Santa Barbara

For wine lovers, Santa Barbara is paradise.  So many tasting rooms in such a concentrated space!  We address the wine tasting aspect of the city elsewhere in this edition, but even if you are not planning to go wine tasting there – or even if you are – the city of Santa Barbara has a great deal to offer the visitor besides wine. 

A Santa Barbara street scene.  The tower in the background is a movie theater!

For one thing, it is a particularly beautiful city.  Much of the architecture harkens back to Santa Barbara’s colonial past, as a part of Mexico.  Scrubbed white walls and tiled roofs are evident throughout the city.  In another direction, there are also many beautiful Victorian buildings.  Power Tasting doesn’t recommend hotels, but our favorite one, the Upham, is a jewel, erected in 1871, still maintaining its original form and is worth a look.

Even, perhaps especially, when you get off the main commercial streets and into the nearby residential areas, your eyes are still delighted.  The homes themselves may or may not have architectural interest, but the gardens in front of them are wonderful to see.  The Santa Barbarans love their gardens and fill the fronts of their houses with palms, cacti, succulents and a wide variety of flowering plants and shrubs.  Take a walk around just to enjoy these sights.

For a city with fewer than 90,000 residents, Santa Barbara is a remarkably cultured city.  On State Street, the main drag, there are several grand old movie palaces from a bygone era, still showing the latest films.  Moreover, there are several legitimate theaters providing live performances.  The most notable cultural magnets are its museums.  There’s a history museum, one for natural history and the gem is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.  It doesn’t have a huge collection – you can see it all in less than a day – but what there is is fine.  The highlight, to our eyes, is the museum’s collection of Impressionists.

The Old Mission Santa Barbara.

Two other historical cultural attractions stand out.  The Presidio is today more of a district than a single attraction.  It consists of many of the buildings that the Spanish erected to govern and protect the city in colonial times.  (Not coincidentally, the military was there to conquer the Chumash people, who just happened to be living there at the time.)  The buildings are well-maintained and many are open for public viewing.  Happily, the Presidio is only a few blocks from the tasting rooms.

While the soldiers were occupying Chumash land, Franciscan monks were opening a mission to convert them.  What started as a modest farmstead grew over time into a cloister and a church.  The Old Mission Santa Barbara is open today for occasional masses and every day for self-directed tours.  It includes the gardens, the church, a museum and the cemetery.  The latter, originally intended for burial of the monks, has over the years outsiders become the resting place for other, some not even Catholic.

Add to all the above the beaches, resorts, fine dining and oh, yes, wine and you can see that Santa Barbara is an excellent place to visit.  One note about the weather.  December through March are months with particularly fine weather, warm for those of us facing real winter.  But starting late April and onward through June, the weather turns cool and overcast.  The locals say, “May grey, June gloom”.  Bring a sweater if you go in those months.

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