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A Weekend in Santa Barbara

A Weekend in Santa Barbara

Oyster shooters, crisp sauvignon blanc, and a day at a beach club along California’s dreamy American Riviera.

Mission Santa BarbaraLet?s say you?ve spent the week in LA -- dinner at Cecconi?s, drinks at The Abbey, Real Housewives hunting at Villa Blanca -- and you?re looking to escape the scene and the smog. You?ve done Palm Springs, and anyway isn?t this California? The Pacific Ocean must be around here somewhere. Here?s your TGIF solution: hop in your car, preferably something zippy with a roof that retracts, and head up to Santa Barbara, just over ninety minutes away and unfairly blessed with dreamy coastal scenery, a lively food and wine scene, and activities enough for both sybarite and sportsman. Oh, and attractive UCSB boys to boot. It?s called the American Riviera for a reason.

Coral Casino private beach clubMake neighboring Montecito, that flush Santa Barbara suburb where celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe have houses, your home base for the weekend. Wealth here is not so much seen as sensed -- the modest gate that guards the multimillion-dollar manse, something sparkling on the wrist of the woman walking her dogs on the beach. The Biltmore, (1260 Channel Drive; 805-969-2261) a Four Seasons resort spread across twenty oceanfront acres, strikes a similar chord. The resort?s low-slung, Spanish Colonial buildings sit among lush, Mediterranean-inspired gardens packed with palms, eucalyptus, lavender and roses. Rooms (request one on the second floor) and cottage suites are private, if a little dark. Check in, then get back outside; sunshine is a shame to waste.

Besides, the club is calling. Your hotel reservation grants you access to Coral Casino, a private beach club across the street. All pink parasols and whitewashed cabanas, you can imagine society photographer Slim Aarons there back in the jet-set sixties, capturing "attractive people doing attractive things," as he famously quipped. It?s the hotel?s handsomest feature. Order a Whale Watcher (the club?s take on the Mai Tai, with peach schnapps and banana liqueur) and ogle the well-groomed local members while you plan your day.

Breezy cycling, the preferred way around town Cycling is a must. The easy, twenty-minute ride into town runs on well-marked paths along the shore, past beach volleyball courts stocked with shirtless students. (Eyes on the road!) On State Street, Santa Barbara?s main drag, you?ll find a broad mix of bars and restaurants, and boutiques likeK. Frank (1023 State Street; 805-560-7424) which stocks casual-cool brands like Steven Alan, Burkman Bros and Masons.Chase Italian Restaurant (1012 State Street; 805-965-4351) is great for sipping an afternoon prosecco while people watching from one of the sidewalk tables out front. Carlitos(1324 State Street; 805-962-7117) serves regional Mexican dishes like crispy shrimp empanadas and grilled chicken in a rich mole poblano sauce on its stuccoed patio, with views of the historic Arlington Theatre. And overlooking the harbor just west of downtown, Brophy Bros.(119 Harbor Way; 805-966-4418) is a popular lunch spot for oyster shooters and local swordfish, grilled and served with sundried tomato pesto. Ask to sit outside on the second-story balcony, where you can watch fishing boats bob in the clear water and clouds comb across the Santa Ynez mountains.

Wine lovers will appreciate the local pours on offer at many neighborhood watering holes, and the truly grape-crazed should visit the tasting rooms on Santa Barbara?s Urban Wine Trail. These outposts of local wineries, mostly clustered within walking distance of each other off South State Street, let you sample a variety of vintages without the need for a designated driver. Nightlife is limited, but Wildcat Lounge(15 West Ortega Street; 805-962-7970), a swanky club with red-tufted banquettes and a laser-lit dance floor, hosts a gay night on Sundays that?s popular with the college crowd.

Blue Garden at LotuslandBack in Montecito you might schedule a visit to Lotusland(805-969-9990 for reservations and directions), a strangely beautiful 37-acre estate and botanical garden cooked up by one-time opera singer and six-time divorcee Madame Ganna Walska. A two-hour guided tour takes you through eighteen distinct gardens. In the Blue Garden, Walska chose only plants with silvery-blue foliage; the Cactus Garden houses her collection of exotic succulents in alien shapes. Or trade flower sniffing for scent shopping at Cos Bar(1253 Coast Village Road; 805-565-7734), a sort of rarefied Sephora that carries hard-to-find brands like Maison Francis Kurkdjian, whose Cologne Pour Le Matin ($205 for 6.8 ounces) evokes breezy Mediterranean mornings with Sicilian lemon and Moroccan white thyme.

Come Sunday, you?ll be tan, toned and blissed-out -- recharged for your return to the big bad city. Or maybe not. Smog, traffic, cover charges? Foreign concepts in Santa Barbara. A guy could get used to a life in the slow lane here. Just one more Whale Watcher at Coral Casino, please?
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