My 105 Reasons to Live in the 805
By David Michael Wieger
There are many more than 105 reasons I love living here in the 805 (area code, that is) but here’s a start. They are not in numerical order. To do that would be impossible. So please don’t recognize any hierarchy or relevance in this list, and instead see it as what it is: 105 reasons I love living in the 805. And that’s it.
1) Santa Barbara beaches. They are clean, easy to reach, with lots of parking and come in all kinds and shapes — wide and flat for volleyball, lined by cliffs for walking, boarded by lawns and shaded by palm trees, and best of all, sheltered and vacant. Being an ocean-swimmer myself, and having grown up in Marin (up near San Francisco) where the water temperature remains in the mid-50s, the ocean in Santa Barbara is in the 70s a good hunk of the year, which means I can swim in the ocean 8 months a year without a wetsuit. Then there is the added bonus of seeing a dolphin, which I consider akin to seeing a shooting star; something that happens far more often than you might think.
2) A mountain trail, or a beach is never more than a 10 minute drive away. That’s with traffic, or a lack thereof. That’s 10 minutes from wherever you are in Santa Barbara to standing in the surf. That’s 10 minutes to reaching a trailhead that leads you to a stunning vista. That’s 10 minutes to a field of wild mustard, or a grove of oaks. Ten minutes….
3) Even during a downturn in the economy, Santa Barbara is considered one of the “gold standards” in property values, and over time, most homes in the area have appreciated in value more quickly than the DOW 500. So not only do you get to live here, but you get to invest wisely in living here. Not bad.
4) Mosquitos rarely find their way to Santa Barbara. Having lived back East as a child, I can tell you this is a remarkable and wonderful phenomenon. I’ve been told that there is some kind of vortex; mosquitos from the North stop in San Luis Obispo, and those from the South make it as far as Ventura before mysteriously finding themselves unable to fly. Who knew….?
5) It is seldom humid, and rarely too hot. In fact, my guess is that 90% of homes in Santa Barbara don’t even have air conditioning. Sure, there’s the random heatwave, but nothing a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a dip in the ocean can’t remedy. But wait, perhaps that is the remedy for everything….?
6) First Thursdays: a wandering, wonderful way to meet artists and see their work. It’s also a great evening to simply feel the community in Santa Barbara, and then go out to dinner. I can’t exactly explain it, but every time I grab a bite after a “First Thursday” art opening, I meet someone new, and someone I really like. Perhaps it is the art that opens us up to new relationships? I’d like to thinks so.
7) The Santa Barbara Bowl. A 4500 seat outdoor amphitheater and a glorious place to hear live music. Even major artists, like Sting, accustomed to playing much larger venues come back to “The “Bowl” year after year. Not only is it small, and a bowl (the word sounds cozy all by itself.…), but it’s also no more than 10 minutes away from wherever you live in Santa Barbara. You see, now you’ve got the ocean, a field of Lupin and “Florence and the Machine” only ten minutes away.
8) YEAR ROUND Farmer’s Markets. You can find one most every day of the week, but the Saturday morning market is my favorite, especially followed by an espresso at The French Press right across the street. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Tuesday night Farmer’s Market, too. What’s not to like about going shopping for organic vegies, grown by folks I know, then stopping by for a shot of Whiskey with friends at the James Joyce right on State Street?
9) The Municipal wine tasting room. Funky and fine. Years ago, “The Funk Zone” was where you went to buy a new surfboard at Al Merrick’s Channel Island Surfboards or went to purchase a plank of exotic wood at Soboba Wood Company, but now you can dine well at The Lark or go to one of many wine tasting rooms and still pick up your board, and your board, but that’s after.
10) The Santa Barbara Museum of Art. A pampered child with excellent manners. A gem of a museum smack dab in the middle of downtown. Having been born in NYC and raised in Marin (up near San Francisco), and having traveled extensively throughout the world, you’d think I wouldn’t get so turned-on by a little municipal art museum. Forgive me. I’m turned-on. You will be, too.
11) The Arlington Theatre. Where else can you see a big popcorn flick, surrounded by Spanish Colonial balconies with mock starlight flickering over head? Okay, maybe it sounds corny as hell, but it’s wonderful. (And just so you know, I’m pretty allergic to corny.) Then after the film, three doors up State Street is Opal. Ask for Tina, or Richard (the pun expert of all time) and tell them I sent you. They may not let you in, but they may very well comp you a dessert. One never knows.
12) Whale watching. Who doesn’t want to get cozy with the largest animals on the planet? You will also see the Santa Barbara coastline from another vantage point, and may also enjoy 100s of dolphins joining you on your ride. But wait, there’s more! On some cruises, you will receive a cocktail to boot! Any one of those goodies would, in my mind, put Whale Watching on the list!
