Beaches, Spanish old town, Oprah Winfrey, and yes, wine. This is my spiel about Santa Barbara to a family or friend visiting California for the first time. I am usually met with a scratch on the head or a look of disinterest, especially when the mind is predisposed to spending an entire vacation in popular California tourist attractions such as Disneyland, Universal Studios, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Staples Center, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
But when the tourist within wears off and the thirst for culture and adventure sets in, a visit to Santa Barbara is definitely worth the trip.
Santa Barbara is a 2-hour drive north from Los Angeles (depending on how bad the notorious L.A. traffic gets—yes, it can feel like getting stuck on EDSA sometimes). Once past knotted highways, towering city buildings, and swaths of business parks and shopping centers, you’ll know you’re near or in Santa Barbara when the drive becomes scenic with the Pacific Ocean on the left and the Santa Ynez mountains on the right.
To get a panoramic view of the city, a trip up the watchtower of the 1920s-built Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a must. When on top, your eyes are in for a treat with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the city, ocean, and mountains.
If you’ve been to France or Monaco, you’ll find the look and feel of Santa Barbara similar to Saint-Tropez or the coastal resort towns in Côte d’Azur. This similarity has earned Santa Barbara the moniker “The American Riviera.” As in Côte d’Azur, Santa Barbara is known for its high-end resort hotels, shops, restaurants, and attractions. And by high-end, I mean spending P500 for a glass of Merlot and P2,000 for an al fresco lunch on any given weekday.
But Santa Barbara doesn’t have to be expensive. For a city almost the size of Muntinlupa, Santa Barbara’s attractions and activities can be like Divisoria: plenty of variety and affordable!
There are miles of free public beaches ranging from large and popular to small and peaceful. Next, visit Stearns Wharf. This famous Santa Barbara pier was built in 1872 and has withstood natural disasters and fires over decades. It is similar to Manila Bay’s boardwalk but built primarily of wood. Another inexpensive (read: free) activity while in Santa Barbara is hiking. With an average in the low to mid-70s throughout most of the year, Santa Barbara is an ideal place to hike.
For the culturati, Santa Barbara is home to art studios and galleries. Apart from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara boasts of over 100 art galleries around the city where exhibits and presentations happen almost every day and are open to the public (sometimes with free wine and cheese).
And, of course, the wine. Santa Barbara’s climate is ideal to the cultivation of classic grape varieties and production of world-class wines. You could spend a day touring wineries and vineyards on your own or with a group ($10/each).
Further up from Santa Barbara—about 40 minutes away, past the Chumash Casino and Resort—is Solvang, a Danish community that is home to a number of bakeries, restaurants, and businesses offering a taste of Denmark in America.
For more pictures, and the full text of this story, grab the latest copy of Experience Travel & Living Magazine now!