Santa Barbara is known as the American Riviera and between the rugged coastline, hundreds of wineries and a unique brand of laidback luxury, it's obvious why everyone from Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have decided to call this slice of paradise between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains home.
Rent electric bikes from Mad Dogs & Englishmen Bike Shop in Montecito for a leisurely cruise around town. The Elby bikes are great for all types of riders, with no gear shifting necessary, and can reach 20 miles per hour at maximum speed. Bikes come with large baskets so you can even pack a picnic from Bree'osh down the street. Even athletic, seasoned cyclists appreciate the ebike boost across Santa Barbara's hilly terrain.
Stop by the Rosewood Miramar Beach for lunch with ocean views at the Revere Room, where dishes like crab cakes, sweet and savory pistachio tartine, and a Buddha bowl with warm buckwheat groats, tofu, avocado, cannellini beans and galangal dressing all highlight some of the best local farms and purveyors. Executive chef Massimo Falsini is vegan and his plant-forward menu even includes an assortment of pickles from the resort's own garden.
Cielo Spa is the secret sanctuary where locals go for the best massages. Many of the therapists at this boutique day spa in downtown Santa Barbara also work at five-star resorts around town. Owner Roxanne Zbinden was inspired by her Mexican heritage to name her spa after the Spanish word for heaven. Zbinden's soft but strong hands certainly melt away muscular tension and conjure a deep sense of calm.
Spring and early summer are perhaps the most beautiful time to visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in the sloping foothills above the city, with vibrant wildflowers in constant bloom. Nearly six miles of scenic trails wind through several different landscapes, featuring more than 1,000 native California plant species. You can even purchase plants to take home from the nursery, accompanied by helpful gardening tips. Ganna Walska Lotusland is another worthwhile destination for plant lovers. Wander from the Australian garden to the Japanese garden, then visit towering prehistoric ferns and whimsical cacti that could have hopped right off the page of a Dr. Seuss storybook.
There are many wonderful dining options downtown, but Satellite is one of the most original, serving hyperlocal vegan dishes paired with esoteric natural wines. Spicy walnut “chorizo” tostadas, balsamic smoked shiitake mushrooms with lemon almond “ricotta” and fresh sliced strawberries on a crunchy baguette, a colorful salad with a dozen ingredients finished with a flourish of edible flower petals – these are audacious flavors unlike anything you've tasted before. Satellite proves that plant-based cooking is not at all restrictive, but offers more possibilites than you could imagine.
When it's time for wine tasting, the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail makes it easy, comprising more than 30 wineries concetrated in the downtown Presidio and Funk Zone neighborhoods. Pinot Noir has become the most acclaimed wine in Santa Barbara and much of that is thanks to Au Bon Climat and winemaker Jim Clendenen, who helped elevate the region's reputation and establish the Sta. Rita Hills as a world-class AVA for Pinot Noir when he began making wine here in 1982. Margerum is another must-visit, especially if you enjoy Rhône-style blends. The Syrah and Grenache here are sublime, but don't overlook the fortified wines at the end of the wine list. Margerum has been making Amaro long before it was cool, and local dessert artisans Rori's Artisanal Creamery and Twenty-Four Blackbirds are making Amaro ice cream and chocolate truffles with this bitter-sweet digestif.
After a sunset cruise departing from Santa Barbara Sailing Center, slip into Convivo just before closing for one of the best meals in town. This unassuming restaurant adjacent to the Santa Barbara Inn is mostly Italian, with excellent pizzas and housemade pastas, along with lamb osso bucco and grilled local seafood, but chef Peter McNee adds globally-inspired flourishes, like a za'atar flatbread accompanied by baba ganoush, hummus and labneh for dipping. His new seaweed mafaldine loaded with whole cloves of garlic, wild mushrooms, miso butter and furikake is a must-order. After a hearty meal, some housemade limoncello is the perfect digestif.
Where To Stay
With just 24 rooms, Palihouse Santa Barbara has a chic residential design that feels like staying with a sophisticated friend who happens to have an affinity for the color pink. It's a remarkably private property considering its prime location in downtown Santa Barbara, with a convivial courtyard cafe and fountain. Great wine tasting and restaurants are within easy walking distance, and the hotel has complimentary Linus bicycles for guests to take out exploring too. The friendly staff take pride in getting to know each guest and anticipating their needs.
Grand studio suites have kitchenettes complete with microwaves, pretty floral plateware and pints of locally made McConnell's ice cream tempting you from the full-size Smeg refrigerator. Fair warning: the impeccably styled bathrooms will inspire sexy selfies.
El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel has been a Hollywood hideaway since the 1920s and the landscaping is grand, although service can be a bit cold. A wisteria-lined lily pond sits at the center of the property and is a popular location for bridal photos. Rooms here are designed in either California Craftsman or Spanish Colonial Revival-style, with pergolas and verandas so quaint you almost expect guests to fling the shutters open and burst into song. Heated bathrooms floors, gas fireplaces and deep soaking tubs are a few of my favorite amenities.