13) The Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. Stunning, even in our drought. You can go and wander. Go and buy plants at one of their plant sales. Or just go and sit and eat a picnic. My personal favorite.
15) The Douglas Family Preserve (also called The Wilcox Property): confusing I know, but worth the short drive. Then stroll on the bluffs overlooking the ocean, followed by….
16) A walk on the beach at another dual named beach locale. Officially it’s called Arroyo Burro Beach, but locals call it Hendry’s Beach. Why? I have no idea. But what I DO know is that you can walk your dog on the beach there without a leash, and then have a cocktail at the Boathouse. Need I ask “why”?
17) Concourse D’Elegance. Snazzy cars on a polo field. What’s not to like?
18) The Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Pre-Oscars. Red carpets. The best of the best films of the year in a super casual, very Santa Barbara environment. It’s a week-long event, and I wish it went on all month. Not only does Roger Durling (the masterful artistic director) and his selection of film fare, make the festival worthwhile, but what’s more is that just about everyone you’ll meet in line will be someone you either know, or want to know. Welcome to Santa Barbara.
19) Local Seafood. Sure we have seabass, black cod, sea urchin, spiny lobsters, but in February we also have the Queen of the Seas (I just made that up) Santa Barbara spot prawns. They’re like tiny lobsters, but even firmer and with an amazingly sweet taste that puts lobsters to shame. I even had a friend visit from Maine who confessed that he preferred the Santa Barbara spot prawns to his home fare. Maybe he was just really hungry (I didn’t feed him lunch) but I believe him. Better yet, I believe myself — they’re amazing!
20) Local celebrities at The Pharmacy in Montecito. A local breakfast joint for the Montecito crowd. Though, to be honest, while I may call it a “breakfast joint” it’s likely that I am the only one who does. To others it’s a “casual breakfast place” where one can share a waffle with Oprah.
21) Coffee houses. While Santa Barbara isn’t Seattle, or Portland, folks around here take their coffee pretty seriously. The Handlebar and The French Press are two of the best. Having said that, discussing “best coffee” with a stranger — you — is a more volatile subject for a conversation than politics, but I don’t care. Drink coffee and vote.
22) Lotusland. Madame Ganna Walska, a well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, purchased the estate in 1941 and spent the next 43 years creating Lotusland. In order to do so, she also kept marrying wealthier husbands which, in part, allowed her to create a collection of exotic plants throughout her dramatic and whimsical 37-acre property. After her death in 1984, Lotusland became a nonprofit botanical garden and opened to the public in 1993. As a young man I used to skinny dip in the abalone lined pool on full moons, but please don’t tell anyone. Now I keep my clothes on and enjoy the magical gardens during daytime tours.
23) The Santa Barbara Zoo. I ask you, where else can you take a tiny train around a tiny zoo and see African lions and professional volleyball players on the beach below? Come on! Something for everyone!
24) The Santa Barbara Mission. Yes, it’s called the “Queen” of California missions for good reason — it is so stunning! Not only is the Mission worth a visit, but you can cross the street and have a picnic on the Rose Garden Lawns, catch a view of the ocean and play croquet — just like the Franciscan monks use to do (in my fantasy, anyway.)
25) Surfing. I’d be a fool to share the location of Santa Barbara’s best surf spots, but trust that Rincon is considered is one of the most famous surf breaks in California, known around the world for its well-formed waves and long rides. The book 100 Best Surf Spots in the World rates Rincon at 24. Figuring that most of those other 23 other surf spots are in locations only reached with four-wheel drive and 20 hour flights, I’m okay with #24, and I imagine you will be, too. As to the other surf breaks in Santa Barbara, you’ll have to find them on your own.
26) Cold Springs Tavern. A short drive up the (San Marcos) Pass, but when you arrive at this old stagecoach stop from the 1800s, you will feel transported in time and place. Then there’s the local music and the tri-trip sandwiches on Sundays! My favorite memory is having a huge, hairy, bare-chested, long-haired, bearded Harley-dude, approach me with an emotionless stare and gesture the beer bottle in front of me: “You done with that?” It was only then that I saw the giant plastic bag in his free hand. He was collecting bottles for recycling. So much for first impressions. Same thing with Cold Springs Tavern. It may look like a funky beer-joint, but there’s a lot going on under the rustic veneer.
27) Glass Blowing. You can have a private lesson with Saul, a master, and walk away with either an elegant glass bowl, or an interpretation of an elegant glass bowl. In either case, you’ll walk away with a good time. On a side note, one of my favorite architects in Santa Barbara, Jeff Shelton (more on him later) recently commissioned Saul to create some abstract pieces for his newest creation to great effect.
