Located about 90-miles North of Los Angeles, along the Pacific coast, its geography and climate are similar to the South of France along the Mediterranean Sea coast, known as the Riviera.
One of the most comfortable and convenient resorts is the Mission-style Fess Parker a Doubletree by Hilton property on 24-acres across the street from the Pacific Ocean. There are 360 spacious mountain, garden, and oceanfront rooms with a patio or balcony, a large pool with hot tub, spa and five restaurants. High speed internet access is available. This was our home base for four-days and three-nights.
We were surprised that the climate was so warm and sunny three-days before Christmas. Since Santa Barbara lies along the ocean, onshore breezes moderate temperatures creating warmer winters and cooler summers compared to inland.
The first day we checked into the hotel and were pleased to receive an ocean-front room with a spacious patio for gazing out at the beach, waves, and Channel Islands. A short walk at sunset to the Stearns Wharf provided exquisite views of the sun setting, pelicans and sailboats motoring back into the harbor.
Our first culinary adventure was located nearby on State Street, The Blue Tavern by Executive Chef Ricardo Zarate. The California-Peruvian menu offers small plates meant for sharing, with creative pastas, fresh fish and steak entrees. Save room for the Tres leche cake adorned with fresh edible flowers. Zarate has three restaurants in Los Angeles: Mo-Chica, Picca and Paiche.
The next morning for breakfast, we walked two-miles up State Street to the Santa Barbara Public Market. There are 15 small purveyors offering local farm and artisanal ingredients. We enjoyed breakfast burritos at Belcampo Meat Co. and fresh out of the oven bread at Crazy Good Bread Co. Juice Well offered fresh squeezed juice to accompany our meal.
Walking back to our hotel, we shopped at a variety of stores along State Street and admired the holiday decorations.
After a short rest, we walked towards the wharf to Wheel Fun Rentals to rent two Surrey bikes to ride along the beach front bike lane toward the Santa Barbara Zoo. The zoo has over 600 animals living among 16 acres. This smaller zoo is one of the best in California.
Getting ready for another culinary adventure, we made reservation at Bouchon on Victoria Drive, across from the Public Market. It’s not a Thomas Keller Bouchon Restaurant, however the French-inspired menu offers creative appetizers and entrees in a warm and inviting atmosphere. The pan-roasted skin-on salmon was delicious with black lentils, as was the grilled venison medallions on a bed of caramelized onions with farro and barley. The blueberry-lemon upside-down cake was worth every calorie.
Instead of driving up State Street, visitors can take the open-air trolleys and electric shuttles. They transport people along State Street, Cabrillo Boulevard to the Santa Barbara Zoo and the Santa Barbara Harbor for nominal fee, creating less traffic on the roads.
The next morning we walked into the Funk Zone to have breakfast at Lucky Penny. The facade is decorated with thousands of pennies. It’s more of a lunch and dinner with their wood-fire pizza, so we continued walking towards State Street to dine in the 1928 American fare, Joe’s Cafe. With a Juke box playing music from different eras, we enjoyed pancakes, Eggs Benedict, and omelets.
Walking back down towards the wharf, we went onto the pier to explore the Sea Center. It’s part of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History offering interactive exhibits, a jellyfish exhibit, opportunities for guests to work like scientists, and a theater showcasing the beauty of the Santa Barbara Channel.
Afterwards, we took the Urban Wine Trail off of State Street to learn more about the Santa Barbara County wines. There are a cluster of wineries located in the Funk Zone that pour tastings for a fee. We learned the oldest winery in Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Winery was founded in 1962 and influenced the development of the world-class Santa Ynez Valley growing region. The Oreana Winery tasting room is located in an old tire shop offering small batches of red and crisp white wines. Kunin Wines has some terrific reds.
Later we trekked to the Santa Barbara Sailing Center to rent kayaks for one hour in search of sea lions, pelicans and dolphins. Afterwards, we dined at the popular Brophy Bros. for crab cakes, seafood pasta, and freshly caught swordfish.
On our last day, we drove to the nearby Old Mission Santa Barbara to learn more about the history of the region. Founded by the Franciscan Friar Fermín de Lasuén on the Feast of St. Barbara, December 4th, 1786, this Mission is known as the Queen of the Missions. We admired the beautiful gardens and learned that in the early 1800s there were over 5,000 cattle and 11,000 sheep.
Driving home we discussed our new appreciation for the American Riviera and look forward to another visit soon to enjoy the food, wine and learn more about fascinating coastal town of Santa Barbara.
Fess Parker a Doubletree by Hilton Resort – 633 East Cabrillo Boulevard, Santa Barbara, CA 93103
This article was featured in NOT BORN YESTERDAY – January 2015.