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Santa Barbara, California, USA: The American Riviera
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
“Half of Hollywood lives here”. I overheard this statement made by a local. Keeping aside the statistical correctness, the spirit of the thought is indeed correct. And if Hollywood is around, one can rest assured the city has great weather, wealth, dining, lifestyle activities and shopping to name a few. Welcome to Santa Barbara… the seaside Spanish paradise on the Pacific Coast.
Santa Barbara was the last leg of our whirlwind 3-day tour on the Pacific Coast. After having lunch at Solvang, we reached Santa Barbara which was only 33 miles away. It was 3PM. We were hosted at Best Western Pepper Tree Hotel. It’s a nice property. What I liked the most were their various staircases that used colourfully painted glazed tiles… quietly reminding the visitors of the Spanish influence the city has. Their restaurant serves delicious meals. And I can say that on the basis of the breakfast that I had there.
The Santa Barbara Trolley Tours is a nice way to experience the city. A $19, 90-minute round trip narrated tour gives visitors the spring board if they wish to explore the city at their own space over a longer period. The ticket is a hop-on, hop-off and is valid all day long. In fact, you can usually get the 2nd day thrown in for free. The tour starts from Cabrillo Boulevard every hour from 10AM to 4PM and stops at major attractions.
The trolley was chartered for our group. We were ready to be taken around at 4PM from our hotel itself. Our first stop was Old Mission.
The Santa Barbara Mission was established on the Feast of Saint Barbara, December 4, 1786 and was the tenth of twenty-one California Missions to be founded by the Spanish Franciscans. More than 200 years later, the Mission continues to be the chief cultural and historic landmark in the city of Santa Barbara. Home to a community of Franciscan friars, the Mission also has a retreat center with guest rooms, conference rooms, a fully equipped commercial kitchen and dining room, a beautiful church with a large and active parish, a museum and gift shop, a cemetery and mausoleum, and ten acres of beautifully landscaped gardens. The Mission's commanding position and grand proportions, graceful lines and soft, blending colors all reinforce her title, "Queen of the Missions."
During my visit, the entire premises wore a festive look with hundreds of street artists drawing and colouring using the street as their canvas. After spending about 20 minutes, we moved towards Old Courthouse.
This magnificent Spanish-Moorish "palace" was built in 1929 and is surrounded by lawns and a sunken tropical garden that plays host to many functions throughout the year. The architecture of this building is quite beautiful and all the details are well thought out. Hand-painted ceilings, wrought iron chandeliers, giant murals, imported tiles give this relatively new building an ancient feel. Of course, no trip to the courthouse would be complete without an ascent to the tower, which offers 360° views of the city, mountains, and the ocean.
We then drove on the waterfront and onto the scenic drive overlooking the Butterfly Beach before turning back. On the drive we crossed past massive homes hidden behind walls and landscaped gardens. The blue ocean on one side and these homes on the other were a visual treat.
On our way back, we crossed the famous Chase Palm Park. As the name suggests, over 1500 palm trees all the way from the East Beach to Stearns Wharf dot the shores. Not only the area offers great views of the ocean but is an ideal location to jog, bike or skate along the blue ocean.
A reception was hosted for us at the Canary Hotel. During my brief stop there, I had the opportunity to go on their 6th floor terrace that offered spectacular views of mountains rising over the red tile roofs and the blue sparkling ocean. After spending about 30 minutes on the windy rooftop, I was refreshed to enjoy a Spanish dinner and a post dinner walk on the State Street – home to some excellent shopping, dining and nightlife.
Fun not withstanding I reached my hotel a little early. I had to pack and prepare myself for the long journey back home. I would take my flight from Los Angeles International Airport which was just a 2 hour drive from Santa Barbara.
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