28) Lawn Bowling. Okay, true confession: as an athlete myself, lawn bowling sounds silly and designed only for very old people, perhaps in walkers, but if you like bocce ball (okay, who doesn’t?) and you like playing a game while holding a glass of wine in one hand (again, who doesn’t?), I can tell you from experience that lawn bowling is a heck of a lot of fun. Both of the bowling courts (I’m not even sure if that’s what they’re called) have mountain views. Go on. Give it a go.
29) Kayaking. Super convenient to rent and very reasonable. You’re the skipper. There’s the ocean. I call it heaven. For a greater adventure, go out to the islands and explore the caves.
30) Standup Paddle Boarding. Or as it’s known: SUP. It seems difficult, but it’s actually much easier than it looks. How many things can you say that about? And if you’ll excuse the religious reference, when you go SUPing, you’ll feel like Jesus walking on water. A good thing for this man, for sure!
31) La Super Rica Taqueria. It’s been called: Julia Child’s Taqueria, and for good reason. It’s delicious. As an aside, before I became involved with real estate, I owned a catering company here in Santa Barbara (this was 30 years ago…) and one New Years, I prepared and served a dinner for Ms. Child and her friends. I was in awe of her at the time (still am) and therefore terrified to present a meal to her and her closest friends. All went well.
32) McConnell’s Ice Cream was founded here in 1949. The ice cream is all made from scratch, in small batches, with grass-fed milk and cream and the best local, sustainable and organic ingredients. But honestly, who cares? It’s amazing. Sure, you can feel good about eating it, but come on — it’s ice cream and it’s amazing! Can’t that be enough? It is for me.
33) The Santa Barbara Courthouse. A spectacular example of Spanish-Moorish architecture. I must admit that including this destination into my 105 reasons to love the 805 makes me feel a little bit like a p.r. guy for Santa Barbara, but it’s so stunning, I have no choice but include it. Particularly at night, because whoever did the lighting is a genius. I’d love to invite them over and have them help me out around my garden.
34) East Beach. Perhaps it’s because it’s only 5 minutes to downtown that attorneys, CPAs, doctors and, ahem, real estate agents, sneak away during their lunch hour (and a half) to play some two on two volleyball, or perhaps it’s because this is the place that Karch Kiraly, the most famous American volleyball player was virtually raised, that has made this beach so desirable. Either way, it’s a great beach.
35) East Beach Grill to watch Ultimate Frisbee. You can eat breakfast outdoors and watch some of the best Ultimate Frisbee players in the state play for you on the soft sand, only fifteen feet from your omelette. I call this guilt-free dining. And as a shameless plug, while I am not one of those “best Ultimate Frisbee players in the state,” I play this game most every Saturday morning, and most Sunday’s. I do this not only because I love the game, having played it for more than 25 years, but also so that I can, from time to time, score a point on a young, stud half my age. So, come cheer me on!
36) Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. There’s a whale skeleton out front, and all sorts of wonderful exhibits inside; my favorite being the live, monarch butterfly exhibit that comes every year. This is also a great venue for all sorts of very cool lectures in the auditorium throughout the year. Being a nature-geek, I love this place.
37) Shopping. The truth is, I’m not much of a shopper, but my brother is, and as he’s from NYC and has (according to him) exquisite taste, he assures me that shopping in Santa Barbara is, while not NYC, very nice. So, I’m going with him on this one. He does, actually, have great taste, but please don’t tell him I said so.
38) The Urban Wine Trail. A grand name for basically going for a walk through the Funk Zone stopping from time to time to drink wine, and I LOVE it! Besides the fact that you can wander in and out of some great tasting rooms, you could also end up buying “Donald Trump Toilet Paper” or a collage or a painting of a reindeer along the way. Rather than try to explain, I say take a trek on the Urban Wine Trail and see what you find.
39) The Imperial. Even in this era of GPS and smartphones trust me, you’ll never find this place. I know this because I told a friend of mine who has lived in Santa Barbara for 40 years exactly where it is and he interrupted me: “Enough with the directions! I’ll find it.” He didn’t. Besides feeling great about being “right” I really enjoyed showing him this Frank-Sinatra-Tiki-Bar, where they make fabulous cocktails (they even make their own bitters)! You’ll find a neon sign that reads “Bak Dor” in the rear end of a vacant parking lot. Like I said, you’ll never find it. Call me.
40) Warbler Records. Vinyl records in a cool shop filled with other cool things. Just walking into the store you feel as though you’ve been given a beard and a tattoo. The owners of the shop are fantastic, too. If you have a hankering for analog music, head on over!
41) Stearn’s Wharf. Super touristy and wonderful. How often does one get to write that? Not often….so, Stearn’s Wharf, super touristy and wonderful. That felt good.
42) C’est Cheese. They have a huge selection of really good cheese sold to you by really good people. This may embarrass me later, and much of what I say embarrasses me later — the whole gluten-fat-free lifestyle makes me sad. C’est Cheese makes me happy. Go be happy.
