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The Gotta-Love-It Guide to Santa Barbara

The American Riviera is home to big-name celebrities, fabulous galleries, great wining and dining, and a luxury hotel renaissance that will help you enjoy it all in style.


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Photos courtesy of sunvalley.com

You're standing on a beach in Santa Barbara, white sand beneath your toes, waves washing over your feet, palm trees swaying in the breeze. In one direction are the peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains. In another are the silhouettes of the Channel Islands far out at sea. Turn around and you’re facing downtown, all white stucco and red-tiled roofs. That’s the Santa Barbara anyone can see—but the American Riviera is so much more.

For one, it’s home to UC Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City College, where many East Bay parents send their kids to school. It’s also home to a thriving art scene, some of California’s best shopping and dining, and a rejuvenated hotel scene. Nightspots clustered around Old Town offer places to see hot live bands and maybe a celebrity or two. The wine country made famous in Sideways is just a short drive away. With so much to see and do in this stunning town by the sea, we thought it was time for a guide to what’s new, what’s hot, and what’s just oh so Santa Barbara.

TOURS
Here’s a fly-by inventory of the best and quirkiest tours the area has to offer.

Santa Barbara Land and Sea Tours
For a basic tour around the city, this amphibian (land and water) vehicle is the only way to go. (805) 683-7600, www.out2seasb.com.

 

santa barbara
Photo by Andrea Gomez

Sideways Tour
This is a DIY trek, but you can pick up a map inspired by the hit 2004 movie shot and set in Santa Barbara wine country at the visitors center. The map outlines sites such as the Hitching Post restaurant, where the character Maya worked, the corporate winery where Miles guzzled the spit bucket, and the ostrich park Jack ran through after, um, getting caught with his pants down. (805) 966-9222, www.santabarbara.com.

Condor Express Whale Watching
More than 30 species of whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and porpoises call the Santa Barbara Channel home. These tours feature blue whales and humpback watching in the summer and gray whale watching in the winter. 301 W. Cabrillo St., (805) 882-0088, www.condorcruises.com.

 

Santa Barbara
Photo by Andrea Gomez

Santa Barbara Film Locations Tour
The film industry has roots in SB, and big-time Hollywood movies still get made there. Personal Tours can show you the sites where movies such as The Postman Always Rings Twice, Seabiscuit, and Sideways were shot. (805) 685-0552, www.personaltoursltd.com.

ART
Sure, the art scene here isn’t quite what’s happening in New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, but it’s surprisingly fluid and jam-packed. Below are some recent additions that have the Central Coast gallery set talking. 


 

 

Santa Barbara
Photo by Farshid Assassi/ Courtesy of Edward Cella Gallery

Santa Barbara Museum of Art
The area’s biggest art museum recently received what is arguably the most significant gift in its 66-year history, the Dwight and Winifred Vedder Collection. The 13-work assemblage includes works by Mary Cassatt and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as a piece by “Grandma” Moses. Art lovers, hurry down: It’s scheduled to be on display only through December.
This summer, the hottest tickets in town are for Nights, a monthly party at the museum where music, art, and martinis mix. With a surrealist theme inspired by the museum’s Salvador Dalí painting, “Honey Is Sweeter Than Blood,” the last Nights event of the season (September 20) is sure to be the place to be. 1130 State St., (805) 963-4364, www.sbma.net.

Gallery Ocho
It’s tiny, a few months old, off the tourist trail, and home to hip contemporary art. 1221 State St., Victoria Court, Ste. 8, (805) 965-3054, www.galleryocho.com.

Jane Deering Gallery
Deering exhibits the work of contemporary American and European artists in a gallery space in her Montecito home. Viewings are by appointment only. (805) 969-5376, www.janedeeringgallery.com.

First Thursday
From 5 to 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, more than 25 downtown galleries and art-related venues are open free to the public. Wine and hors d’oeuvres are served at most. (805) 962-2098, www.santabarbaradowntown.com.

Edward Cella Art + Architecture
Although the work on the walls makes a trip to this contemporary gallery worthwhile, the architecture is what sets Edward Cella apart. 10 E. Figueroa St., Ste. 3, (805) 962-5900, www.edwardcella.com.
Movie stars, politicians, and other celebrities have long hung their hats at Santa Barbara’s exclusive hotels and resorts. In the past few years, their options, and yours, have become even more luxurious, with several prominent hotels undergoing multimillion-dollar renovations worthy of a voiceover by Robin Leach.

