A Family Getaway to Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara Mission

My best friend from when I used to live in San Francisco, CA is a Santa Barbara native. I always thought Wendy had a very unique California hippie-chic style, so I asked her to share with me her off the beaten path destinations in Santa Barbara:

Known as the American Rivera, Santa Barbara, California has been a premier destination for decades. Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, it's a place of breathtaking beauty, history and rich culture. The stylish architecture reflects Spanish and Mexican heritage and the year-round temperate climate allows for the most beautiful gardens. Here is a place that literally has it all.

"Santa Barbara is also a place with a laid back vibe, which comes from the strong surf culture as some of the best waves on the west coast break on the shores. I was fortunate enough to have been born in this coastal paradise. Several years ago, I moved to Northern California where I live with my husband and two young daughters. We return often to visit family and friends. Of course, I have my favorite spots; some old and some new that I'd like to share.

Santa Barbara offers something for everyone!

The Mission 

The center of Santa Barbara is the Mission. Established by the Spanish Franciscans in 1786, The Santa Barbara Mission has reigned over the city for more than 200 years. The structural beauty is so great, it is known as “Queen of the Missions”. Built with the help of the local Chumash Indians, the Mission is on a hill with a large, picturesque rose garden and views of the ocean. Tours are offered daily and range from 20-40 minutes or you may explore the buildings and gardens on your own. Children and adults both enjoy this historical place.

History and Science for Kids

Only a few blocks from the Mission is the Natural History Museum. Children can spend an entire day here, exploring the intriguing exhibits. There are exhibits of native plant and animal life, local Chumash Indians, geological interests as well as a planetarium. The architecture of the museum is yet another example of the beautiful Spanish style that is prevalent throughout this unique town.

My children are especially fond of the Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens known to locals at “the Child’s Estate” zoo. This place is a real treasure. Built on the grounds of an old Estate that burned down in the 1930’s, it is a wonderful place to spend the day. I have my own childhood memories of watching the monkeys and giraffes and riding the miniature train around the grounds. There are several little snack bars at the zoo or it is a perfect place to bring a picnic lunch. Across from the zoo is East Beach where the volleyball enthusiasts like to play. This is nice wide beach with very small waves and is ideal for kids. There is a beachfront playground and a snack pavilion as well.

Montecito

Located just a few miles south of downtown Santa Barbara is the exclusive community of Montecito. Here is where you will find my favorite location, Butterfly Beach. This beach is perfect for long strolls, complete with views of the nearby Channel Islands. On a perfect day, the waves can be just the right size for surfing.

Across the street from Butterfly Beach is the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel. Built in 1927, the Biltmore reflects the sophisticated yet casual California lifestyle. The hotel grounds have abundant gardens and it is built in the typical Spanish Colonial Revival style. Celebrities are known to come up from Los Angeles and stay for the weekend in one of the many bungalows located on the lush grounds. The Biltmore Bar is a relaxing spot for afternoon tea or an early evening cocktail. Another perk of staying at this luxurious hotel is the privilege of using the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club located directly across the street. This is a private beach club with an Olympic size swimming pool and many other amenities. It is said that the Coral Casino is the best beach club on the West Coast.

There are many quaint shops located on Coast Village Road along with some fantastic restaurants. For dinner with the kids, you can’t beat Los Arroyos. The menu offers delicious Mexican food that is well priced in an elegant yet family friendly environment. My daughters love the taquitos and I love the house margarita made with fresh squeezed lime juice. After dinner, my daughters always beg for an ice cream from Here’s the Scoop which features gelatos and sorbets made from local fruits. Across the street from Los Arroyos, also on Coast Village Road is Lucky’s Steak House. This is the perfect place for an adult evening. Classic American dishes served with fabulous cocktails make Lucky’s the place to see and be seen. It’s exciting to view the line up of Ferraris and Porsches parked outside on a weekend evening. But don’t be intimidated, Lucky’s has a great atmosphere of casual luxury.

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