43) Summer films in the Sunken Gardens. Here’s the deal: you bring a beach chair, a blanket and a picnic and you sit outside watching an iconic film surrounded by 1000+ folks all with beach chairs, blankets and picnics. This is my idea of a nice evening.
44) The Monarch Butterfly Migration. They come every year; fluttering like orange and black leaves clinging to local eucalyptus trees. When they mate, they hang onto each other and swirl, out of their “minds” as they fall from trees. What more does one want to witness in this wonderful world we live in? (The bit about them being “out of their minds” may or may not be true. They could very well be entirely “in their minds.” I’ll leave that to your interpretation.)
45) Riding bikes on the path to UCSB. It’s a long, safe bike path through lovely neighborhoods. You will pass a field of watermelons and end up at the ocean. As a young man, I went to school at UCSB and waited on tables in downtown Santa Barbara, which is about an eleven mile bike ride, one way. Peddling to work was easy, but returning home after an eight hour shift was tough, and if not for this bike path, and its winding ways (and the occasional “borrowed” watermelon) and the moonlight and the ocean…heck, truth is, I loved it. Still do.
46) Lizard’s Mouth. You’ll find this outcropping of giant boulders up on San Marcos Pass. You’ll also find huge views and a dragon. Or, kinda….
47) Knapp’s Castle. Let me start by saying that it’s so far from from a “castle” it’s silly. Actually, it’s a ruin of an old, burned-down house set up on a ridge. I’m not sure who owns it. I’m not even sure if going up there is against the law as trespassing. I only know that I’ve been there countless times and feel, in my own twisted way, that it merits mention as one of the best places to look back into the Santa Ynez Valley with a view worthy of an excellent picnic. Bring bail money, just in case.
48) Loon Point. I feel pretty confident that if you asked 100 people who have lived in Santa Barbara for a minimum of 20 years, to tell you were Loon Point is, less than 5 would give you the right answer. It’s a small, rather private beach that one accesses by crossing railroad tracks, and going under a freeway. While that may not sound all that bucolic, once you reach the bottom of the path and see the wide expanse of open beach, and the rock formations on the cliffs behind you, you’ll find it totally worth it!
49) Chaucers Bookstore. The best book store in town. By far. Being a writer myself, I can’t help but relish the against-all-odds victory of this small bookstore, set in a little mall, away from downtown, as it CRUSHED two major book chains (Borders and Barnes & Noble) both of which closed up shop and moved on, corporate tails between their legs.
50) Renaud’s. Not to sound too snooty, but I can’t stand a bad croissant and love a good croissant and it’s been 30 years since a really good croissant has been sold in Santa Barbara. Thank goodness for Renaud’s! They also have killer pastries and such, but the croissant….Oui!
51) “Flatbreads” in Los Alamos. Also called Full of Life. I don’t know what it is about my love of places that have two names (see: Hendry’s Beach & Arroyo Burro Beach, and The Wilcox Property & The Douglas Preserve.) but upon (brief) reflection, I think it has something to do with the fact that the place/s are so dang fabulous, who cares what they’re called? Back to Flatbreads/Full of Life — years ago I lived in a tiny town in Italy and learned how to make, and eat, enormous amounts of exquisite pizza. Clark, the chef at F/FOL does it right. Not only is the crust perfect, but all of his ingredients are local.
52) Sunstone Winery. Drive 35 minutes north of Santa Barbara, and become transported into the French Provincial countryside. Now that you’ve saved yourself the airfare to Europe, have a glass of wine in the lavender and rosemary scented courtyard. And enjoy knowing that Sunstone has been committed to growing their grapes without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or synthetic fungicides (the only “cide” I want when drinking my wine with is a “side” of cheese and crackers!)
53) Lavender Farm. Winding paths of lavender, 100 year old oak trees and a sunlight-fueled “still” to draw the essence of the flower into tiny droplets of pure yum. The fact that lavender is supposed to help support a calm composure is an added benefit for this particular real estate agent during challenging escrows.
54) Paradise Road. Where you can find excellent swimming pools at the very end of the trail. The further you hike into the canyon, the less folks and the clearer the water. A few years ago I broke my foot trying to save my blind dog from slipping down some stairs, and while Enzo was fine, I was confined to a “boot” for twelve weeks. I spent a couple of those weeks in a friend’s cabin on Paradise Road and fell in love with the area. It’s not that I’m suggesting that you break your leg in order to visit Paradise Road, but I am suggesting it’s well worth the drive.
55) Cutler’s A tiny artisan spirits tasting room in the Funk Zone. Ian (Cutler) comes from a family going back 80 years of making distilled spirits, and it shows by both his expertise and his ease in explaining his wares.
56) Architectural Tours. It happens once a year and I love it! The Santa Barbara AIA’s annual tour is a celebration of the extraordinary architectural legacy in Santa Barbara and the value of well-designed architecture to its surrounding community. On the tour you are privy to some of the finest, recently built homes as designed by some of our finest architects, and they feed you, too! A great afternoon.