HOTELS

 

Santa Barbara
Courtesy of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts

San Ysidro Ranch
What’s New: In January 2007, Ty Warner—the hotel magnate and Beanie Baby manufacturer who bought the world-renowned ranch in 2000—completed the resort’s $150-million renovation. This classic destination was where Jackie and John Kennedy honeymooned, and where Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier tied the knot in 1940.
Why You Should Go: Most of the 500-acre ranch’s 40 exceedingly luxurious accommodations have radiant-heat bathroom floors and private decks with hot tubs and outdoor rain showers.
Ultimate Indulgence: The 2,200-square-foot Warner Cottage ($3,990) is a single-level abode with two master bedrooms, three wood-burning fireplaces, private heated 10-meter swimming pool, hot tub, and gas grill.

Accommodations range from $795 to $3,990. 900 San Ysidro Ln., (805) 565-1700, www.sanysidroranch.com.

The Biltmore
What’s New: A six-year, $240-million renovation updated 207 guestrooms (including 13 cottages) at The Biltmore, a Four Seasons resort originally built in 1927.
Why You Should Go: As if the striking views of the Pacific and the Santa Ynez Mountains weren’t enough, this AAA Five Diamond Award–winning hotel’s renovations include plasma-screen televisions, rain showers, soaking tubs, and a lobby ceiling painted with Mediterranean designs and 23-karat gold leaf.
Ultimate Indulgence: The hotel’s 10,000-square-foot spa includes 11 treatment rooms and four deluxe spa suites with fireplaces and private ocean-view terraces. Go for the Sunset Sanctuary ($890/couple), a series of relaxing treatments that includes 30 minutes of hand and foot reflexology, 80 minutes of stone therapy massage, a three-course sunset dinner, and, of course, champagne and dessert.

Rooms range from $605 to $4,400. 1260 Channel Dr., (805) 969-2261, www.fourseasons.com/santabarbara.

Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort
What’s New: A $15-million renovation completed in May includes new granite countertops for rooms and suites, with the suites also getting jacuzzi tubs and glass-wall showers. The hotel’s spa is undergoing a major renovation scheduled for completion this month.
Why You Should Go: Unwind at the resort’s charming 24-acre beachfront grounds, which feature an outdoor heated pool, a rose garden, and seven mission-style guest buildings.
Ultimate Indulgence: Gather some friends and throw a party in the stately Presidential Suite ($1,035), which will make you feel more like a king than a president with its spacious living room, balcony, and whirlpool bathtub that fits four.

Rooms range from $255 to $1,035. 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd., (805) 564-4333, www.fpdtr.com.

Hotel Andalucia
What’s New: Opened in December 2004, Hotel Andalucia has 77 guest rooms and 20 suites featuring special touches like fine art from local regional artists on the walls, hand-painted ceilings and furniture, arched doorways, custom headboards, and imported bath tiles.
Why You Should Go: The hotel’s rooftop bar, with its views of the ocean and mountains, was voted Best Hotel Bar by the Santa Barbara Independent in 2006.
Ultimate Indulgence: For a special occasion, nab one of the junior suites ($595), which boasts a 600-square-foot room with plasma television, detached shower and bathtub, and entertainment center.

Rooms from $370 to $665. 31 W. Carrillo, (805) 884-0300, www.andaluciasb.com.

FOOD
There are so many happenin’ restaurants in town, it’s almost impossible to list all the hot spots. Here are the best.

 

Santa Barbara
Photo courtesty of Brophy Bros.

Arigato Sushi
This place puts out jaw-droppingly good sushi. 1225 State St., (805) 965-6074.

Bouchon
Savor this restaurant’s locally caught fish and locally farmed produce. 9 W. Victoria St., (805) 730-1160.

Ca’ Dario Ristorante
Dario Furlati’s restaurant is perhaps the area’s best Italian. 37 E. Victoria St., (805) 884-9419.

Downey’s
This relaxed fine-dining establishment received Santa Barbara’s highest Zagat score for food in 2006: 28. 1305 State St., (805) 966-5006.

La Super Rica Taqueria
Enjoy authentic Mexican street food at this taqueria. 622 N. Milpas St., (805) 963-4940.

Montecito Café
This restaurant in ultra-tony Montecito is surprisingly affordable—and surprisingly down-to-earth. 1295 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, (805) 969-3392.

Olio e Limone Ristorante
California Italian food and wine that draws raves. 11 W. Victoria St., Ste. 17, (805) 899-2699.

