Like Austin, Santa Barbara transcends being a geographic place and has become an aspirational lifestyle brand. While Austin’s lifestyle, at its best, is casually hip, Santa Barbara is casually luxurious on the California coast.
What’s so special about Santa Barbara?
There’s probably nowhere in the United States more beautiful than Santa Barbara. A ribbon of a city tucked between a coastal mountain range and the Pacific Ocean, it looks southward toward a chain of islands that rise out of the sea 30 miles away and paint a perfect backdrop. The city itself is primarily Spanish architecture with red tile roofs. It’s easy to believe you’re in Europe. The landscapes, which in their original, pre-settlement state were much like the Texas Hill Country–live oaks and native grasses–are now lush, well-watered plantings of palm trees, roses, birds of paradise and agapanthus.
The Mediterranean climate in Santa Barbara is close to perfect. Average highs range from 60s in winter to high 70s in summer. In the last few years, summer temperatures have spiked higher. Wintertime lows are in the 40s. Summer is nice and fall is glorious—crisp and clear with low humidity.
The chance of summer rain is 0%. Rain comes, when it comes, in the winter.
Late spring and early summer can be foggy, especially in the mornings. The locals call it “June Gloom.”
Santa Barbara has beautiful beaches, from El Capitan in the west to Fernald Point in the east. All of them are a place to pack your cooler, set up your chairs and lather up with sunscreen. But here the beaches are more of a setting than an experience. A place to get some sun, take a walk or let your dog loose. The water is cold, mostly braved by young children splashing in the surf and by wetsuit-clad surfers. Walk the beach, or sit and look in the early morning or late afternoon, and you’ll see a passing parade of dolphins and pelicans, and sea lions frolicking and foraging in the kelp forests beyond the breakers.
It’s hard to turn away from the ocean, but when you do, there’s a range of 4,000-foot mountains just behind. Spidered with hiking trails and greened with chaparral brush and trees, the mountains are a crinkled, photo-friendly backdrop, especially in the moments before sunset when the hills glow softly in what’s called “the pink moment.” Invisible from below, the upper canyons conceal big predators like bears and mountain lions.
Here’s a rule of thumb: where wine grapes grow, life is good. And lucky for us, wine grapes grow here. Warm, sunny, summer days and cool nights with occasional foggy mornings are a recipe for world-class wines. Santa Barbara is full of tasting rooms and the nearby Santa Ynez Valley is packed with vineyards and low-key, world-class wineries.
The famous and the wealthy discovered Santa Barbara 100 years ago and they never forgot it. Keep your eyes open and you might see the Duke of Sussex walking his dogs on the beaches of Summerland, Ellen and Portia watching Brandi Carlile perform at the Santa Barbara Bowl, or maybe Oprah and Stedman getting coffees to go at Pierre Lafond.
It’s so easy to be healthy here. A list of daily activities:
- walk the beach
- mountain hike
- ebike ride
In one morning, you can splash your feet in the Pacific, walk on the beach, ride your bike in the mountains, and have time to clean up and have a leisurely wine-soaked lunch. The climate and soil will grow anything, and there are farmer’s markets almost every day. Any kind of bodywork or spiritual help you can think of, it’s here. Namaste.
Other things to do
What to do depends on you. If you’re traveling with someone special, or with small children, or if you’re a surfer or kiteboarder, your activities will be different. But here are a few for everyone to consider.
- Visit the Mission and the Rose Garden
- Santa Barbara Courthouse (self-guided tour, climb stairs to clock tower for view)
- Stearns Wharf (touristy but fun, with beautiful views)
- Funk Zone and Harbor (for visitors it’s the heart of the city)
- Santa Barbara Bowl (outdoor amphitheater with ocean views)
- Montecito (wealthy community of celebrities, tycoons and trust funders)
- Wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley (one hour drive, numerous wineries and the charming town of Los Olivos)
Where to eat
This and the other recommendations are just samplings. There are lots of great places, and you’ll have fun finding your own special spots.
- Clark’s (coming soon, Montecito. This is Clark’s, the McGuire Moorman Lambert oyster bar on Austin’s 6th St. They expanded to Aspen and now to Santa Barbara)
- Shoreline Beach Cafe (at the beach, some tables are in the sand)
- Brophy Bros. (harbor seafood house with bar and great views)
- Carazon Cocina (downtown, tacos)
- Santa Barbara Public Market (casual, various)
- Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio (casual, funk zone)
- Finney’s Crafthouse (bar/restaurant, funk zone)
- Arigato (sushi, downtown)
- Ca’Dario (Italian)
- The Lark (LA style, funk zone)
- Bouchon (fine dining, downtown)
- The Stonehouse (fine dining, Montecito style)
Coffee & breakfast
- Jeannine’s (breakfast and lunch, two locations)
- Handlebar Coffee Roasters (coffee shop, two locations)
- Caje (coffee shop, Haley Street)
- Tre Lune (known for dinner, but serves an outstanding full breakfast)
Beer, wine & cocktails
- Figueroa Mountain Brewing (beer, funk zone)
- Melville Winery Tasting Room (wine, downtown)
- Riviera Bar (cocktails, downtown)
- Santo Mezcal (cocktails, downtown)
- The Pickle Room (cocktails, downtown)
- Harry’s Plaza Cafe (cocktails and food, locals place, Loreto Plaza)
- Lucky’s (Cocktails and steakhouse, Montecito)
- Test Pilot (never been but want to try it!)