57) Soho Restaurant and Music Club. Live music in small, brick-lined venue with an outdoor patio. Unlike the State Street music venues which can be fun if you’re in that kind of mood, I prefer walking upstairs to this long-standing, locals-mostly bar/restaurant/performance space. One night you’ll hear Ozomatli and on another She’s my Sister, He’s my Brother, and on the third night Glen Phillips. All for less than an Uber ride home, and in an environment you’d feel comfortable bringing your Mom to, if she was into that kind of music.
58) Earl Warren Showgrounds. Okay, this place is strange, but I adore it. Not only is the architecture weird as #*$%, but it’s also right next to the freeway. That said, depending on the week, you can see an orchid show, cat show, gun & sword show or women’s roller derby. Personally, I’d pay extra for the cat-roller derby combo event, but that’s just me.
59) Lilly’s Tacos. Where you can find tongue, eye, cheek tacos. Let’s just start there. Wow, and yes, and reasonably priced. Three of my favorite words. Or is that four?
60) Foodtrucks. Georgia’s Smokehouse and the Burger Bus for starters. After that, you can find many others on the streets of Santa Barbara and be satisfied and pleased in doing so. True, I enjoy “simple eats” at a good price, but I also love running into food truck proprietors at the local farmer’s market and knowing just how seriously they take their craft.
61) Hiking in Santa Barbara. Jesusita trail. Rattlesnake. Inspiration Point. And many others. Besides being fun to say out loud, they are stunning trails, most of which wind through canyons and reward the hiker with awe-inspiring views. And by “reward” I mean, “reward” as in bags of gold left on the side of the trail. Or, something like that.
62) Landscape Architects. In a land where most anything grows the possibilities are, if not endless, then close to it. This is why you’ll want, or need, a professional to help you create environments that feel natural, are water-wise, yet also are enhanced by whimsy. I have a list of my favorites. Eric Nagelmann is certainly one of these magicians. Often I can preview a newly-listed home and before I even reach the front door I know it’s been “Nagelmanned.” Knowing Eric, he’d hate me for having just now coined this term, but I’m strong and willing to face the consequences.
63) Jeff Shelton. There are many extraordinary architects in Santa Barbara, and I’ve sold homes designed by some of the very best. The reason I’m giving Jeff a number all to himself is because 1) he’s a friend, and 2) his work looks like none other, 3) you may love it, 4) you may hate it (which is fun, too) and 5) he’s a Frisbee enthusiast. No matter the reason, you will most likely smile upon seeing his work.
64) The Channel Islands. Here’s an embarrassing confession: I’ve lived in Santa Barbara for more than 40 years and until last weekend I had never once set foot on the Channel Islands. Forgive me. But now that I’ve seen islands from afar for years, and finally spent the night on Santa Cruz Island, and having seen a wild fox, smelled fresh sage and swam in Tinker’s Cove (used in the first Peter Pan film) I can say, without a doubt, that a trip out to the “islands” is a must. I look forward to a return visit very soon.
65) Sailing. In the summer and fall there is a reoccurring event called “Wet Wednesdays.” I’ll leave the title alone. But having been a crew member on a racing yacht in the San Francisco bay when I was younger, you’d think I’d be all-in on this event, but so far, while I’ve enjoyed the brilliant sails on the horizon every Wednesday as I play Ultimate Frisbee on the beach, I’ve yet to participate. As my body grows older, and the new Ultimate players get younger, Wet Wednesday is gaining in attractiveness summer by summer.
66) The Guitar Bar. It’s a bar that serves only guitars and it’s owned by a friend of mine. Jamie says: “I want to have an approachable luxury boutique vibe for everybody. Regardless of who you are and what kind of guitar is in your price range. Whether you’re a musician or a novice, we want to make sure we’re offering the kind of experience customers might have when buying a nice watch.” Personally, I own a watch, but given my level of expertise with a guitar I’m most likely to continue winding my watch. Knowing that, I still love to stop by and marvel. Marveling is good.
67) Many amazing public schools. Having seen a number of Godchildren move through our public schools over the years, and having a number of friends teach at these schools, I’m proud to say that our public schools are amongst the best public schools in the state. When real estate agents talk about “location, location, location” as the three most important ingredients in choosing a wise real estate purchase, i.e. your home, I think what they mean is “location, location, school district.”
