While European coastlines may feel far away, the central California haven known as the “American Riviera” is now a direct Southwest flight from Denver. Santa Barbara Airport greets guests with a Mediterranean-style terminal illustrated with colorful tiles, rustic lanterns, modern art and beautiful Spanish murals. A visit to Santa Barbara during Colorado’s winter season accentuates the contrast of climates — leave a snow-covered Denver and arrive to rich, sea-kissed air breezing through tall palm trees.
New to the hotel scene in Santa Barbara is the Kimpton Goodland Hotel. Located in Goleta, just a short drive from downtown Santa Barbara, Goodland gave an old property a fresh new look that boasts a beachy aesthetic. Every room has a vintage-style record player with vinyl on loan, and a yoga mat comes with every room to borrow during your stay. The ground-level rooms surround a pool and several shared fire pits, making it easy to grab a refreshment from Good Bar and relax on-property.
For those who want to stay within walking distance of Santa Barbara’s beaches and scenic harbor, Brisas del Mar, Inn At The Beach is a Mediterranean-inspired hotel with welcoming rooms and suites. Complimentary beach cruiser rentals are available, so you can pedal your way around town.
Bike rentals are also available through Wheel Fun Rentals if you’d rather plan a road bike route or spend your afternoon with a partner on a tandem. Bring a lock and you can ride over to the Gaviota Coast for a kayak through Santa Barbara Adventure Company. The Gaviota Coast is one of the few remaining sections of undeveloped, open coastline in California and is home to more than 1,500 species of plant and animal life.
Guides provide wetsuits, life jackets and kayaks before introducing an on-shore kayak lesson prior to heading to the water. This trip takes paddlers through kelp beds while the guides share information on marine ecology in the area and the Santa Barbara Channel.
For some mindful movement in the afternoon, Santa Barbara Beach Yoga has open-air classes looking out over the ocean. Enjoy the scenery from Cabrillo Pavilion rooftop with the sound of the waves lapping along the shore in front of you and Santa Ynez mountain range as a backdrop.
Santa Barbara County is known for its many farmers’ markets that offer fresh local produce from the area. On Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m., downtown Santa Barbara hosts 50 to 60 certified agricultural producers lined up on both sides of the 600 and 700 blocks of State Street. Opened in 1992, this farmers’ market is a very popular weekly spot for some of Santa Barbara’s finest local chefs and caterers, who can be spotted pulling their wagons up and down the street.
The area’s year-round growing season and access to sustainable seafood makes for some very memorable culinary experiences. Scarlett Begonia on West Victoria Street serves up a thoughtful and innovative farm-to-table menu. Tuesday is an extra special evening to enjoy dinner at Scarlett Begonia, as they have a “Farmers’ Market Menu” this day only. Chef Jonathan Ramirez shops the farmers’ market, comes back to the restaurant and designs a unique menu of three courses plus a craft cocktail.
For anyone looking to spice up their dinner with some ethnic flare, Bibi Ji offers a modern twist on traditional Indian cuisine.
James Beard award-winning sommelier Rajat Parr has put together quite an impres- sive wine list, along with tasty, by-the-glass house selections that change daily. Chef KK Bheemarao has created a menu that highlights local seafood with traditional, authentic Indian curries, all alongside a bounty of fresh produce harvested from the region and cooked in-house with roasted Indian spices.
Head east of State Street to Santa Bar- bara’s Funk Zone for even more dynamic dining options. Once a manufacturing hub in the 19th century, the 13-block mixed-use area near Santa Barbara’s waterfront has spots like Lucky Penny. This quaint, stand-along eatery specializes in wood-fi re pizza, salads and sandwiches and is located in a building that’s covered with 164,456 real copper pennies. Go at lunch to sit in the sun on the restaurant’s inviting courtyard.
A visit to central California would not be complete without wine tasting in one of the world’s most diverse wine-growing regions. One of the easiest ways to get to know regional wines is through the tasting rooms of Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail, most of which are located in walkable downtown Santa Barbara. Head down to the Funk Zone to stop by Kunin Wine, a tasting room you visit that is so good (and hospitable) that you end up joining the wine club before you leave. The tasting room pours some of the winery’s best, including the prized area varietals of Syrah, Zinfandel and Viognier.
Santa Barbara County may be known for its wine, but that’s not the only locally produced libation receiving raves. The region’s rapidly proliferating craft breweries have given beer lovers a tasting trail of their own. Visit Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. (which began a new partnership with Flying Embers, a hard kombucha maker, in 2020) in the Funk Zone to have a taste.
Learn more and plan your trip from helpful resources at santabarbaraca.com.
Photos courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2021-22 issue.