Santa Barbara, California
Only 90 miles stretch between Los Angeles and the tranquil seaside city of Santa Barbara, but somewhere in that distance the artificial gives way to the natural. From the lush hillsides with memorable vistas of the sea to the pristine shoreline, Santa Barbara possesses the beauty most Southern California beachside communities lack. Families looking for a place to play or couples planning a romantic vacation will each find what they seek here.
The miles of beach in Santa Barbara are all clean and begging to be walked. In fact, one can literally walk the shore right out of town at low tide. East Beach is Santa Barbara's most popular and the place to people watch on weekend afternoons. Those searching for a more secluded stroll should head south to the local resorts, which provide public access to their relatively empty beaches. These same beaches also afford a bounty of rocky tidepools, filled with seashells and starfish, for children to explore. Surfers will be stoked by the number of local hot surf spots, which range in difficulty from novice to expert.
When the sun sets, Santa Barbara offers more than adequate nightlife with numerous restaurants and entertainment venues. Some of these eateries line waterfront Cabrillo Blvd., but most can be found on State St., Santa Barbara's lively main artery. If you decide to catch a movie, you may choose from a number of cinemas; but no matter what is playing, go to the Arlington Theater, a restored, historic spectacle.
Day or night, remarkable times await you in this city on the sea.
The Simpson House Inn
The Simpson House Inn is AAA's only 5-diamond bed and breakfast, and with these grounds, rooms and welcoming 36-person staff, it's no wonder why. Located blocks from State Street, the 125-year-old Simpson House is a calming haven, perfect for both work-weary vacationers in need of pampering and romantics in search of an intimate hideaway. Flowers, benches and babbling fountains grace the Inn's English gardens, while antiques from around the world permeate the 14 rooms and 2 cottages with Victorian-era elegance. Each day begins with a scrumptious gourmet breakfast and ends with hors d'oeuvres and a sampling of Santa Barbara wines. Every amenity is available, including facials, massages and manicures. Be sure to look closely at the leather-bound classics that overflow the library bookshelves - they're actually cleverly disguised videos, ranging from cartoons to blockbusters.
Best Luxurious Hotel
The Four Seasons Resort Santa Barbara
Whether due to the rush of waves washing over the beach, the flames dancing in the fireplace that paint your room in flickering light and shadow, or the gathering softness of your bed and blankets, an uncommon tranquility fills the Four Seasons Resort Santa Barbara. The pervasive, nurturing calm of the Four Seasons will restore even the weariest traveler to a state of wellbeing. This Spanish Colonial-style resort was originally built in 1927 and spans 21 grassy acres along one of Santa Barbara's premier lengths of seashore. Recently refurbished, the 12 cottages and 207 guestrooms are decorative sanctuaries unto themselves. Every amenity is available, from sauna baths to restaurants (there are two) to private, professional tennis lessons, and the staff is genuinely warm and attentive. Don't miss Sunday's unforgettable champagne brunch, a multi-room buffet of delicacies that will widen your eyes and soon after, your belly.
Best Family Hotel
The Radisson Hotel Santa Barbara
While there are many hotels to choose from along Santa Barbara's Cabrillo Boulevard, none features as many family attractions as the Radisson. The 174-room, Mediterranean-style hotel is directly across the street from East Beach and within walking distance of Stearns Wharf, shops, restaurants and the Santa Barbara Zoo. Rooms are clean and comfortable, with some offering relatively scenic ocean and mountain views. A grassy park at the rear of the Radisson is the perfect place for children to play if they tire of gaming in the surf and sand.
Food & Drink
Best Waterfront & Seafood
Located 2 stories above Santa Barbara's marina, Brophy Bros. makes patrons an offer they would be foolish to refuse. Join locals in this welcoming neighborhood haunt for a view of the harbor and what is considered the area's best seafood. Attire is casual, so leave that dinner jacket behind and prepare for an evening of no-holds-barred eating. Morsels you can't miss include local swordfish, local thresher shark, oysters on the half shell, seafood cioppino and a bowl of clam chowder.
Best Family Restaurant
California Pizza Kitchen
Based on location and general adoration from both kids and parents (kids love the food, parents love the prices), California Pizza Kitchen is the place to go in Santa Barbara for an enjoyable family meal. For some reason - perhaps market research - everything in the place seems to be, including the Thai chicken pizza, the creative tricolore salad pizza and the ever-popular standby, the barbecue chicken pizza. Children rave about the kid's menu where everything from pizza to pasta is, and the obligatory sundae is only an additional buck.