68) Amazing private schools, too. Santa Barbara is lucky enough to have Crane. Cate, and the Santa Barbara Middle School as internationally renowned private schools. That’s well and good, but I can say that I’ve had three Godchildren go to these three schools and all are happy they attended. Okay, enough with the “Godchildren” you might be saying to yourself, and while I wouldn’t blame you, I will also mention that ALL of my Godchildren are chocoholics….which leads me to—
69) Homemade chocolate. Maya opened Chocolate Maya in March of 2007. Her full name is Maya Schoop-Rutten and she came from a beautiful lake near a Grimm’s fairy tale forest, near Geneva, Switzerland, where, as a child, she biked, fished and skied. I mean, come on! Isn’t that where all chocolatiers come from?
70) Day spas. One could make the argument that living in such a relaxing, healthy environment as Santa Barbara there wouldn’t be a need for a day spa. But I won’t make that argument, because I know for certain that there are a LOT of spas here in town, and while I enjoy a deep tissue massage as much as the next guy, I have to admit that I don’t know all that much about what makes a great day spa rather than a good day spa. (Can there be such thing as a bad day spa?) They all seem to have scents trucked in from who knows where, music from other galaxy’s and cucumber water. Try Alchemy Wellness Spa.
71) Natural Hot Springs. Big Caliente. Little Caliente. Gaviota. And others. All different, and all fun to hike to, each in their ways. Some are harder to reach than others, but far more private. Some are more public, but better maintained. Some more rustic, but a longer hike to reach.
72) A picnic at the Rose Gardens. You can face “the Queen” — the Mission, or, if you’d like, the ocean, off in the distance. Either way the lawn is wide. And if you go when the roses are blooming, be prepared for a nose-feast — who knew that roses could smell so differently and be named such fabulous names?
73) Various Festivals at Oak Park. French, Jewish, Greek, etc. I can’t say this for sure, but it seems like this small, tucked away park has one kind of festival or another almost every other weekend. Where else can you go for a “poodle parade?”
74) Outdoor music. Boston has the pops, Hollywood has the bowl, and Santa Barbara beats them all, not only with our own County Bowl but also with spectacular summer music at Chase Palm Park. It’s one of Santa Barbara’s best summer traditions. Every Thursday night, from July to the end of August, not only is it almost right on the ocean, but it’s free. Take off your shoes and dance, then go for a stroll on the beach.
75) Brophy Brother’s at the Harbor. In my opinion, probably tied with “The Boathouse” for best drink-dining spot by the water. But unlike The Boathouse, Brophy’s has a great view of the mountains, too. Then there is the fresh fish, Oyster’s Rockefeller, perfect Clam Chowder (from a guy — me — from the East Coast.) Unfortunately everybody, locals and tourists alike, knows how good it can be, so there are is often a wait for a good seat. The good news is you can stroll the breakwater until your table is ready.
76) Sandpiper Golf Course. Full disclosure, I’ve only played golf a few times in my life, and never at Sandpiper, but I know folks who play a LOT of golf and consider Sandpiper to be an equally stunning golf course with a far easier chance of getting a tee time of your choice, than it’s “elder brother” up north — Pebble Beach.
77) Witnessing a grunion run at full moon. For those not familiar with such things, Grunion are a tiny species of fish that leave the water at night to spawn on beaches during the spring and summer months throughout Southern California. For four consecutive nights, beginning on the nights of the full and new moons, they spawn after high tides and continue spawning for several hours. They’re at their peak from late March to early June. Now, why this matters to you: imagine walking barefoot on a full moon and witnessing thousands upon thousands of sparks of silver light on wet black sand.
78) Fairview Gardens. It’s in Goleta, about a 10-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara, situated on a 100-year-old working organic farm surrounded by tract homes. But wait, there’s more! Fairview Gardens is educational and delicious, too. If you don’t believe me (even though you should; in ALL things) just ask Alice Waters who befriended the garden years ago.
79) The Paradise Cafe. It’s located in a 1915 vintage brick and stucco building that years ago was an Italian bakery. While that’s sweet and nostalgic, what I love about the “Paradise” are four things, in the following order: 1) There’s an old, fading mural of some guy (Leo Carrillo) on horseback facing the patio. 2) They make a killer burger, cooked over live oak — great fish, too. 3) It’s not on State Street, so it’s more for locals. And 4) You can show up dressed up, or in shorts and flip-flops, sand on your feet, and you’re totally welcome. My kind of place!
80) After school — AHA. AHA! serves teens and families year-round with after-school programs in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, a summer program in Santa Barbara, and in-school programs in Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, and Goleta. What they do is create a community of socially and emotionally intelligent adolescents who are committed to compassion, character, positive creative expression, and the celebration of diversity. I can’t speak highly enough about his impactful program.
81) Vices & Spices. It’s been around for over 35 years! You already love the name of the store, but wait until you walk into this small, off-the-beaten path shop and find a huge selection of bulk teas and coffee, candies (did someone say gummy spiders?) but best of all (for me anyway) are all of the “Laurel-selected” gifts available. While the inventory is small, the quality of the gifts are extraordinary. This is my go-to place to purchase something for a loved one, whether they be 13 years-old, or 70.
