Santa Barbara has been dubbed “the American Riviera,” and it certainly lives up to the moniker. A stunning, laid-back Golden State community replete with every activity you could dream of between the mountains and the sea, the city boasts sandy beaches, world-class wine, and thrilling nature just outside its proverbial front door. Founded in the late 1700’s, the Spanish influence can still be felt today - from the Old Mission Santa Barbara, and among the charming architecture of the the city’s historic structures. Less than 100 miles from Los Angeles, it’s the ideal destination for filling those dog days of summer or resetting the clock in the fall, especially amid all the uncertainty of recent times.
Our family planned a recent weekend staycation with the goal of getting outside, exploring the environs and experiencing a screen-free few days away. “Santa Barbara’s favorite beachside hotel” located in the city’s popular West Beach neighborhood, The Eagle Inn (www.theeagleinn.com) proved to be the perfect “home base.” The charming bed-and-breakfast style boutique property - characterized by its historic Santa Barbara Spanish-Colonial architecture - is literally steps away from the marina and beach and all its attraction and recreation and easy walking distance to the iconic Stearns Wharf, The Funk Zone and State Street, the area’s main shopping/dining destination (more on that in a minute).
All of the inn’s guest rooms are luxuriously appointed with modern amenities and some of its accommodations feature oversized whirlpool tubs, fireplaces and verandas or patios. Our family stayed in one of the freestanding casitas (little houses) - the Santa Cruz which showcases an en-suite kitchenette and sun-drenched sitting room (with queen-sized sofa bed) afforded our family of four plenty of space to stretch out. Perks of staying here include the complimentary use of bicycles, daily hot breakfast delivered to your room and freshly baked cookies each afternoon.But perhaps the biggest benefit is its ideal location central to absolutely everything our family wanted to do for the weekend.
A three-minute walk to the Santa Barbara Harbor and we were ready to embark on a sunset kayak tour with our guide at the Santa Barbara Adventure Company (sbadventureco.com). We spent 2+ hours on the water, coasting by a myriad of watercraft from luxury yachts to fishing boats and kelp harvester and paddling past a dredge populated with an array of waterfowl- blue herons, California brown pelicans and gulls. Two particular highlights - the repeated appearance of a curious sea lion pup popping up between our kayaks and the visual spectacle of hundreds of terns diving from the sky to skim the surface of the water in front of us. Our super knowledgable, animated and entertaining guide Mark made our tour memorable - and it’s obvious he loves his job. Seriously, what’s not to love - we all had so much fun, we could get used to spending every afternoon on the water.
Or at the ocean’s edge. The next day we borrowed bikes to pedal the Cabrillo Bike Path which connects Shoreline Park to Butterfly Beach - about a four mile, mostly flat trek that takes cyclists past the Santa Barbara Harbor and the iconic landmark Stearns Wharf (the oldest working wharf in the state, built in 1872 - with spectacular views of the Santa Barbara coastline and the Santa Ynez Mountains), along a palm tree-lined path from East and West Beach and the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge before arriving at a scenic overlook surrounded by floral blossoms with the sparkling seas of Butterfly Beach below.
Self-guided walking (shopping and dining) tour
Santa Barbara’s hard-hit hospitality industry has been incredibly inventive and resourceful in adapting to COVID-19. One of its major developments is a temporary 9-block State Street Pedestrian Promenade, which opened in late May and will remain open at least until Dec. 8th. Restaurants have outdoor seating along the sidewalks and streets, and its a joy to stroll leisurely down the corridor.
We strolled to to breakfast at D’Angelo Bakery (dangelobakery.com) on Guiterrez Street. Offering freshly baked European style bread and pastries and delicious, made-to-order meals, D’Angelo has been a fixture in the community since 1991 - popular with both locals and tourists lucky enough to stumble upon this culinary gem.
As expected, my kids went right for the sweetest options on the menu - our son selected the “uniquely ours” Banana Foster French toast which arrived with an abundance of sliced banana and brown sugar, flambeed with rum, while our daughter opted for a traditional French toast made from fresh baguette slices. For my part, I went straight for the Salmon Breakfast Croissant and discovered my new favorite morning meal - a supremely flavorful fresh baked croissant piled high with smoked salmon, arugula, tomato, red onion and capers. In the mood for more of a mid-day meal, my husband tried a decidedly untraditional, tasty tuna salad sandwich with fresh tomatoes and olive tapenade on toasted country wheat levain bread.
In addition to its flavorful food, it’s worth mentioning the stellar service here. We were warmly greeted by restaurant manager Alex and his staff - all extremely gracious and attentive. It’s no wonder that every table in the outdoor courtyard was occupied for sit-down dining while guests queued up to order takeaway.
The Funk Zone
Once a manufacturing hub in the 19th century, a 13-block mixed-use area near the waterfront, east of State Street, has been affectionately dubbed the “Funk Zone.” Old warehouses and manufacturing plants have given way to a flourishing subculture of artists’ studios and galleries, mural and street art, eclectic wine-tasting rooms, craft breweries/tap rooms, artisanal shops and eateries. Which leads us to Lucky Penny (luckypennysb.com). Located in the heart of the Funk Zone, this small, stand-alone eatery’s exterior is tiled with 164,456 real copper pennies and is home to innovative artisanal pizzas from a wood-burning oven, locally sourced garden fresh salads, griddled paninis, house-made lemonade and handmade sweet treats, including made-from-scratch popsicles. On a warm day, try the signature house-made Frosé, a delicious slushie for adults.
Lucky Penny’s wood-fired pizzas were a huge hit - for the kids - the East Coast Pepperoni topped with san Marzano marinara, fresh mozzarella and parmesan and for their mom - the San Daniele Prosciutto and Summer Melon with burrata, pickled fennel and toasted ciabatta. Other inventive options include the Roasted Maitake Mushroom pizza made with garlic cream, grilled sweet corn, mission figs, parmesan and arugula.
Take the scenic drive or hike to one of Santa Barbara’s four stunning waterfalls, tucked into the city’s front country. Ranging from easy to intermediate, each hike makes an easy round trip adventure for the whole family. Prefer the beach? Throw a blanket down at one of many sandy ocean stretches along the coast. From dog-friendly Arroyo Burro to world-famous East Beach, there’s something to keep everyone occupied.
Fine dining, boutique shopping, beachside biking, coastal kayaking or nature hiking in one of the Central Coast’s most sought after retreats. What better time to escape? What better place?
Visit Santa Barbara