Posted on March 10, 2014 by Janet Steinberg
Santa Barbara: American Riviera

With its lush, year-round Mediterranean climate, 100 miles of sweeping prime Pacific coastline, an annual average of 300+ days of sunshine and fresh ocean breezes, burgeoning wine country, and Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara is one of America's best-kept secrets..

Its unique east-west coastline (the only one from Alaska to Cape Horn) Riviera provides soothing year-round southern exposure and perfect temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.


Since the 1930s and 40s, when the Duponts and Rockefellers arrived via private rail car, word spread that Santa Barbara was an untapped Shangri-La. From the sparkling sea to the Santa Ynez Mountains, this city of just 95,000 quickly evolved into a haunt for the rich and famous.

Like the French and Italian Rivieras, seductive Santa Barbara exudes romance. Given its isolated location, 92 miles north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara quickly became an ideal escape for celebrities seeking to slip out of the spotlight.

Celebrities who have tied at least one of their knots in the Greater Santa Barbara area include: JFK and Jackie O, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Julia Roberts, Debra Messing, Gwenyth Paltrow, Mira Sorvino, Jim Carrey, Will Farrell, Heather Locklear, Halle Berry, Courtney Cox and David Arquette. Little wonder that my husband and I chose Santa Barbara as the place to celebrate one of our anniversaries.

County-wide, Santa Barbara offers an eclectic lineup of nearly 100 unique properties ranging from budget to deluxe. At the time of our visit, our lodging choices included such off-beat accommodations as: bedding down in a Mongolian yurt, a simple domed structure with wooden floors, canvas walls, and built-in heaters; packing our bags for a sleepover at a non-denominational, mountain-top, retreat complete with Benedictine monks; or cuddling up in a traditional Conestoga covered wagon, one of ten set in circular groups around campfire rings.


However, with all due respect to eclectic excitement, I chose to cuddle up in a romantically enchanting hideaway. So enchanting was my choice, a cozy inn tucked away on 7 lush acres, that it is actually called EL ENCANTO (The Enchanted). One of Orient-Express Hotels magical properties, El Encanto offers the sophistication and luxury of a world-class resort, combined with the charm and intimacy of a romantic hideaway on the American Riviera.

Perched above the red tile roofs of Santa Barbara, El Encanto has been a premier California retreat for the past century. At this historic (1915) hotel, carriage trade from the East Coast mingled with the likes of Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Hedy Lamarr who motored up from Los Angeles to escape the rigors of stardom during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Sipping some bubbly in our fire-placed bungalow, we delved into another place in time, when Gatsby-clad couples sipped champagne around a wisteria-ringed lily pond.

From the restaurant's outdoor terrace, we captured spectacular views of the lights of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean while feasting on exquisite cuisine. In this lush, sun-drenched, city, seductively nestled between Los Angeles and San Francisco, one can embark upon a culinary safari at every meal.

At the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort, in adjacent, exclusive Montecito, it's just a hop, skip, and a jump from the wine to the waves.

The Four Seasons Biltmore Resort is a Spanish Colonial treasure whose red roof tiles, ivory adobe, and gentle archways, grace Butterfly Beach. This classic example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, which typifies the acme of Santa Barbara's gracious living, was designed by architect Reginald Johnson.

Many of the city's 70+ designated landmarks are enjoyed via the self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour. Encompassing a 12-block area of downtown, the tour highlights the city's most fascinating red tile roof landmarks, including the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, Casa de la Guerra, El Paseo and Lobero Theatre.


The most visited landmark in the city, Mission Santa Barbara, was founded in 1786 by the Franciscans. The "Queen of the Missions," as it is known, was designed by architect Antonio Ripoll. This masterpiece showcases the best of Greco-Roman architecture and is the only California mission to have twin towers. The grand edifice stands on an elevated plateau that commands a view to the ocean, framed by the Riviera and mesa areas. Visitors tour the Mission museum, lush gardens, courtyards, chapel, and cemetery where 4,000 Chumash Indians are buried.


The most important 20th century building in Santa Barbara, second only to the Mission Santa Barbara in overall architectural significance, is the Spanish-Moorish Santa Barbara County Courthouse (1927-29), designed by architect William Moser. It has an 80-foot clock tower and the interior includes hand-painted ceilings, giant murals, rare art ,and imported tiles.


Santa Barbara is veritable feast of museums, galleries, gardens, world-class performing arts, dance, civic light opera, a show-stopping symphony, and festivals that have buoyed the American Riviera into a coastal cultural empire.

The Maritime Museum at Santa Barbara Harbor offers an in-depth look at the region's maritime roots. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art boasts an outstanding collection of American, Asian and European art. The Museum of Natural History is nationally renowned, with an enormous whale skeleton marking the entrance. University Art Museum, Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, the Historical Museum and the Carriage Museums are also great bets.


You can delve into acres of orchids and tropical plants at one of the areas gardens or public parks. Top picks: Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, Casa del Herrero, Lotusland, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara Zoo and Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.

Shopping is great on State Street, Santa Barbara's main artery layered with boutiques and red-tiled landmarks that runs from the Pacific Ocean through town. Tap into Persian rugs, rustic Mexican furnishings and locally crafted jewels set off by tiled sidewalks, a profusion of palm trees and the soft curves of white adobe architecture. Nearby, the cities of Montecito and Summerland and the wine country jewels of Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang offer a wealth of shopping opportunities.

Paseo Nuevo, a favorite California shopping center, includes a Nordstrom and a Macy's plus a variety of unique shops and restaurants nestled within winding paseos (walkways) and Spanish courtyards.


JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant affiliated with The Travel Authority, Mariemont/Cincinnati, Ohio office.

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