82) The Santa Barbara Train Station. The station was built in 1902 by the Southern Pacific Railroad in the Spanish Mission Revival style which means it’s open, airy and cool inside, even in the heat of summer. The train station, which was recently renovated in 2000, is also perfectly located within walking distance of Santa Barbara Harbor, Stearn’s Wharf, State Street (Santa Barbara’s main thoroughfare) and the Funk Zone. A friend of mine recently took the train from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara for the first time last week and found he not only was able to catch up on reading and emails, but he arrived sooner than he would have if he’d driven his car with Friday afternoon traffic.
83) Proximity to the airport. I don’t care where you live in Santa Barbara, you’re not more than a 15 minute drive to the airport. I can’t even tell you how many times I left the beach and went straight to our little airport to catch a flight. And while SBA may not fly directly to most destinations, I’ve found that leaving from SBA and connecting to SFO or LAX is not only easy, but adds very little to the cost of your overall flight.
84) The Santa Barbara Kite Festival. This year they celebrated 30 years! It’s a great “family” afternoon where you can enjoy all sorts of kites, from the creations of local children to handmade kites featuring amazing cutting edge flying technologies, designs and fabrics. A brief aside: when I say it’s a family afternoon, I simply mean that if you’re 12 or 92 you’ll enjoy yourself.
85) Pick Your Own Blueberries. It’s about a half hour drive outside of Santa Barbara proper, but I’d go because, 1) I love blueberries and 2) I love picking my own fruit.
86) Parking Structures. Okay, here goes, I challenge anyone in the world to find more pleasingly-designed parking lots anywhere. In my not-so-humble opinion, there are two or three parking structures that rival beautiful condominium projects in their architectural interest. And if that’s not enough, parking is free for the first 75 minutes!
87) UCSB Arts & Lectures. Santa Barbara may not be New York, or Los Angeles or San Francisco, but the cultural events the folks at UCSB Arts & Lectures have been able to attract over the years are truly amazing.
88) Yoga Soup. Unlike many very-full-of-themselves yoga establishments where it’s all about the way one looks (forgive me yoga instructor friends of mine…) Eddie Ellner, the owner of Yoga Soup, has created a culture of health, community, playful ideas and…yoga. You will surely find an instructor who suits your needs and, excuse me for a second, the “vibe” of the place is just right for you.
89) Nite Moves. All summer long it’s a great “family” evening down on the beach. You can choose between a 1K swim and 3.5 mile run, or the 500 meter swim and 1 mile run. There’s also a kid’s mile, and a soft sand sprint for the small kids. Then, post-race, you can enjoy live music and yummy food. I like to bring a picnic and enjoy the hundreds of folks who come together for such a healthy night together.
90) Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club. Founded in 1911, it’s the third oldest United States Polo Association Club still in existence in the United States. That’s snazzy, but what’s snazzier is that on Sundays, in the summertime, for 10 bucks, you can enjoy watching some of the best polo players in the world. You can also enjoy wine tasting and, my favorite part — the “divot stomp” during half time.
91) San Ysidro Ranch for cocktails. Spanning over 500 acres, today the San Ysidro Ranch includes 41 private cottages and suites. It’s been named “America’s Best Hotel” and “World’s #1 Resort” by Forbes Traveler and Travel & Leisure, respectfully. But what I love most, being a “local,” is taking my cocktail, or a glass of wine, from the Plow and Angel and sitting in an Adirondack chair up in the garden. I don’t know if this is encouraged, no less allowed, but I love it.
92) Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club. It’s part of the Four Seasons, but not. One can purchase a membership (90% is refundable if you return your membership.) I’m not a member myself, but I’ve been a guest of members and am thankful for having friends with memberships! The swimming pool is right on the ocean, only glass separates you from the surf. A wall of windows facing the ocean, good food and soft towels and….Okay, I’ll stop.
93) Cherimoyas. They are weird-looking — imagine green, slightly spiky dinosaur eggs — but they are delicious! My favorite way to eat them is chilled, and with a spoon. They have the nickname “ice cream fruit” for good reason. Mark Twain also called them “the most delicious fruit known to man.’’ I think of them as one part custard, one part banana, one part kiwi and one part pure deliciousness.
94) The Fiesta. Also called Old Spanish Days. Eight days of Spanish-themed partying that has been going on for 90 years. Personally, while I’m not a huge fan this week of cultural history, but I do enjoy the Flamenco dancers and the children’s parade. I put the fiesta on my list simply to acknowledge that it’s a big deal in Santa Barbara, and would certainly be on some folks top ten list.
