16 Sep,2016 By Jagabond
The story of Saint Barbara is a tragic one, if you believe it. Raised by a pagan father, she denounced his beliefs and converted to Christianity. The father wasn’t so enlightened and progressive, so as punishment he tortured and eventually beheaded her…which precluded him from any ‘dad of the year’ award consideration. Her name was used by the Catholic church I went to growing up, and was also given to a coastal city in California discovered by Spanish explorers.
I’d been to Santa Barbara before, but only briefly for one night many years ago. Spending a few days there recently made me realize how uniquely cool this city is, as it has almost a small town feel to it. Specifically, I fell in love with the following:
1. The wine culture – Santa Barbara is part of the Central Coast wine region, as the famous Santa Ynez Valley is just outside the city limits. Anyone spending time in Southern California has tasted the ‘buttery’ Santa Barbara Chardonnay. I ventured there to do some wine tasting in Solvang which I previously wrote about, but there was also the annual wine festival occurring in downtown Santa Barbara. The event I attended was dubbed ‘Old Spanish Nights’, and featured a large selection of local wines, including one of my favorites, Rombauer’s (the red zin is outstanding)…
…and also had the backdrop of live Spanish music with Flamenco dancing.
2. The courthouse – It’s amazing that this courthouse is still in use, as it looks and feels more like a museum. If I was ever accused of a crime, I would feel better having my case heard here. During the summer they show movies outside in the courtyard, and the inside is full of amazing artwork and architecture, in particular the ornate spiral staircase shown below.
The outside is equally beautiful and imposing, and the panoramic views from the clock tower are breathtaking.
3. The homes – Either I wasn’t impressed, or I just didn’t ‘get’ the homes in Beverly Hills, because they are too outlandish and over the top. I found this surprising, as I was a huge fan of the TV show 90210 during the 90’s! 🙂 Conversely, even though the Santa Barbara homes are clearly worth millions, they have a certain humble yet beautiful quality to them. I especially enjoyed the wide range of colors…almost reminding me of something you’d see in Scandinavia, or the Alsace region of France.
4. The vibe on State Street – I already posted about the fabulous restaurants on State Street, but there’s more to it than that. This is where the life blood flows through the city in terms of shopping and nightlife. ‘Going out’ in Santa Barbara seemed more like life in a small French city, where raucous pubs were replaced with classy, subdued cafes. Walking the few miles of State Street from midtown to the coast offered some great views of Spanish architecture, classic movie theaters, and I also found this interesting nook in the La Arcada complex where there were several thought-provoking statues.
5. The pristine wharf, harbor and beaches – I’m not sure if they feed the sea gulls here Imodium, but incredibly the wharf and harbor are free from the ‘white spots’ common in other beach cities. Judging by how clean the city is in general, in reality they probably just have an effective infrastructure for sanitation. Typically I avoid restaurants near harbors, as there can be a ubiquitous fish smell that makes me lose my appetite…but not here. The view of the rolling hills behind the beach was something special.