Lay of the Land
“Santa Barbara is a paradise; Disneyland is a paradise; the U.S. is a paradise. Paradise is just paradise. Mournful, monotonous, and superficial though it may be, it is paradise. There is no other.”~Jean Baudrillard
Located 95 miles northwest of L.A. and 339 miles south of San Francisco, on a stretch in the Pacific coastline that runs east to west, Santa Barbara County is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean to the south and the Santa Ynez Mountains to the north. The city of Santa Barbara has a population of just over 90,000, with the greater metropolitan region encompassing Hope Ranch, Carpinteria, Summerland and the wealthy enclave of Montecito.
The two main commercial and tourist areas are along the waterfront and State Street, which runs perpendicular to it. The focal point of the waterfront area is Stearns Wharf, where the Ty Warner Sea Center is located. Between the waterfront and the 101, bordering State Street on its western edge, the emerging Funk Zone buzzes with wine bars, tasting rooms from local wineries and surf shops.
Due north State Street and the surrounding streets make up the main shopping and cultural district, where you’ll find the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the beautifully renovated Granada Theater. This central area is known as “Downtown” Santa Barbara, although it still feels low-key and includes residential side streets. At downtown’s northern edge is the Old Mission Santa Barbara, a lovely red-tile-roof church established by the Spanish Franciscans in 1786. It’s still an important part of the community, with year-round events and activities.
Montecito, abutting Santa Barbara’s eastern edge has some of the priciest real estate in the country. Homeowners here include Jeff Bridges, John Cleese, Jimmy Connors, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Kirk Douglas and sons Peter and Michael, Tipper Gore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rob Lowe, Steve Martin, Dennis Miller, Ivan Reitman, Bruce Willis, Oprah Winfrey and Beanie Babies founder Ty Warner. On the other side of Santa Barbara, to the east, lies Goleta, home to the expansive Bacara resort.
Santa Barbara is not a walking destination. While you can walk to downtown from accommodations like the Simpson House Inn, and hotels can order local taxis, you will want to have a car to explore the surrounding area. You may also want to consider bikes or Segways for an open-air exploration of the town and waterfront. Many Santa Barbarans pride themselves for being at the forefront of the environmental movement. (One of the first Earth Day celebrations was held here in 1970.) So it’s no surprise that the county supports green initiatives. You’ll see hybrid electric public buses, loads of Priuses and Teslas, and bikers. For visitors who want to ditch the car and try alternative transport, Santa Barbara offers easy bike rentals, as well as rentals from Segway of Santa Barbara (www.segwayofsb.com).
If you are coming from a city with direct flights such as San Francisco or Denver, the easiest way to arrive is to fly into the local Santa Barbara airport. From the East Coast, however, the closest direct option is on JetBlue Airways into Burbank. From Los Angeles, it’s a straight drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, but depending on traffic it can take an hour and a half or more than three, especially on a Friday afternoon.