95) The Summer Solstice Parade. Now this parade is ON MY LIST! (Originating in 1974 as a birthday party for Michael Gonzales, who I was lucky enough to call a friend) Michael, a mime and an artist, corralled some of his street performer friends and danced up State Street. I don’t think there were more than twenty or so folks back then. Now the parade is the largest single-day event in Santa Barbara County, attracting crowds of 100,000 people to marvel at hundreds of dancers, artists, children, musicians who have built floats, and costumes and dance up State Street on the day of the parade. There are many things to love about the parade, but my favorite is that everything is made by hand, and danced and pushed by hand (no engines) all the way up State Street, just like Michael and his friends did more than 40 years ago.
96) Avocados. I was going to write a nice fat and rich paragraph about them and their/my relationship with Santa Barbara, but I think I’m going to keep it simple. Avocados. Santa Barbara. Yes!
97) Sunset drinks at The El Encanto. A landmark since the 1920s, it’s one of the most iconic hotels in Santa Barbara. The El Encanto sits high in the hills amid lush gardens with spectacular views across the town and the distant ocean. While it was a little worn at the edges a few years ago, after a massive $60M remodel, it’s now a luxury destination that combines the glamour of a five star hotel with the laid-back style of Santa Barbara. A glass of wine at sunset is pure heaven. In fact, I’m meeting a client there this Friday. Come on up!
98) Salt Cave Santa Barbara. One imagines strapping on a headlamp and entering a dimly-lit cave, but no! The Salt Cave is a basement spa right on, or rather directly under, State Street, Santa Barbara’s main drag. While the “real world” (if one were to refer to living in Santa Barbara as the “real world,”) bustles overhead, you enter a man-made cavern covered with 45 tons of 250 million-year-old pure Himalayan salt and you’ll find soothing music, amber-colored light glowed through gigantic salt crystals, and for a few bucks you can lay on the chaise lounges in a private cave. The salt is said to “balance your energy and lift your spirits.” I’m not so sure about that, but it sure is beautiful and relaxing.
99) Island Seed and Feed. I should first confess that my friend Matty B. owns the place, but I’d still love going there even if he didn’t. If you have a plant or a pet, this is your place. And if you don’t have a plant or pet, you should still go there and buy a baby chick…or six. Or perhaps you’d be interested in a worm bin?
100) Meridian Studios. Imagine Matisse painting a tiny, hidden enclave of artist studios designed by George Washington Smith, partially hidden behind an ancient, black wrought-iron fence, the landscaping thick with flowering vines, and you’re picturing the Meridian Studios, a dreamy world only a block from bustling State Street, on East De la Guerra.
101) Santa Barbara Cemetery. Okay, maybe it’s odd to include a cemetery on a list of favorite things, however this cemetery on the bluff overlooking the ocean, with its crypts, headstones, and markers are of all sizes, shapes and configurations is a perfect place for….wait for it…a picnic. Growing up, my father never once passed a cemetery without telling all within earshot: “People are dying to get in there.” As that is true of ALL cemeteries, once you visit this cemetery, my father’s bad joke will feel more true than ever.
102) Franceschi Park. If you forgive this park for not really being a park — the landscaping is nothing to speak of, it’s largely abandoned and it’s also hard to find— you will be rewarded with a bench overlooking breathtaking views of the city and the coast. It’s not far up the hill from the Mission, and tucked away off the street. It’s one of my favorite places to watch the sunset.
103) Seven Falls. I’ve heard that some consider this one of the most incredible hikes in the United States, aside from the John Muir Trial or some other trails in Yosemite. I’m not so sure about that, but it is lovely, but it’s a bit tricky to find. The lower section is easy, but after about 10 minutes of climbing upward, you start hitting some nice sized falls (rain dependent) with large swimming holes. If you don’t want to climb the falls, you can go to Inspiration Point — walk across the stream and take the path to the right. After about 30 minutes you reach the summit and get a beautiful view of the town and ocean. This is a great little treasure!! Do it!
104) Alice Keck Park. Just a few blocks from downtown, you’ll find this perfect little park with ducks and turtles and drought-tolerant plants that actually look magical together, and not like some kind of desert scene. My real estate office is only a few blocks away. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve snuck away and just sat by the pond, feeling a million miles away. And if you have kids, there’s a little park across the street called “Kid’s World.”
105) Painted Cave. The indigenous people to Santa Barbara were the Chumash, a peaceful culture of mostly traders and fisherman. I won’t get into what happened to them, but mostly it wasn’t pretty. While there are still Chumash who take their culture with deserved respect and honor, there are many who focus, instead, on the Chumash Casino, over in Santa Ynez. Sidestepping that issue as best as I can, I will say that Painted Cave, to me, at least, is more about the journey to get there, than about the cave itself. The drive is beautiful and you will easily imagine what Santa Barbara was like years ago, when the land was all Chumash. The cave is so-so, only in that it has been gated off (to protect it from vandals) so all one can see are shadowy images from afar. Perhaps that is most fitting.