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Walnut Creek Magazine

Weekend in Santa Barbara

Nov 08, 2017 10:47AM ● By Fran Miller


With its Mediterranean inspired architecture, expansive beaches, enveloping Santa Ynez mountains, and year-round sunshine, no other United States locale so well mimics the aesthetic of the European Riviera. Hence Santa Barbara’s nickname – The American Riviera. This self contained paradise truly has it all. Simultaneously sophisticated and bohemian, easy-going and energetic, Santa Barbara boasts hyper-local gourmet dining, sumptuous hotels, celebrated wineries, a thriving art scene, boutique shopping, outdoor activities, and of course, the beach. It’s no wonder that many fortunate individuals, who can live anywhere in the world, choose to call it home.

STAY: One of the most highly anticipated hotel openings ever in Santa Barbara, Hotel Californian is the new gateway to downtown’s waterfront. Three adjacent buildings at the end of shopping and dining-centric State Street house 121 rooms, two restaurants, an opulent presidential suite, and a stunning ballroom. Spanish Colonial Revival architecture is punctuated with modern Moorish interior design by celebrity designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard. Black and white contemporary artworks and vintage photos co-mingle with serpent entwined sconces and jewel-toned furnishings. Amenities include a state-of-the-art workout facility, the Moroccan-inspired Spa Majorelle, luxe-sized mini-bar liquors, sumptuous bedding and textiles, fluffy robes, and nightly turndown service featuring chocolates and an inspirational literary quote. Don’t miss what is now the best vantage point in Santa Barbara – Hotel Californian’s rooftop pool and event deck that provides panoramic views of both the coastline and the mountains. It’s spectacular.

EAT: Hotel Californian’s two restaurants (soon to be three) are overseen by chef Alexander La Motte. Goat Tree is a Mediterranean influenced, casual gourmet café offering fresh, local fare at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Goat Tree also offers curated, personalized picnic baskets, perfect for a beach excursion. Blackbird, with its sleek interior, is the hotel’s fine dining establishment and has quickly become a favored spot for both locals and tourists. It’s a good sign when you spy top chefs dining in a restaurant other than their own, and Les Marchands, located in the Funk Zone, is a consistent draw for food and wine industry insiders. This welcoming wine bar and bistro offers more than 400 labels from around the world, as well as those from local vintners who are shaping and redefining the local wine region. Chef Weston Richard’s bistro menu showcases seasonally inspired and beautifully colorful food, such as a rustic panzanella salad, or avocado toast topped with rich chunks of the locally grown staple. 

Michelin trained chef Justin Snyder marries modern cooking techniques with age-old methods in showcasing local ingredients at Barbareño. Menu items celebrate the regional flavors of Santa Barbara County with dishes that are closely linked to local food lore. Example: The Eggamuffins appetizer, with mini blinis, speck, and cured egg, is a contemporary twist on the Egg McMuffin, invented by a Goleta McDonald’s owner. The region’s famed Santa Maria-style barbecue is reimagined in a melt-in-your-mouth, tri-tip main dish achieved by cold-smoking, sous-videing, and grilling over red oak.

Husband/wife duo Phillip Frankland Lee (from Top Chef season 13) and pastry chef Margarita Kallas-Lee of Scratch/Restaurants make their first venture outside of Los Angeles with the opening of four restaurants at the Montecito Inn: Frankland’s Crab & Co., a casual seafood shack, Margarita’s Homemade Ice Cream featuring new and creative flavors, Silver Bough, a modern approach to the grand fine dining tradition, and The Monarch, an elegant all-day dining room and bar centered around a wood-burning hearth.

DO: For a true Riviera vantage point, head into the hills to Belmond El Encanto, a favored retreat for past and present Hollywood elite. Enjoy an al fresco meal while overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or book a soothing spa treatment that includes a custom blend of essential oils evoking elements found on property: citrus, basil, and mint. With your treatment, take advantage of access to steam rooms, the fitness studio, and the outdoor pool that seemingly hovers weightless over the blue panorama. On your way up or down the hill, be sure to make a stop at Old Mission Santa Barbara, known as the “Queen of the Missions” for its exceptional beauty. Founded by Spanish Franciscans in 1786, the mission is still an active parish church. Its Mission Rose Garden is also an ideal spot for picnicking.

Adjacent to Hotel Californian is the Funk Zone, once home to the area’s fishing industry and now an inventive, artisanal, and entrepreneurial hub. Find a plethora of artist studios, craft breweries, and wine-tasting shops within the 12 block radius. Need a bit of help navigating the many eateries and wine bars? Book a tour with Eat This, Shoot That and let a local be your guide. Not only will you receive insider access to hidden spots and popular gems, Eat This, Shoot That guides are professional photographers who teach the art of iPhone food photography. Wander Montecito’s  Coast Village Road, a favorite haunt of the Hollywood glitterati (many of whom live nearby), and browse the celebrated one-of-a-kind jewelry and clothing boutiques. Find distinctive home and kitchen goods at The Honor Market, and enjoy a cup of coffee next door at The Honor Bar – the latest place to see and be seen. 

A trip to Santa Barbara is not complete without a venture to the water. Go one step further and cruise the Pacific on Santa Barbara Sailing Center’s Double Dolphin 50-foot catamaran.  This two-hour coastal sunset cruise provides possibly the best means for viewing the stunning coastline.

All photos by the supremely talented Max Whittaker

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