Just two weeks ago, downtown Santa Barbara was threatened with destruction by the Thomas fire. Thankfully, the air is now clear and businesses have reopened. Santa Barbara awaits you. Here are some reasons to make the drive.
Santa Barbara’s natural setting makes it one of the most beautiful destinations anywhere. The mountains may be temporarily scarred by the fire, but the city and ocean views are still stunning.
Thanks to the 1924 earthquake and a lady named Pearl Chase, the town has a unified architectural style, Spanish Revival, featuring white walls, red-tiled roofs, elaborate ironwork, and much more. This is exemplified by the County Courthouse, which offers free docent guided tours.
Called “the Queen of the Missions,” Santa Barbara’s Old Mission is simply lovely. It was also home to California’s first bishop and when the missions were secularized in 1833, Franciscan friars from up and down the coast brought their finest treasures here. Visit the Mission Museum, which has self-guided and docent-led tours. Don’t miss the newly restored Historic Huerta Garden with its heirloom plants that grew during the Mission era.
The Arlington’s whimsical inside village, the gold-leaf grandeur of the Granada, the Lobero’s hand-painted ceilings and the Bowl’s unequalled backdrop: Theaters here offer not only world-class entertainment, they are beautiful on their own. The rundown Riviera Theatre has been given a topnotch overhaul and is the new home of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Plaza de Oro Theatre is now the Hitchcock Cinema & Public House and offers a full bar, food and beverages in the style of an English pub.
Plethora of parks
There are so many parks here that five columns couldn’t contain them. My Top 5 picks are Shoreline Park, with its ocean views; dog-friendly Douglas Family Preserve; Chase Palm Park’s whimsical ocean-inspired playground; the “turtle pond” and rare plants and trees at Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens; and Oak Park, the site of many summer festivals.
Speaking of festivals, there are an abundance to enjoy here, starting with the weekly Arts and Crafts Fair at the Beach that showcases only artists who create their works in Santa Barbara County. Ethnic festivals include the Greek, French and Jewish. Several festivals are dedicated to beer, quite a few to food and wine, and then there’s lots more: Lemon, Kite, Juggling, Old Time Fiddlers, Sea Glass, Mariachi, and Harbor, among others. Not to forget the huge Summer Solstice, Old Spanish Days extravaganza and star-studded International Film Festival.
Multitude of museums
It’s an embarrassment of cultural riches! Try to say these in one breath: Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, UCSB Art Design & Architecture Museum, Maritime Museum, Sea Center, Museum of Natural History, MOXI, South Coast Railroad Museum, Old Mission, Carriage and Western Arts Museum, Historic Museum, Karpeles Manuscript Museum, Casa de la Guerra, El Presidio, and don’t forget two living museums: the Botanic Garden and Lotusland.