. While this may sound romantic, I found it to be too desolate especially when we were left home alone while my husband went to meet an old friend for dinner. Being left behind on this large property made me uncomfortably anxious by every sound I heard. Although the house and property is lovely, I am definitely not a country girl and will make sure to book a home with more proximity to civilization in the future.
We were looking forward to reaching the eighty foot water fall on this short, easy hike. Upon entering the trailhead there is a large sign warning hikers of mountain lions in the area urging them to hold on to their young children and dogs- YIKES! We proceeded noisily in hopes of warding off any lion that might take interest in us. Approximately twenty minutes into the hike we reached the fall which was sectioned off with barriers and warning signs of falling rocks. I hinted at walking around the sign but my rule-following children balked at the idea. Later, I learned that the sign is always there and that people walk around it to get to the main attraction. Oh well, one less waterfall experienced on this adventure but in return I gained the comfort of knowing that my children are rule abiding citizens who don't take dangerous risks (unlike their mother).
Montecito is an exclusive coastal enclave just a few minutes away from downtown Santa Barbara with a population under ten thousand residents, with several celebrities, like Oprah Winfrey, calling it their home. This secluded section of the city surprisingly puts on no airs and instead delivers a relaxed, small town feel embraced by the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Coastal Village Road, the main street, is lined with restaurants and high end retail shops all housed is the Spanish Colonial architecture typical of Santa Barbara. Despite the town's plentiful mansions, huge properties and flashy cars an unassuming and unpretentious vibe is somehow delivered. This is a very special little place.
Montecito offers some of the most beautiful stretches of sand and beach on the coast and Butterfly Beach is a perfect example of one of them. Dozens of locals joined us for a walk along the shore to enjoy the magnificent sunset. To access the beach visitors need to walk through an underpass, cross the train tracks and pass by some beautiful homes, and a quirky one adorned with pigs (yes, pigs!) and then...the boardwalk graciously greets its visitors. Getting to Butterfly Beach is making a pilgrimage to our beautiful planet Earth.
Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve
Hiding behind a tree lined train track, the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve is simply an unbelievably beautiful gem exploding with Nature's magic touches, signs of wildlife and even human contributions to this masterpiece. We roamed this remarkable area of the shore for over an hour soaking in every ounce of the picturesque scenery. The beach is closed December through May to allow for seals to deliver their offspring along the rocks. Revelers who are fortunate enough to nail down the timing can witness the miraculous births from the bluffs above during this season. I cannot stress how immediate the impact is when connecting with the coast. Although I absolutely cherish the time we spent in the mountains, the sea is my calling.
We could have easily extended our time in Santa Barbara to linger just a bit longer. The weather has been dreamy, the sun at her brightest, and the crisp air refreshing. Within a small radius there is plenty to experience even if it is doing absolutely nothing but watching a spectacular sunset.
In NYC we have quite stunning sunsets along the Hudson River in our neighborhood. In twelve years I may have made an effort to catch three of them. I am not sure whether being in travel mode over the past four months has pushed us to appreciate the sun marking the end of a day or whether its just easier to make the time when the evenings are not loaded with kids' after school schedules. Although I dread the 5:00am west coast alarm call to make the 8:30am east coast school time, I am beyond grateful for this time difference which leaves our afternoons free and clear even on days with extra curricular activities on the calendar. If there was a way to keep schooling remote, extra curricular activities on line and exist three hours behind the world we connect with regularly, I will be the first one to sign up. For now, I will keep pinching myself that we've maximized the opportunity of being granted this ideal formula that keeps us in the mental head space to catch as many sunsets as we can. The sun has set one last time marking our last night in Santa Barbara but tomorrow she will greet us warmly and guide us through our next adventure.