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Santa Barbara

Mediterranean style magic and a perfect ocean breeze

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Bougainvillea twining across red-tiled rooftops, birdsong mingling with the ocean breeze, islands and whale spouts on the horizon—Santa Barbara’s charms tempt at every turn. Perfect getaways don’t get much more perfect.

Take it from the movie stars who sneak away to Santa Barbara all the time—or just straight up move here. Oprah, Brad, Ellen, and other first-name’s-enough A-listers have estates here, many tucked away in the coastal enclave of Montecito. Why not? There’s that legendary Old World beauty that befits the city’s nickname, “The American Riviera.” 

The charmingly small city, 90 miles north of Los Angeles, hugs both the beaches and Highway 101 (and also offers easy access by train): Don’t miss sandy stretches within easy reach—Gaviota State Park, about a half-hour’s drive up the coast, offers camping, and Rincon Beach Park, about 20 miles south of the city, boasts world-class surfing at Rincon Point. In between, from west to east, are such spots as Refugio State Beach; Campus Point Beach, a favorite of college students thanks to being part of the famously gorgeous campus of UC Santa Barbara; and the dog-friendly Hendry’s Beach (where the Boathouse Restaurant has great seaside dining).

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In Santa Barbara itself is East Beach, which is the perfect place to spend a lazy family afternoon, and just east of the city is Montecito’s Butterfly Beach, which sits across from the Four Seasons The Biltmore Santa Barbara. Lookout Park, another three miles down the road, has picnic areas and hiking trails, as well as cliff-top views of Channel Islands National Park. If you’re looking for beach activity rentals (kayaks, bikes, stand-up paddleboards), surfing lessons, or a cycling tour in Santa Barbara/Goleta/Montecito, local outfitters Cal Coastal Adventures are the go-to.

Step across the 101 and the city is comprised of Spanish-style architecture (prime example: the Old Mission Santa Barbara) and rolling hills that stretch east into the Santa Ynez Mountains and wine country, while to the west you’ll find the under-the-radar, quiet appeal of Goleta.

But Santa Barbara has a new energy, too—the Funk Zone neighborhood boasts hip restaurants and bars, and the MOXI (Museum of Exploration + Innovation) dazzles with its reimagination what a museum can be—kids especially love the interactivity. Main thoroughfare State Street and leafy streets alike are lined with designer boutiques, a buzz-worthy restaurants and wine tasting rooms.

For seafood, a visit to Santa Barbara’s most visited landmark, Stearns Wharf, is in order; if you’re looking for the makings of the perfect Central Coast picnic, the city’s farmers markets and the Santa Barbara Public Market offer endless ingredients and locally-produced treats. Add to it all a waterfront teeming with sailboats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboarders. 

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