Top 10 Santa Barbara Experiences

Santa Barbara is the California dream. I’ve been enjoying the city for over 40 years, having attended San Marcos high school in the 1970s, lived in Goleta in the 1980s after graduate school, and visited family and friends in the 1990s and 2000s. Here’s a list of my top 10 Santa Barbara experiences:

  1. East Beach volleyball, early morning runs, and sunsets. East Beach is one of the most magical beaches on the planet. It’s not unusual to show up at 8 am and find professional volleyball players working out on the courts. I enjoy the 3 mile roundtrip run from East Beach to Stearns Wharf whenever I visit, and if I can I’ll return to the beach around sunset to see if any of my friends are playing volleyball.
  2. Trips to Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz Island shouldn’t exist. It’s a miracle that the people who developed Los Angeles didn’t find it and turn it into a schlocky resort. But they didn’t, and you can still see what California looked like 100 years ago – raw, undeveloped wildness with bald eagles and native Santa Cruz Island foxes roaming freely. On the boat ride out we’ve seen pods of killer whales attacking sea lions and great white sharks feeding on blue whale carcasses. Unreal.
  3. Hiking State Street, from Stearns Wharf to the Arlington Theater. It’s a great urban hike through historic, redeveloped, and soon-to-be developed properties, with wonderful restaurants, shops, and people-watching along the way.
  4. Biking from UCSB to downtown. I biked this route quite a bit in the 1980s. There’s a terrific bike path that goes from UCSB into Goleta along the beach. You can then wind your way through Hope Ranch, climb Cliff Drive to the Mesa, and glide along Shoreline Park into downtown Santa Barbara.
  5. Santa Barbara Zoo. This is my son’s favorite place to visit. Unlike other zoos we’ve been to, the Santa Barbara Zoo is very well maintained. New exhibits highlight California habitats and animals, including the California Condor.
  6. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. I spent a lot of time photographing plants in the early morning here when the light first comes out. It’s also a nice place to wind down at the end of the day.
  7. Breakfast at the Brown Pelican at Hendry’s Beach. Oops, it closed, but the new restaurant looks good, too. A really nice place to being the morning with Nick Welsh’s Angry Poodle column in the Santa Barbara Independent.
  8. Lunch (or dinner) at La Super-Rica Taqueria. Truly the best Mexican food on the planet. I’ve been going there for 30+ years and have never had a bad meal. On more than one occasion, I stood in line with Julia Child, who said this was one of her favorite Santa Barbara restaurants. If you’re really, really lucky, you’ll only have to wait an half hour in line.
  9. Dinner at Ca’ Dario. This was my father’s favorite, to share the ziti al ragu di olive e capperi and sella d’agnello with a nice pinot noir. The best, particularly when served by wonderful Claudia.
  10. Drinks at the El Encanto. Looks like it’s closed right now for renovations, but this is a very romantic bar for a drink after dinner. If you visit, ask for a Santa Barbara wine grown by my friend Jeff Newton.