Air perfumed with pine, eucalyptus, lavender, jasmine and orange blossoms wafts in on ocean breezes. Red tile roofs, white-washed architecture, bougainvilleas and towering trees stand along ridges and terraces overlooking the Pacific.
This is Santa Barbara, California, the most Mediterranean city in the United States.
The city’s signature look did not come until the 20th century. Chumash natives inhabited the region before the Spanish founded Santa Barbara’s mission Dec. 4, 1786 (the feast day of its namesake).
Brilliant city planning after a 1925 earthquake inspired what came to be known as the Santa Barbara style, which unites the topography and climate with a simple design aesthetic that compliments the natural beauty.
Air conditioning is often unnecessary because (as locals say) Santa Barbara is “the life outside,” where al fresco dining rules, sunsets burn a tinge of amber, and sparkling constellations illuminate the night.
Following are suggestions on where to go and what to do when you visit the area often called the American Riviera.
Start sightseeing with a day cruise at Santa Barbara Sailing Center to capture the coastal essence. Return another day for a sunset cruise. All your cares vanish into the Pacific. Pelicans glide, seagulls perch atop buoys and sea lions cuddle in a pile as if they were in a sun stupor.
In large tour vans with huge windows, you ride past avocado trees and lavender fields while appreciating Gaviota, 30 miles west of Santa Barbara along Southern California’s largest underdeveloped coastline. Sitting outside during a wine tasting is paired with a stroll through the vineyards. Firestone and Vincent are recommended wineries. Stop at Los Olivos, the Victorian-esque central hub of the wine valley (and once an 1860s stagecoach stop), to dine at Panino and shop at artisanal boutiques.
Hot Rod Tour
Back in Santa Barbara, ride in a topless Model T Ford “limo” to see celebrities’ lavish estates tucked behind gardens. State Street, recognized as one of America’s most beautiful urban avenues, has brick paseos with streamlined, architectural serenity. Take in the panoramic view from the balcony of the palatial county courthouse. Dine at Finney’s Crafthouse and Kitchen, or Bluewater Grill.
Solvang, 35 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, is the largest Danish settlement in the United States and described as one of America’s 10 best historic small towns. In 1911, the Danish developed this area with bakeries, delicatessens and festivals. Visit the Hans Christian Andersen Museum and Park and the Little Mermaid statue. Devour a danish at Birkholm’s Bakery and Cafe, and stop at the Copenhagen Sausage Garden. A wine tasting inside a windmill at Cross Hatch winery overlooks the quaint hamlet.
Enjoy an uncluttered beach and horizon a few miles east of Santa Barbara. You don’t have to be a guest at the fancy Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel to enjoy a meal or cocktail. The nautical décor and vintage pink golf cart are picturesque. The cozy Manor Bar has live music, candlelight and fireplaces after dining nearby at the chic Tre Lune bistro.
In Santa Barbara’s harbor, California’s oldest-working wooden wharf features nostalgic taverns serving fresh seafood. The nearby Brophy Brothers pub has a deck overlooking the marina.
This funky district offers eclectic dining at the Lark and dancing afterward in the James Joyce bar, which has live music.
In addition to the Miramar, recommendations include The Four Seasons/The Biltmore and Hotel Californian.