A Family Getaway to Santa Barbara, CA
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 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.
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.
If you're visiting Montecito, they may be curious about some of the fabulous estates that make up a good portion of this small community. There is one that is open to the public and that is Lotusland. Built in the Spanish/Mediterranean style, it was formally owned by Russian opera star, Ganna Walska who developed world-class gardens on the estate. She donated her home to the city of Santa Barbara and now visitors come from all over to marvel at this luscious paradise.
The "Funk Zone" and the Harbor
Leaving Montecito and heading back into Santa Barbara, check out the new up and coming “Funk Zone”. Until recently, this area was where local surfboard shapers had their shops and artists would create in warehouses. Today there are several fun places to grab a bite, enjoy a cappuccino or sip wine. The wine bars feature local wines from the Santa Ynez Valley. There are still several surf shops where you can pick up a hot bikini or awesome surfboard. My kids and I were enchanted when we stumbled across a tiny but fascinating surf museum behind The Beach House Surf Shop. Kids of all ages will enjoy the funky exhibits that reflect the California surfer/skater lifestyle.
Not far from the Funk Zone is the Santa Barbara Harbor. Brophy Brothers is a must visit restaurant loved by locals and visitors alike. This place is a Santa Barbara institution. If you visit, give yourself any extra hour or so as there is nearly always a wait. The wait can be lots of fun however, as you can stroll along the boardwalk checking out the boats while waiting for your buzzer to inform you that your table is ready. This place has the best clam chowder and fried calamari around!
Santa Barbara is known all over the world as a great vacation destination. It is the blending of many cultures including Spanish, Mexican and of course the California surfer lifestyle that makes this place sophisticated yet laid back. Even as a native, I am always making new discoveries while enjoying old traditions with my family. I know you will too, if you visit this coastal paradise."
Wendy’s list of top places to see in Santa Barbara:
Places to Visit with the Kids
Where to Stay
- Four Seasons Biltmore - 1260 Channel Dr.
Wendy Jackson Buscaglia was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California. The youngest of seven children, her family has lived between Montecito and the Santa Ynez Valley for over sixty years. Wendy grew up riding horses and building sand castles, embracing the Santa Barbara lifestyle. She attended UCSB as a biology student.
While visiting San Francisco half way through college, she did a complete “about face”, moved to Northern California and finished out her studies in film and the arts. Inspired by San Francisco and her love of film making, Wendy worked in advertising for several years. It was at an ad agency in The City where she met her husband, a video editor. Today is happily raising their two daughters in Marin County. She loves hiking in the hills and embracing the healthy life that Marin offers. She returns to Santa Barbara often to visit friends and family and will always be a hippie surfer girl.
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