Rodney’s Steakhouse
Rodney’s Zagat scores: a whopping 27 out of 30 for food; 24 for decor; 23 for service. 633 E. Cabrillo Blvd., (805) 884-8554.

Sage & Onion
Diners adore the four- and six-course tasting menus ($60–$125). 34 E. Ortega St., (805) 963-1012.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
This little gem on Stearns Wharf features seafood caught within view of where it’s eaten. 230 Stearns Wharf, (805) 966-6676.

Who better to give Diablo the inside scoop on Santa Barbara’s dining scene than the magazine that covers the Central Coast? Here are a few favorites from Central Coast Magazine’s editor-in-chief Michael Vidor and his wife, editorial director Anne Vidor.

Best New Restaurant
The Hungry Cat’s Santa Barbara location just opened and serves great seafood. Grab a seat at the bar, since they don’t take reservations and table seating can get cramped.
1134 Chapala St., (805) 884-4701, www.thehungrycat.com.

Classic Santa Barbara Restaurants
Joe’s Cafe is the old-timer on State Street with a menu that hasn’t changed in eons and the stiffest drinks in town. Chuck’s of Hawaii is a great place for surf ‘n’ turf.
Joe’s Cafe, 536 State St., (805) 966-4638; Chuck’s of Hawaii, 3888 State St., (805) 687-4417.

Most Fun Santa Barbara Restaurants
Chad’s is a singles hideout with great drinks and delicious oysters Rockefeller. Brophy Bros. at the harbor has a million-dollar view, cheap cioppino, and a killer tuna melt.
Chad’s, 625 Chapala St., (805) 568-1876; Brophy Bros., 119 Harbor Way, (805) 966-4418.

On the ’80s soap opera Santa Barbara, the city was portrayed as a playground for the rich and famous. It might have been a soap opera, but that portrayal was pretty much spot-on.

Anyone who has lived in Santa Barbara has celebrity-sighting stories. With Hollywood only an hour away, many “in the business” players have homes in and around SB. To name-drop: Carol Burnett, John Cleese, Brad Pitt, Kenny Loggins, Dennis Franz, Christopher Lloyd, Jimmy Connors, Kathy Ireland, Steve Martin, Steven Spielberg, Kevin Costner, Kirk Douglas, and, of course, Oprah.

But where are you going to “just happen” to be when you rub elbows with the showbiz elite? Diablo asked someone whose job it is to know. Andre Manoux, a navigator for Santa Barbara Land and Sea Tours, gave us his top three spots for celebrity sightings.

Coast Village Road
This mini-downtown stretch of great restaurants and cute boutiques is the place to “accidentally run into” Montecito’s A-list celebs.

Butterfly Beach
Across from the Four Seasons Biltmore, spillover celebs from the Biltmore frequent the beach. Britney Spears was spotted there not too long ago.

Lower State Street/Waterfront
The shopping, wining, and dining hub of Santa Barbara is lower State, which leads to Stearns Wharf and the Pacific. Especially on weekends, crowds push through, and in those crowds is the occasional celebrity.

Tonic
It’s been known by other names in the past few years, but the biggest and now hottest club in town has cleaned up. A huge patio is a highlight, as are the Sunday Sessions, parties offering lots of specials and music from popular DJs. 634 State St., (805) 897-1800.

Elsie’s Tavern
This neighborhood bar serves only beer, wine, popcorn, and Pop-Tarts. Pop-Tarts? That’s right, this quirky joint with great bartenders—one on skates—serves the area’s most untraditional bar food. There’s no sign outside, but plenty of kitschy memorabilia inside. Cash only. 117 W. De la Guerra St., (805) 963-4503.

The James Joyce
Grab a handful of peanuts out of the barrel and toss the shells on the floor at the Joyce, one of a few friendly, fun Irish bars in town. In a row of college student–saturated sports bars, the Joyce can be a refuge for the slightly older set. 513 State St., (805) 962-2688, www.thejamesjoyce.com.

SOhO Restaurant & Music Club
With live music nearly every night of the year, this lounge is a great spot for a drink, light eats, and solid performers. Tickets are discounted at certain shows if you order dinner. 1221 State St., upstairs, (805) 962-7776, www.sohosb.com.

LOCAL TAKE: CENTRA COAST MAGAZINE EDITOR'S HOT PICKS

Who better to give Diablo the inside scoop on Santa Barbara’s dining scene than the magazine that covers the Central Coast? Here are a few favorites from Central Coast Magazine’s editor-in-chief Michael Vidor and his wife, editorial director, Anne Vidor.