Where to stay
You’re not going to spend much time in your room, so keep that in mind when choosing your accommodations. Any of the big hotels along the beach, or the boutique hotels in town, are worth a look. And some spectacular places are available on Vrbo and Airbnb. Just be sure the location works for you. What’s called “Santa Barbara” could be a 20-30 minute drive from downtown. That can get you something really special, so it can be worth it.
A few recommendations:
- Hotel Californian (perfect location—walk anywhere)
- El Encanto (tranquil, beautiful views)
- San Ysidro Ranch (laid back luxury, Montecito)
- Rosewood Miramar Beach (seaside luxury, Montecito)
- Motel 6 (the first-ever Motel 6, some rooms have ocean views)
Flying: There are no direct flights to Santa Barbara. Fly private if you can. For the rest of us, here are your best choices:
- Southwest Airlines via Las Vegas
- American Airlines via Phoenix or Dallas
- United Airlines via Denver or San Francisco
Driving: Another option, fun for some and not for others, is to drive.
1. Measured from Austin’s Steve Ray Vaughn statue to Santa Barbara’s Dolphin Family sculpture at Stearns Wharf, the trip is 1,474 miles and takes about 22 hours.
2. Driving up from Los Angeles can be fun if you avoid morning and afternoon rush hours. Rent a car and drive through Santa Monica and up the Pacific Coast Highway. Stop in Malibu and get a cup of coffee, a drink or some lunch. Distance: 96 miles. Time: 2 hours+.
3. Driving down from San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in the USA. It’s 7 ½ hours on Google Maps, but don’t go if you’re in a hurry. Take two days and spend the night in Carmel, or further south, along the Big Sur coast. At Pismo Beach, take the 101 and when you get to the wine country town of Los Olivos, switch to highway 154 for a spectacular first view of Santa Barbara as you crest San Marcos pass and glimpse the ocean, and soon after, the city of Santa Barbara on its shore.
If you go, let us know how it went, and pass along any recommendations you think we should add (or subtract). Enjoy your trip!
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The Austin Police Department is investigating a suspicious death near Waterloo Park on Thursday night.
At the intersection of 12th and Red River streets, police received multiple calls at around 8:40 p.m. about a man covered in blood running in the roadway. Police say the man had potentially been stabbed. Austin-Travis County EMS transported the injured man to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
No suspect is in custody at this time, and police did not reveal any suspect information in a late-night media briefing.
APD is asking anyone with information on this incident to contact Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS or the homicide tip line at 512-477-3588.
Police said this was the second homicide incident they responded to in less than 24 hours.
By Samuel Stark
Those of us who have braved the journey to find parking on South Congress Avenue during peak hours know it is not for the faint of heart.
You might be circling, searching for an open spot for what feels like hours. Euphoria fills your spirit when you think you have finally found that perfect spot. But almost as quickly as your optimism ascended, it dissipates as you realize there is an almost inconceivably small car scooched all the way up to the curb. Your journey continues.
The Transportation Department is aware of the parking challenges in the area and is ready to take some steps based on recommendations that came from a study of the parking in the South Congress District, coordinated by the Downtown Austin Alliance.
“(South Congress is) experiencing the issues that happen when you grow businesses within a district: Everybody wants to go there,” Jason Redfern, division manager at the Transportation Department, told the Monitor. “And now we have to employ those tools to better manage all the parking and interest within that district,” he added.
The South Congress District parking study was split into two phases. Phase one aimed to diagnose the problems through data collection and analysis, and phase two laid out strategies to mitigate them.
The study found that many cars stay parked in the South Congress District, particularly on South Congress Avenue, for extended periods, sometimes beyond eight hours. Further, for the drivers who are violating parking rules, there is limited enforcement due in part to a lack of resources to fund enforcers.
Also, of the 5,400 parking spaces they tallied in the area, nearly 40 percent of the spots available at peak hours go underutilized, while spots on South Congress Avenue stay filled.
One of the study recommendations the Transportation Department is currently going forward with is the establishment of South Congress District as a Parking and Transportation Management District, a defined area that would benefit from the addition of parking meters. If a PTMD is approved in this area, 51 percent of the revenue collected from the parking meters would go to funding transportation-related projects within the district, Redfern said. See the proposed South Congress PTMD boundary here.
These parking districts already exist in the Austin area, including one on the east side.
“We’ve leveraged dollars (from) the East Austin area (PTMD) to help finish an intersection improvement project where they’re going to put in ADA-compliant ramps,” Redfern said.
Though eventually the Transportation Department will put meters into the South Congress District if the PTMD is approved, Redfern said they want to ensure other issues, such as simplifying and standardizing residential permit parking, are in place before they add them.
The parking study found that currently in the South Congress District there are 13 different types of residential parking permits, which have varying restrictions. The study authors point out that these different types of permits are “confusing” and suggest that this contributes to the underutilization of available spots, including for employees of South Congress establishments, outside of South Congress Avenue.
Before the PTMD strategy in the South Congress District is adopted, the plans will be presented before the Urban Transportation Commission and the Mobility Committee. The plan will then be presented to City Council, which will vote on it later this year, Redfern said.
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