Best Mexican Restaurant
Never has the old cliche "you can't judge a book by its cover" been more truthful than with La Super-Rica, Santa Barbara's hole-in-the-wall Mexican bonanza. Everything about the restaurant's nondescript exterior says to keep driving. Fortunately, though, many people still decide to stop and sample the food, which is divine. Local favorites includes the taco adobado (grilled, marinated pork on corn tortillas), alhambre de filete (skewered beef served with bell peppers, onions and bacon) and the Super-Rica Special (roasted chilies and cheese with grilled pork, chicken or beef).
Best Controversial Breakfast
If you've never heard of the infamous Sambo's franchise, here's a quick history lesson: Sambo's was widespread in the 1950s with some 1,400 restaurants across the country. But the franchise fell into disrepute during the civil rights movement for its blackface logo character, "Little Black Sambo." Now, only the Santa Barbara original remains. Were Sambo's founders, Samuel Battistone and Newell Bohnett (take the "Sam" from Samuel and the "Bo" from "Bohnett"), racists? Perhaps not, though they're certainly guilty of one of the worst marketing ideas of all time. Specials include chicken-fried steak and eggs, eggs Benedict and biscuits with gravy.
Best Kid Stuff
The Santa Barbara Zoo
A miniature train passes by with whistle blowing, bell ringing and its impossibly cute riders waving to their moms and dads. It's a charming sight, and only one of the many you'll witness as a visitor to the Santa Barbara Zoo. Physically small - like many of its patrons - the zoo is big on family atmosphere and has more than 700 residents, including elephants and two very personable sea lions. Tykes measuring 48 inches or less can ride the enclosed, hand-crafted carousel. And when the kids bore of behaving themselves, places abound - a playground, namely - where they can run wild. Bring a lunch and picnic at one of several areas, or head to the Ridley Tree House Restaurant for salads, sandwiches and tasty steak fries. When the zoo day is done, visit the gift shop before heading home.
Best Day Trip
Channel Islands National Park
Few Californians have been to Channel Islands National Park, which is probably why these 5 isolated coastal islands remain so undeveloped and, therefore, stunning. Home to more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, these islands offer visitors everything from hiking to scuba diving. Anacapa, the closest island, is perfect for a day trip from Santa Barbara and offers excellent hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and diving as well as a bounty of sea life, including seals, sea lions and the endangered brown pelican. Be sure to bring appropriate clothes - it can get windy - and pack a day's worth of food and water - the islands don't have stores or restaurants, so you're on your own.
Best Local Tidepools
Beach From the Miramar Hotel to the Four Seasons Resort
Young girls, grown men, grandparents - people of every age meander along this tidepooler's dream, searching for treasures of the sea. One can spend hours here, marveling over the rich wealth of crabs, starfish, sea anemones and peculiar, goopy sea cucumbers that occasionally wash up on the beach. If you're in the market for a walking stick, keep an eye out for driftwood. To reach the tidepools, exit Highway 101 at either Old Mill Road or San Ysidro Road and drive toward the water. Park where you can, find your way to the beach and let the exploration begin.
Rincon and Hammonds Point
According to local boarders, Rincon is the best ride in the area. On the best days, its waves are among the longest in the world at more than a mile. Unfortunately, everyone knows how great Rincon is and, at times, the crowds are too large to make the visit worthwhile. A better bet is Hammonds Point, located up the beach from the Miramar Hotel. It doesn't break like Rincon, but waves are consistent and it's significantly closer to Santa Barbara. The biggest plus is that you will have far fewer surfers to contend with.
Paseo Nuevo Mall
Charming and airy, this open Spanish-style mall will satisfy the desire of the most ambitious shopper. The cornerstones, such as Macy's, Nordstrom, Banana Republic and Victoria's Secret, are complemented by numerous other specialty stores, art galleries, restaurants and movie theaters. When the toil of buying takes its toll on your stamina, stop in at the Coffee Bean (811 State Street) for a large ice-blended mocha. It'll give you the restorative pep you need to keep spending.
Mission Santa Barbara
Step back into Santa Barbara's colonial past with a visit to the Mission Santa Barbara. Founded in 1786, Mission Santa Barbara is the 10th of California's 21 Spanish-Franciscan missions and is known as the "Queen of the Missions" for its spectacular beauty. The current structure is actually the mission's third incarnation, completed in 1820. The first two adobe churches were destroyed, most recently by an earthquake in 1812. The vast lawn of the mission is perfect for a picnic, should the spirit move you.