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Want to holiday in California like a true Santa Barabara local? Here's how.
Santa Barbara is unapologetically chilled. Addictively so. As laid-back as it is beautiful, with wide palm-lined roads, mellow beaches and a mountainous backdrop, it’s a beautiful sleepy head-turner.
There are many ways you can experience the Santa Barbara lifestyle, but if you want to do it properly, you're best following the locals...
1. The relaxed way
It’s fair to assume it was 17th century Spanish settlers who delivered such a generous dollop of leisureliness into this handsome nugget of America. Spanish influence exists everywhere, from the grand architecture to the cuisine that’s strongly influenced by Mexico. With an inner metropolis flanked by shop-lined boulevards that are crisp, clean and immaculately well-kept, buildings are part contemporary and part Andalusian villa.
Roads that are graced by the likes of Britney Spears and Terri Hatchet – head into the foothills of Montecito, for bespoke boutiques and designer garments (with price tags to make your credit card squeal).
Sunny patios sheltered by wide umbrellas spill onto the pavement, so take in a coffee, wine or better still, some just-caught seafood. So fresh it’s practically still gasping for air. Savour clams, swordfish and every type of crustacean you can think of. Of course, with such a close affiliation with Mexico, there’s plenty of Mexicali food to be devoured too, with no-frills taco stands as numerous as the famished surfers who frequent them. Try a grilled sole taco and you’ll sample the best of both SB’s culinary worlds.
2. The active way
Follow the locals who like to take their exercise with a splash of extra easy - and take a trip to Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.
The Funk Zone
Better described as Santa Barbara’s hippest, most happening neighbourhood; an arts community of sorts. With artisan shops, funky galleries (hence the funk), street murals, cheerful eateries and award-winning microbreweries, tasting rooms and wineries. Perfect for a pre-hike meandering – and a good feed – to ease you into this next bit.
Walking & hikes
Fuel up on something rich and hearty because the Santa Ynez Mountains (and the range that overlooks Santa Barbara itself) offer a good full day’s hiking. The famous Mission Crags, which are better known to hiking-types as Cathedral Peak run parallel to the coastline and serve up some truly breath-taking coastal views. For a more sedative option (this is Santa Barbara after all said and done) look into the 1.8 mile Cold Spring Loop Trail. Offering a manageable distance and plenty of babbling brooks, bush covered hillside and glistening coastline to keep you enthralled.
If you’re more of a two-wheelin’ adventurist, The Cabrillo Beach Boulevard Bike Trail is the town’s most popular. A non-demanding option, the 4.5 mile stretch of sea-nudging pathway is relatively easy and predominately flat, making it a fantastic option for families. Weaving from Sterns Wharf to East Beach, then back to Santa Barbara Harbour, there are plenty of stop-offs, children’s parks, picnic areas and most importantly – and we bet all parents will nod in approval here – public toilets.
3. The surfer’s way
And finally, one for the surfers, because you don’t come to California without taking to the waves.
Integral to the laid-back Santa Barbara lifestyle, owning a surfboard is a rite of passage for most SB locals. Surfing is so ingrained in the culture it’s fair to say that while the rest of the world wondered what a wave was, Santa Barbarians were already ripping them up. Even ten-time world champion, Kelly Slater can’t keep away – frequenting his Montecito hideout throughout the year. With perennial good weather and moderate sea temperatures, it’s always a good time to surf.
Before making tracks to the beach, hit up one of Santa Barbara’s eight weekly markets. With a climate that’s as good for harvest as it is for surfing, the opportunity to eat fresh, local produce is year-round bountiful. The Saturday Downtown Farmer’s Market is always popular and easy to find. Stock up on punnets of red-ripe cherries and a heaving watermelon - to split and devour after you emerge from the swell.
The world’s best surfing spots
As well as hiring surfboards, the local talent will be more than happy to discuss your love of surf. Pop into a beachside shack and they’ll quickly establish your ability; directing you to a beach that suits. Of course, you’ll also want to explore Rincon Point. Fifteen minutes south of the city, Rincon is known as the ‘Queen of the Coast’ and widely considered one of the world’s best surfing haunts. Beginners should keep their feet firmly on the sand, but for everyone else, there’s a battle with the Pacific to be endured.
There are many other fantastic things to do in Santa Barbara, this is simply a taster. But if you’re after a cosy Californian hideaway offering all the delights of a bigger Cali city but with a lot less fuss, Santa-B is your pick.
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