I guessed I was heading somewhere slightly different when I was joined in the train queue at LA’s Union Station by people bringing bicycles, skateboards and full size surfboards.
The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner lived up to its name after about 30 minutes of traversing the vast suburbs of the city when I finally caught sight of the Ocean, lined with hundreds of RV’s and Caravans.
Pulling into Santa Barbara some 90mins later, the train doors opened to an oven-like heat into which poured a plethora of people with their surfboards, and me with my oversized suitcase.
After checking into my Penthouse apartment (no less), I walked the short distance towards the waterfront. As I did so, it became apparent I was the only person attempting to rush anywhere. As I watched passers-by, I realised that while everyone was busy going somewhere they were doing so at a chilled out, relaxed pace.
This was explained to me by Steve Hyslop , owner of the aptly named Endless Summer Café, as a very ‘Santa Barbara thing’ which allows people to enjoy long, lingering meals and a laid back lifestyle. While I enjoyed lunch overlooking the busy marina towards Stearns Wharf, as palm trees swayed against the backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, I was inclined to think I’d fit right in. That thought stayed with me as I took myself on an Urban Wine Trail. Santa Barbara is surrounded by vineyards. To save locals and visitors having to make their way out into the mountains, the wine producers have come to town and opened numerous wine-tasting rooms. The trail allows for various tastings, and purchases, although there is a danger that the combination of heat and wine means that after a few stops, you may forget who you are and where you’ve been!
The refreshing walk out to Stearns Wharf is made all the more memorable the first time you turn around and look back towards the beach. You are met with an awe-inspiring view, which looks like a film set backdrop. I stood for nearly an hour simply soaking in my location. The wooden wharf, parts of which date back to 1872, is an attraction in its own right, and is home to a number of speciality shops and restaurants.
Santa Barbara has a plethora of excellent restaurants, especially around State Street, many of which are tucked away in stunning Spanish-style courtyards. Food has a very Mexican influence and, of course, much use is made of locally caught fish. I enjoyed trying guacamole (made from the local vegetable, Avacado) and Ceviche (a raw fish marinated in lime & chili). There are also a number of Irish bars if you are desperate for a taste of home.
Santa Barbara has a wide choice of accommodation, ranging from 5* resorts to B&B’s. I stayed at the very well appointed Brisas Del Mar Apartments. The complimentary afternoon wine & cheese and evening milk & cookies is a nice touch and the outdoor pool was a very welcome escape from the heat. The apartments have great kitchen & dining areas and there are 2 grocery stores across the street if you want to cater for yourself. The complex is 5 mins walk from the beach in one direction and the shopping areas of State Street in the other.
Visitors often make the mistake of allocating only a day or two in Santa Barbara. A common mantra heard is “I wish we had known it was so nice here and I’d have arranged to stay longer”.
As I closed the door of my apartment to head back to the train, I found myself saying the same thing.