Dreamy Santa Barbara, more than sun and sand
The mountains overlook the palm trees and sand along Cabrillo Blvd. (George Medovoy photo)
SANTA BARBARA – When the Santa Barbara visitor’s bureau promotes this magical city planted on a gentle Pacific bay, the special slogan it uses makes a lot of sense: “The American Riviera.”
The city just north of busy, sprawling Los Angeles, slopes picturesquely down to the palm-lined beach from gentle hillsides dotted with fancy homes.
On my many trips down here, enjoying the harbor views, I have often marveled at the breathtaking views those hillside residents are so lucky to wake up to. But then most views of this city are priceless, whether you’re looking down from the hills or up from the water.
In many ways, I have found that Santa Barbara – a laid-back place that is also the home of the 10th in a chain of California missions – is really a small town, where everyone seems to know everyone else.
But that small-town feeling is far surpassed by the elegance and depth of culture to be discovered here, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. It is a world-class museum located in a modern edifice on busy State Street, the town’s main thoroughfare lined with so many shops and outdoor cafes.
And while on the subject of art, the city offers a plethora of art galleries, where one can browse and admire modern works by so many talented artists.
Of course, it’s important to remember, when thinking of art and culture here, that Santa Barbara is also home to the University of California, Santa Barbara City College and Westmont College, each of which have outstanding collections.
An amusing aside one sometimes hears is how anyone can ever get any studying done at UC Santa Barbara, given its location, dramatically overlooking sand and sea.
But studying does get done there, and quite seriously, it seems, given the fact that the institution boasts five Nobel laureates and 12 national institutes and centers.
But getting back to State Street, this is one of my favorite hangouts in town. It’s an area where so much of the tourist action takes place and where I’ve often encountered foreign visitors speaking everything from French to Portuguese and German, a sure sign that Santa Barbara is on the foreign tourist map.
This slice of the city runs from the quiet neighborhoods to the north all the way down to the ever-popular Stearns Wharf and the beach.
Right in the center of it all, off State Street, is Paseo Nuevo, a shopping area with small shops, larger retailers such as Nordstrom, and Santa Barbara’s ubiquitous cafes, all of which fill a series of winding walkways perfect for losing yourself for as long as you like.
Of course, when I tire of the crowds along State Street, I make my way down to Stearns Wharf, known as the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
A handy way to get down to the wharf is to hop on the Downtown-Waterfront Electric Shuttle, which costs 50 cents for a one-way ride. This same shuttle also makes its way along Cabrillo Boulevard where the wharf is located, and moves between the harbor and the great zoo.
On my own visits to the wharf, one of my best things to do is gaze out on the water and watch sea gulls circling overhead. I’ve also enjoyed eyeing all the boats and some of the imaginative names painted on their sides. Then there’s the fishermen angling from the pier, and funny thing, I do remember once seeing a pelican-like bird come swooping down on one of these unsuspecting fishermen – and steal his catch.
On a visit to this dreamy slice of California, remember that there are side trips you can take to widen your experiences. With orange bird of paradise adorning the landscape, I once ventured out of town to sample a winery you may remember from the movie “Sideways.”
From State Street, it took me about 40 minutes to drive across the Santa Ynez Mountains, via scenic Highway 154, to the wine country.
This relatively young viticulture area, which fancies itself as the competitor to Napa and Sonoma counties, was popularized by the Academy Award-winning film “Sideways” some years ago.
The ride was picture-perfect, with dark green hillsides punctuated by the valley’s trademark horse ranches, wineries and Lake Cachuma.
The Kalyra Winery is on Highway 246, a bucolic stretch of road.
At the winery, I spotted two flags flying from the small veranda of the tasting room – the Stars and Stripes and the Australian colors. Of course, winemaker Mike Brown, who received an enology degree from UC Davis in 1979, is an Australian who hails from Adelaide. The name Kalyra is an aboriginal phrase that means “wild and pleasant place.”
From the winery, by the way, you can also go on to the quaint Danish town of Solvang. This little town is a re-creation of a typical Danish town and was founded by Danish immigrants in 1911. It’s the perfect place to “see” Denmark if you’re not able to cross the ocean and experience the “real” thing.
By the way, August to October is a particularly good time to visit because it’s when the apple crops are harvested.
So, from the center of State Street in the middle of Santa Barbara to the wine country and Solvang, there’s a lot to see and do if you’re coming down this way.
George Medovoy publishes an Internet travel magazine, www.PostcardsForYou.com.
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