48 Hours in Santa Barbara
Pristine Santa Barbara continues to sit pretty on the coast.
As befits a playground for the rich and famous, there’s no shortage of luxe lodgings in town. The boutique Canary Hotel (pictured above) delivers on romance while evoking a breezy plantation-style interior right downtown. Drinks on the rooftop patio are best taken by the outdoor fire, as you ponder the Ponzi scheme that would enable you to move to this town.
If swanky suits you best, then the Four Seasons is the perfect Montecito seaside gem, far from the hassle of coffee-toting locals on cruiser bikes. Expect the usual over-the-top treatment, with the added bonus of access to the private and historic Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club—it looks like a set built for Mad Men—that sits on Butterfly Beach across the road.
The Harbor View Inn is more family-friendly than ritzy—and the most wallet-friendly local option—but it’s still right across from the beach. Grab your morning cappuccino at the artisanal State Street Coffee (29 State St., 805-963-0780)—you can sign it to your room—and head out.
California fusion cuisine hit the area hard in the ’80s and ’90s, but the food towers have toppled in favour of a laid back, ingredient-driven scene that’s more fitting for the hometown of Julia Child. Dinner at the elegant Seagrass Restaurant means a provenance lesson with every dish. Chef Robert Perez works with local farmers, and the menu also features Paso Prime Ranch beef from Paso Robles, wagyu beef, and Niman Ranch and Kurobuta pork.
Don’t expect to find a glossy website for La Super-Rica Taqueria (622 N. Milpas St, 805-963-4940). This roadside taco shack’s menu is 100-percent authentic (there’s a dedicated fresh tortilla maker in the tiny kitchen) and rumour has it Julia herself popped by every Tuesday. (Visit during off-peak hours to avoid the spirit-crushing line-ups.)
On any given day you could run into local Steve Martin at Brophy Brothers Restaurant and Clam Bar (pictured above), a bustling pub-style second-floor restaurant on Stearns Wharf, the West Coast’s oldest operating wharf. Like all great seafood joints, it’s not fancy but packed with locals-in-the-know.
Sideways blew the cork off the local wine scene, but don’t expect Napa-esque tour buses clogging the vineyards. The easiest option is the Urban Wine Trail, a collection of 12 wine-tasting rooms downtown. If you only have time for one, make it the small-scale Margerum Wine Company, a boutique outfit with killer syrahs and sauvignon blancs—the latter making an appearance on this year’s coveted Wine Spectator Top 100.
State Street packs in everything you need (local Daniel Gibbings Jewelry for handmade pieces in 20-karat gold) and everything you don’t (Navajo-style tourist kitsch). Start with a coffee at the French Press (1101 State St., 805-963-2721) and a brioche at Renaud’s: you’re now set to stroll the shops that span 10 walkable blocks from Sola Street down to Gutierrez Street.
Don’t miss Diani for its encyclopedic collection of hipster labels like Alice by Temperley and Isabel Marant. The Granada Theatre (pictured above) opened in 1924 and still handily stands as the tallest building in a city that caps its building height at 60 feet. At any given time of year, simply wander by to pick up tickets for the symphony, ballet or opera, as well as a new Broadway series. Stars regularly pop up from L.A., to wit: John Malkovich’s recent one-man performance in The Infernal Comedy. Yo-Yo Ma is there on April 5, Steve Martin on the 29th. (He’ll probably walk to the show.)