Best New Restaurant
The Hungry Cat’s Santa Barbara location just opened and serves great seafood. Grab a seat at the bar, since they don’t take reservations and table seating can get cramped.
1134 Chapala St., (805) 884-4701, www.thehungrycat.com

Classic Santa Barbara Restaurants
Joe’s Café is the old-timer on State Street with a menu that hasn’t changed in eons and the stiffest drinks in town. Chuck’s of Hawaii is a great place for surf ‘n’turf.
Joe’s Café, 536 State St., (805) 966-4638; Check’s of Hawaii, 3888 State St., (805) 687-4417.

Most Fun Santa Barbara Restaurants
Chad’s is a singles hideout with great drinks and delicious Oysters Rockefeller. Brophy Bros. at the harbor has a million-dollar view, cheap cioppino, and a killer tuna melt.
Chad’s, 625 Chapala St., (805) 568-1876; Brophy Bros., 119 Harbor Way, (805) 966-4418.

CELEBRITY STATUS

On the ‘80s soap opera Santa Barbara, the city was portrayed as a playground for the rich and famous. It might have been a soap opera, but that portrayal was pretty much spot-on.

Anyone who has lived in Santa Barbara has celebrity-sighting stories. With Hollywood only an hour away, many “in the business” players have homes in and around SB. To name-drop: Carol Burnett, John Cleese, Brad Pitt, Kenny Loggins, Dennis Franz, Christopher Lloyd, Jimmy Connors, Kathy Ireland, Steve Martin, Steven Spielberg, Kevin Costner, Kirk Douglas, and, of course, Oprah.

But where are you going to “just happen” to be when you run elbows with the showbiz elite? Diablo asked some one whose job it is to know. Andre Manoux, a navigator for Santa Barbara Land and Sea Tours, gave us his top three spots for celebrity sightings.

Coast Village Road
This mini-downtown stretch of great restaurants and cute boutiques is the place to “accidentally run into” Montecito’s A-list celebs.

Butterfly Beach
Across from the Four Seasons Biltmore, spillover celebs from the Biltmore frequent the beach. Britney Spears was spotted there not too long ago.

Lower State Street/Waterfront
The shopping, wining, and dining hub of Santa Barbara is lower State, which leads to Stearns Wharf and the Pacific. Especially on weekends, crowds push through, and in those crowds is the occasional celebrity.
 

NIGHTSPOTS

Tonic
It’s been known by other names in the past few years, but the biggest and now hottest club in town has cleaned up. A huge patio is a highlight, as are the Sunday Sessions, parties offering lots of specials and music from popular DJs. 634 State St., (805) 897-1800

Elsie’s Tavern
This neighborhood bar serves only beer, wine, popcorn, and Pop-Tarts. Pop-Tarts? That’s right, this quirky joint with great bartenders—one on skates—serves the area’s most untraditional bar food. There’s no sign outside, but plenty of kitschy memorabilia inside. Cash only. 117 W. De la Guerra St., (805) 963-4503.

The James Joyce
Grab a handful of peanuts out of the barrel and toss the shells on the floor at the Joyce, one of a few friendly, fun Irish bars in town. In a row of college student-saturated sports bars, the Joyce can be a refuge for the slightly older set. 513 State St., (805) 962-2688, www.thejamesjoyce.com.

SOhO Restaurant & Music Club
With live music nearly every night of the year, this lounge is a great spot for a drink, light eats, and solid performers. Tickets are discounted at certain shows if you order dinner. 1221 State St., upstairs, (805) 962-7776, www.sohosb.com.
 

 

BEST OF SANTA BARBARA

 

1. Best Place to get a crab claw in your Bloody Mary: Tupelo Junction 1218 State St., (805) 899-3100
2. Best Place to see MichaelJordan bartend during August's Fiesta celebration: O'Mailey's Bar, 523 State St., (805) 564-8904
3. Best meatballs according to Oprah: Trattoria Mollie's, 1250 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, (805) 565-9381
4. Best (and only) building in Santa Barbara with an outlawed neon sign: Joe's Cafe, 536 State St., (805) 966-4638
5. Best Restaurant within five minutes of UC Santa Barbara: Breachside Bar Cafe, 5905 Sandspit Rd., (805) 964-7881
6. Best banana split that's free if you can finish it (according to management, only two people have): Harry's Plaza Cafe 313 State St., (805) 687-2800

 

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