Enchanting Santa Barbara!
By Ann Nelson


Nestled on a coastal shelf and protected from the pounding surf by the Channel Islands twenty miles east, Santa Barbara is in close proximity to major population centers, but feels a million miles away! My husband  Gary and I chose a perfect weekend to make the four-hour drive  from San Diego to this subtropical paradise with the red-tile roofs and the charm of early Spain.

Santa Barbara is famous around the world for its breath-taking beauty. An activity sampler can include sitting and gazing at the ocean, hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains, bicycling, visiting a zoo, rollerskating, fishing, swimming in the ocean, arts and crafts shows, bird watching, renting a boat, taking a walk, strolling though downtown, and  visiting museums. The list is endless.

If you plan your trip ahead of time, it may be a good idea to call the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and ask them to send the 114-page Visitors Guide. The guide is filled with travel ideas, a calendar of events, and a list of  “10 Free Things to do in Santa Barbara County”.

Since we hadn’t visited Santa Barbara in over 10 years, we decided to “jump start” our adventure by hiring a knowledgeable guide. We chose Travel Valet of Santa Barbara to show us around. Our guide, Larry Smith, took us to places tourists wouldn’t ordinarily know about. He drove us through the narrow, winding roads in the hills above Santa Barbara, and we caught glimpses of the magnificent estates hidden behind towering hedges. Later we walked through downtown with our “historical guide” by our side. He explained the details of the city being founded in 1850, the history of the Chumash Indians and the Spanish people. He talked about the earthquake that leveled a good portion of Santa Barbara in 1925.

We rented scooters to zip around town, and felt the wind in our faces. I was a bit hesitant at first, but after a brief lesson by our competent teacher at Santa Barbara Scooter, I built the confidence to “move forward.”

Equipped with maps in hand, we were off to explore on our own now. The afternoon was filled with fun and adventure as we took in the spectacular ocean views. A brief stop at the Andree Clark Bird Sanctuary, a 30-acre preserve with hundreds of wild and domestic fowl, completed our afternoon . I felt like a kid again!

For outstanding ocean views and a panorama of the Santa Ynez Mountains that serve as Santa Barbara’s backdrop, head out to the end of historic Stearns Wharf  by car, bike, or foot. Erected in 1872, the municipal pier was restored recently and has reopened with many shops, eateries and other attractions.

If you need assistance in making a decision about where to stay, calling Hot Spots, a toll-free reservation service may be a good idea. You can pick from a full range of hotels — the famous and expensive Biltmore at the higher end, and Motel Six for the more price conscious.

B & B’s and old inns are popular here. Some of our favorites include:

The Inn on Summer Hill in Summerland, located just south of Santa Barbara. Summerland is a charming little beach town filled with coffee shops and antique  stores. The Inn has consistently been recognized with awards that set it apart: Four Diamond Awards from AAA, and rated one of the top B&B’s in the nation by Country Inns Magazine. A world-class chef, Norbert Schulz, prepares a full gourmet breakfast featuring entrees such as a puffed pastry topped with smoked salmon and eggs, or a tiger shrimp and Yukon gold potato omelet served with vegetable butter. Afternoon wine and cheese is included, and deserts  such as a toasted almond tart or cappuccino cheesecake are served at night. Prices start at $229.00 a night.

Less expensive and situated in the heart of downtown is The Upham Victorian Hotel and Garden Cottages. Established in 1871, it is the oldest continuously-operating hostelry in Southern California. San Francisco Focus magazine awarded the Upham with its California  Grand Hotel Award for the Best Small Hotel in Southern California. The adjoining restaurant, Louie’s, has been nationally recognized by Travel & Leisure. Breakfast, afternoon wine and cheese, and evening cookies and milk are included. Prices start at $150.00 a night.

The El Encanto Hotel and Garden Villas is a hillside landmark dating back to 1915. Voted “most romantic” hotel by the locals, the setting provides a private and peaceful oasis. The El Encanto Dining Room is a first rate restaurant with an outdoor patio and expansive views of the Pacific from the hillside. Room prices start at $239.00 a night.

A trip to Santa Barbara has renewed my spirit. I feel more alive, more relaxed, more content. I won’t wait  so long to take another trip to Santa Barbara!

Ann Nelson is a freelance writer, presently residing in San Diego, CA. In addition to travel writing, she has published interviews of business leaders, including Dr. Ken Blanchard of the best-selling “One Minute Manager” series, and astronaut and businessman, Captain Wally Schirra.  

Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau (800)  549-5133
Hot Spots Reservation Service (800)  793-7666
Travel Valet of Santa Barbara (866)  963-9263
Santa Barbara Scooter (888)  405-2453
Inn on Summer Hill (800)  845-5566
The Upham Victorian Hotel & Garden Cottages (800)  727-0876
El Encanto Hotel & Garden Villas (800)  346-7039


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