A NOVICES GUIDE | santa barbara
Full disclosure: I WISH I could do more traveling than I actually do. To have the freedom (more so, the financial freedom to do so) is such a balancing act. Like walking a tightrope - you want the thrill of doing and exploring, but you don't want to fall off. Financially speaking.
I'm not currently working at the moment (good-bye six-figure salary....for now), we're planning for a wedding (never cheap no matter how small), planning for a family at some point, putting money into our house. Oh and my fiancee is a bit of a tight wad when it comes to money. Which is good - he's looking out for our future to make sure we're set up, so we live off a specific amount of money he makes per month and bank/save/invest the rest.
So you can see that traveling is not #1 on our priority list....unfortunately.
BUT, we planned our annual pilgrimage to Palm Desert, CA where my family has had a place for almost 20 years. We love the desert. Its a quick get away, hot, relaxing and allows you to completely decompress. When we do go, we always like to plan a bit of a road trip on the side. This year, we decided on Santa Barbara.
I can see why celebrities flock to this city and live there or in its surrounding areas (Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon). Like many women, I fell in love with the city through the Nancy Meyer's movie "It's Complicated". The HOUSE and BAKERY she owned in this city are to die for! I was, like, totally, like, madly, deeply IN LOVE with them all as I do with pretty much all of Nancy Meyer's movies. Her vision and set decorating brilliance takes you to a magical place called Pleasantville, where the houses are amazing, the decor is like no other and there's this sense of tranquility and peace. Damn, if only we could afford one of them. Cha-ching!
So onto Santa Barbara. We absolutely LOVED visiting and although we jammed as much as we could in the 2 days we were there, we did visit some of the recommended places compliments of our friends, as I always do. Word of mouth is always the best way to see a city. Heck, its the just the best way to do anything personally:)
One of the best things we loved about this place was the ease of getting around and the Spanish, colonial architectural influence. Its just so perfect and really does feel like you are in a movie.
Below are some of the places we visited and sights we saw. A couple places (sadly) we didn't get to because if there is one thing I didn't like about Santa Barbara, was that some restaurants would randomly be closed on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. This included the one place I wanted to hit up - La Super Rica Taqueria. I'm still distraught over this, so I won't go into detail for fear that I may lose my mind again and Nathan will have to live through another whine-fest.
Although Santa Barbara has a few great places we would have loved to have stayed (but couldn't afford) we ended up booking a room at the quant, artsy Hotel Indigo. A hotel right in the heart of Santa Barbara on State St., only one block from the Stearns Wharf & Pier but still a couple blocks from the hustle and bustle, so it was quiet! This place was clean, very contemporary, full of local art, affordable and the staff was amazing. The rooms were a bit small and they have European-style showers (ummm....no tub or stall, but with a curtain and drain on the floor instead) but we managed and it actually wasn't as bad as I thought. We would definitely stay here again.
EAT + DRINK
Now this list could be endless if you know anything about me. I am a foodie at heart. I love to cook. I love to eat. I love to explore new spots whether its a hole in the wall or a 5 star restaurant. Santa Barbara came with its own set of amazing recommendations of restaurants and coffee shops. We discovered a few and there were some that (god dammit!) were not open when we were there and therefore, didn't have a chance to try! But the ones we did try, did not disappointed.
The French Press: a very popular coffee chain with 3 locations in Santa Barbara, who were highly recommended to me by several friends. Both mornings we splurged, drank their coffee and ate their pastries. YUM! Their almond milk vanilla lattes were my fave and just what I needed for my morning pick-me-up. We also indulged in their croissants, gluten free salted banana bread (YES please!) and their blueberry scone. Plus I love their design style. The location on Anacapa was our fave because of the outside patio. A MUST try for your morning coffee.
Finch & Fork (Canary Hotel): My dear friend Angela recommended this place and boy are we glad she did. This was by far one of our BEST meals while in Santa Barbara (as much as we wanted to hit up the famous Bouchon, our credit cards did not). This meal was indulgent too. Our server recommended the roasted brussels sprouts to start and they were definitely worth it. You had me at almond, maple bacon vinaigrette, & parmesan cheese. 'Nuff said. Nate ordered the braised short ribs, which were probably the most tender and flavourful short ribs he's ever had. I ordered the half jidori chicken which came with its own multi-grain polenta. I've never tried this kind of polenta but I'm glad I did. To top it off, our server (who was a young, recent Science grad) was amazingly sweet and chatty.
Scarlett Begonia: My other dear friend Kim recommended this place as the GO TO place for breakfast or brunch and boy was she right. All homemade, in house and organic, they pride themselves on just that. They 'strive to have thoughtful, interesting food with a goal to provide Santa Barbara with a restaurant that showcases progressive, modern food using sustainable, organic, high quality ingredients coupled with innovative cooking'.
Mission accomplished! Nate had their fresh everyday bagel with homemade lemon dill cream cheese which he devoured faster than I could say "hey can I try some?". I had their soft scrambled eggs (whcih is the only way I eat scrambled eggs) with herbs, creamed spinach, beemster aged gouda and homemade fingerling potatoes. Plus their jam is homemade and their grapefruit juice is freshly squeezed! If you want to get your healthy, organic on, I would recommend this joint.
Casa Blanca Restaurant & Cantina: We actually popped into this joint for happy hour because we weren't hungry enough for a large meal, but hungry enough to eat something. Its a typical Mexican restaurant, but large and lively. A Mexican sports bar of sorts. But we sat up at the bar which Nate and I have been doing since our very first date and ordered up cheap happy hour eats. Nothing spectacular here but their homemade (complimentary) chips and salsa was surprisingly amazing! Probably the best homemade salsa I've had and the chips were made in house and served warm. Any dish that doesn't skimp on the cilantro is a winner in my books.
GO + SEE
We spent the majority of our time roaming the city on bikes and by foot. Luckily our hotel had 2 complimentary bikes we could use to do so. What we loved about the city (aside from the ease of getting around) was the cleanliness and Spanish Colonial influence that is seen on almost every corner. The Courthouse, City Hall and even apartments all have this look and its so lovely. We even walked up to the top of Courthouse bell tower to get a birds-eye view of the entire city from all directions.
We also stumbled upon a hodge podge mecca along State Street. Otherwise known as The World Market. I have never even so much as heard of this place but its like a combo of Home Sense, Pier One Imports, Canadian Tire, Trader Joe's and Gourmet Warehouse on steroids! You can get food, Weck Jars, Adarondack Chairs, wine, desk tables, artwork and picture frames all in this one giant warehouse. You have to see it to believe it.
Santa Barbara and its surrounding area is also known for their extensive wineries and luckily, there are loads of wineries with tasting rooms you can visit. We didn't make it into any of them, but there were a few which we passed that looked amazing. The Valley Project, Riverbench Winery, Grassini Family Vineyards, Santa Barbara Wine Collective, Les Marchands Wine and Kunin Wines.
Places We Missed
Sadly, there were three places we desperately wanted to go to (and their all restaurants - go figure). The foodie in me still sheds a tear when I think of it, but just another excuse to go back and visit. These places were recommended by every person I asked, so I knew they were a must stop. But because of the weird days they were closed, they were not open when we were there. WTF?! What timing!
Will we be going back to Santa Barbara?
Yes, yes we will. I will get that taco from La Super Rica if it kills me!