The “American Riviera” on California’s Coast
By: Charlene Mixa
Savvy travelers have been escaping to Santa Barbara for the past century. Located just 90 miles north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is a world apart. Offering a soothing realm of distinct and subtle pleasures Santa Barbara’s intoxicating appeal arises from the convergence of elements found perhaps nowhere else in the world. A city of white-washed buildings with red tile roofs tucked between the mountains and the sea, laid back Santa Barbara resonates with an irresistibly sensuous allure. Inspired by its natural beauty, this city has long been an insider’s haunt for actors, authors and magnates looking for an unparalleled escape.
Our second stop in touring California’s coastal towns is Santa Barbara. The picturesque view of this city from US 101 is beautiful and alluring. Nestled between the blue sea of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, the city is captivating. We quickly locate the Cheshire Cat a Santa Barbara Bed and Breakfast Hotel, on the corner of Chapala Street and W. Valerio Street. The Cheshire Cat has two historical Queen Ann houses built in 1894, set among flower-filled gardens. Stepping into the Inn’s main living room and reception area with its antique decor, we are graciously greeted. The Cheshire Cat accommodations include romantic and cozy rooms, suites and cottages some with Jacuzzis or hot tubs, fireplaces and patios.
For this visit, Richard and I are staying in the Mobberley Cottage. Opening the door to this one-bedroom bungalow is a large living room with a welcoming fireplace, windows with great views of the Victorian houses on the street, and a comfy sectional sofa. The TV is hidden in the Armoire. French doors, in the cozy bedroom, open to a private patio with a hot tub. The cottage has a full kitchen with a separate breakfast nook. Everything we need for our visit over the Christmas Holiday. We spot the Cheshire Cat placemats and several other items keeping with the whimsical Alice in Wonderland Theme.
Now to see Santa Barbara- America’s most beautiful city! Just a short walk from the Cottage is State Street, the main street in Santa Barbara, which ends at Stearns Wharf. State Street boasts several shopping areas of the Old Town District and Paseo Nuevo each offering their own unique boutique and trendy shops and eclectic restaurants. The Spanish style architecture with the white-washed buildings and red tile roofs create Santa Barbara’s special appeal. We love it! A great city just to window shop and enjoy its excitement. The holiday lights add extra pizzazz. We enjoy a leisurely walk admiring the architecture and the many historical buildings. The Arlington Theatre with its grandiose design is impressive. It is one of the last remaining “atmospheric theaters” in the country. Santa Barbara is bustling this afternoon with shoppers, diners and visitors enjoying this dynamic city.
Returning to the Cheshire Cat, we stop by for afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres. As we sit by the warm, relaxing fire, the hostess provides several restaurant suggestions for our visit, especially for Christmas Day. It’s been a full day of traveling, so we opt for a light meal at Joe’s Café on State Street and quiet evening in the Cottage.
It’s Christmas Eve and our agenda today is golf. Before heading out, we walk to the Inn’s main house for breakfast. The hostess greets us with warm scones and we join several guests in the dining room. The fresh breads, wholesome cereals and homemade fruit salad are excellent. Visiting with the other guests, we get ideas and suggestions for our California adventure.
Clear blue skies create a perfect day for golf at the Glen Annie Golf Club, a championship golf course situated in the rolling foothills of Santa Barbara. We pair up with a father and son for our 11:40AM tee time. Glen Annie exceeds our expectations offering plenty of challenge for golfers of all levels. Holes are uphill, downhill, around hills, and over dells. It is a fun course plus it has breathtaking panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands. An early Christmas present – Richard Eagle’s Hole No. 3! A two on this 305 yard Par-4! Afterwards, we celebrate with drinks at the clubhouse. We toast this great Christmas Eve on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean at the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach.
Merry Christmas! A clear blue sky greets us this Christmas morning. We are the first arrivals at Old Mission Santa Barbara for the 8:00 AM Mass. This 223 year old Mission lives up to its name, the “Queen of the Missions”. As the sun glistens on its spectacular architecture the Mission is “regal”. Sitting atop a hill the Mission has a commanding view of the city and bay. The sunrise over the sparkling waters of Santa Barbara Bay is magnificent. (Yes, we are on the west coast but the sunrise is over Santa Barbara Bay.) Once the Mission doors open we enter this beautiful neo-classical church with its baroque statues and paintings. The Bishop leads a wonderful Christmas Mass in celebration of Christ’s birthday.
After Mass, we have time to explore more areas of Santa Barbara. Stearns Wharf is busy with families and visitors enjoying the beautiful day and arriving for Christmas lunch at the Wharf’s restaurants. The panels along the Wharf give its history, the fire that destroyed it and the rebuilding of the current wharf. We drive to the Four Seasons Resort and admire this sprawling Resort decked out for the holidays. Santa Claus greets us in the Lobby. A great photo op! We roam around the resort grounds and across the street to the white sandy beach with its many walkers enjoying the gorgeous holiday.
Back to the Cottage, we have a light lunch and make all our Christmas calls to family and friends. Now we enjoy a relaxing afternoon with a dip in our hot tub on the private patio. With limited restaurants open for the holiday, we have reservations at the Wine Cask for dinner. It is a quiet Christmas dinner at our table for two near the fireplace. The three course meal is very good. We toast the holiday and our great visit to Santa Barbara. Later we plan our next day’s travel to visit the outstanding wineries on the way to Pismo Beach.
Visiting over the holiday limited some of our activities. Santa Barbara offers something for every age and interest. We’ve succumbed to its allure and will return another time to experience more of its activities, tours and attractions. The jeweled city is a “must visit” for a California coastal city.
If you go:
Santa Barbara Visitors Bureau
Cheshire Cat a Santa Barbara Bed and Breakfast Hotel, 36 W. Valerio Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Glen Annie Golf, 405len Annie Road, Goleta, CA 93117-1427
Old Mission Santa Barbara, 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105-3611
Note: The Mission has an excellent tour of the grounds, gardens, church, cemetery and museum.