Just 95 miles north of L.A., but a world away from the home of hype, understated but ultra-hip and sophisticated Santa Barbara serves as home to its own eclectic community of surfers, socialites, dot com refugees and Hollywood escapees. Somehow, it all comfortably coexists in this city scattered along a gorgeous strip of winding coastline, bordered by winding strips of beach and rolling hills. This natural and human variety shows up again in the variety of activity that Santa Barbarans enjoy in a local climate which is consistently pleasant to heavenly most days of the year. As you swing in from the freeway into downtown, you get an immediate sense of this human-sized city by the ocean’s pulse: bikeriders, rollerbladers, in and outward bound surfers and divers—they’re all out and about on the sidewalks, boardwalks and mingling with the regular folk at every location around town.
Santa Barbara is a very complete city, in the sense that it has all the facilities and services a traveler might need to comfortably get in, around and out. Transportation wise, there’s an Amtrak station, a municipal airport served by regular carriers, a freeway passing through that can whisk you up from Los Angeles in little over two hours. Its local geography makes it compact enough to not have to do extensive driving in order to see a lot if you don’t want to. You can keep yourself pretty much on foot while in the downtown area with just short hops in your car; making a day of it downtown will allow you to see the municipal buildings of note, much of the local gallery and art scene, coffee houses and nightlife, and sites like the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. If you have time left over, you can head up into the hills to explore such landmarks as the Mission, the vistas overlooking the city and waterfront from the hills behind it, or head north to Goleta and explore the beach and small town scene there. University of California – Santa Barbara has a beautiful campus in the Isla Vista district adjacent to the north end of town. Neighborhoods like Montecito and Carpinteria are south of the city and worth their own exploration of at least a half day. Take in the surfing scene at the state beaches fronting Carpinteria, then head back into Montecito and more spectacular views from the hills above it. When you descend toward more level ground near the oceanfront, there’s a commercial area with several fine restaurants and then the Biltmore, the grande dame hotel of the region which is also a popular place to sit outside and have lunch on their terrace overlooking the Pacific.
While many people come to be active, many others still come simply to relax and unwind, an ideal activity in itself in a city which has everything except frenetic pressure to it. So indeed, take time to plan and prepare for a favorite activity—on the water, on land, on wheels—but also leave yourself the space to do nothing more than drink in the dramatic mountains, gorgeous views, rolling waves of the Pacific bearing in a surfing native, and the gulls circling over their frisky dolphin brethren in the blue waters up and down the serene coastline of Santa Barbara.
RESOURCES and LOCATIONS:
Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau – Tel: (805) 966-9222, toll-free 800-549-5133; www.santabarbaraca.com
Adventours-Inc. – Corporate group adventure touring on land and water in the Santa Barbara region. Tel: (805) 899-2929; www.adventours-inc.com
Surf Country – Surfboards, apparel, repairs, rentals, lessons. Tel: (805)-683-4450