Of all areas in California, few celebrate their historical roots more than nearby Santa Barbara. The architecture, cuisine, arts, culture and mild climate are powerful magnets for the rich and famous. It’s no wonder a long list of celebrities live, or have lived, in or near this prime real estate.
The beach at Santa Barbara faces south, just like Long Beach, and many activities emanate from the shoreline. The central point is Stearns Wharf where I always enjoy the walk out to an array of restaurants and small shops.
On Sunday I like to stroll along Cabrillo Boulevard, just east of the pier, for the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show. The weather is usually perfect for the ¾-mile row of tables, tents and blankets covered with all kinds of artistic creations. I challenge anyone to make this walk without finding something appealing.
On the west side of the harbor, the Maritime Museum is open daily except Wednesday. I appreciate all of the exhibits and artifacts, but I have the most fun with the periscope that extends over the top of the building offering a 360% view of the harbor, city and foothills.
Heading inland on State Street, next to the Amtrak Station, is the Reagan Ranch Center. It’s a museum focused on Rancho del Cielo, Ronald Reagan’s ranch in the hills above Santa Barbara. You’ll enjoy the great archive of memorabilia related to the retreat of the former Governor of California and President of the United States. It’s open for tours Monday through Thursday and definitely worth a visit.
State Street is the heartbeat of the Historic Downtown. In the first few blocks, between Haley and Ortega, there’s a Farmers Market every Tuesday evening – rain or shine. The streets are blocked off for this prized neighborhood happening and I’m always impressed by how well attended it is.
Meandering up tree-lined State Street, there are many opportunities for elegant, tranquil, outdoor dining. I occasionally duck into one of the secluded “paseos,” to experience even more galleries, shops and fine dining.
If fine dining isn’t for you, try the funky eatery called La Super-Rica Taqueria. It’s a genuine Mexican restaurant just a short drive from downtown on Milpas Street. This rickety-looking little place long ago became popular as a result of rave notices by food-guru Julia Child. At meal times, it usually has a line halfway down the block. Pop-singer Katy Perry likes the place so much she sings about it in one of her songs. I’ve often had to share a table, but visiting with the other patrons is part of the experience.
Back on State Street, there are several movie houses that participate in frequent film festivals. They are always fun, but plan ahead because they sell out quickly. I’ve missed my first choice more than once.
Perhaps one of the best deals in the downtown area is the free tour of the County Court House, just a block east of State Street near the Museum of Art. Docent-led tours are offered most weekdays. From the tower you can look over the historic red-tiled roofs and even see the Santa Barbara Mission.
Ah, yes, the famous Santa Barbara Mission. It’s open every day and still celebrates Catholic Masses. This is where it all started in 1786 on one of the most prime pieces of real estate in California. Check out this video from an aerial drone:
Padre Junipero Serra would have been a great real estate investor. He sure knew how to pick ‘em – Location! Location! Location!