La Dolce Vita in Santa Barbara
The sweet life can be found in so many things life has to offer from new friends to new discoveries, great food to beautiful sights and when you leave your heart open life amazes you with greatness. It was all this and more that was in store for me when I headed to Santa Barbara to meet a fellow travel blogger I’d befriended online. The excitement was mixed with nerves, will we connect in person as we had online – you just never know – I hoped so, especially since she’d graciously opened her door, her home and a bed for me for my stay. When I departed the train, gathered my things and headed for the car park to await fate – there she was, Victoria from Postcards from Travel Pizazz, with her arms outstretched for a big ole welcome hug and with excited chatting of greetings I knew it would be a great few days as she showed me La Dolce Vita in Santa Barbara.
I honestly had no expectations for Santa Barbara, my only plans were to hang out with Victoria and visit the Santa Barbara Zoo, but I ended up falling in love with the its charm, its beauty and its small town feel, oh and the great eats! The first night we headed to a fantastic and very busy Mexican restaurant called Los Agaves. After spending the entire day on the train ride from San Diego to Santa Barbara I was starving and boy I was in for the meal of a champion. I ordered the chimichanga and was floored when it arrived, it was the size of my entire plate that somehow also held rice, and all for $10US! I did my best but the chimichanga won out, maybe it was even, but the freshness and juiciness exploded my taste buds – it was delicious!
The next day along with visiting the Santa Barbara Zoo (read about it @ Lady of the Zoos) I did some exploring with Victoria of Santa Barbara’s sights. We strolled along State street (Santa Barbara’s main street) and through La Arcada Court. This arcade reminded me of Europe, lined with shops and great sculptures, fountains and even historic treasures like the Mission Bell with its inscription ‘1761 Santa Barbara’. One of the fountains was filled with real, live turtles basking in the sun – another reminder of one I found in Venice!
On our way to our next stop we passed the public library and one of its doors immediately caught my eye. See, I have a thing for doors, strange I know, but I love unusual, colourful and simply charming doors, perhaps its the wonder and intrigue of what lies within, or maybe I just like doors. This side door to the library was like something you’d find on a church with its ornate detailing, vivid colours, crests above and a simple maze-like pattern on the door itself.
We then visited the lovely Santa Barbara Courthouse. Covering an entire city block, the Santa Barbara Courthouse was completed in 1929 and is composed of four buildings with 150,000 square feet and is home to a collection of palm trees from over 25 countries. Approaching this grand building, with guests from a wedding taking place on the grounds milling about, I was struck by its simple beauty and ornate details from its light fixtures and gorgeous fountain, little did I know what it had to offer within. We took the unbelievably pretty stairs, adorned in colourful mosaic tiles (another flashback to Barcelona) and the massive wrought-iron lighting fixtures hanging above giving a medieval flair. Then we walked through the doors and into the mural room, I stopped dead and thought ‘where am I Rome?‘ The entire room’s walls were painted with beautiful images depicting Santa Barbara’s history. As I story unfolded on the walls I realized I was surrounded by beauty from the walls to the gorgeous ceiling and even the delicate tiled floor. They say it’s sometimes referred to as ‘the most beautiful public building in the US,’ and I can totally see why. Up we headed again, this time in the elevator to the summit of the 85 foot high El Mirador Clock Tower, my jaw dropped as I breathed in the fresh air and turned to see sweeping views of Santa Barbara from the Santa Ynez mountains to the Pacific Ocean and downtown, 360 degrees of stunning scenery, and all for free! It certainly pays to know a local who knows the hidden gems.
Victoria also took me down to Stearns Wharf where we did a quick walk around before our teeth started to chatter in the chill from the ocean air. The Stearns Wharf was originally completed over a hundred and forty years ago in 1872, but after earthquakes and numerous fires has been rebuilt again and again. Here you’ll find charming specialty shops, plenty of dining options and the Ty Warner Sea Centre. We then stopped at Victoria’s favourite chocolate place, Chocolate Maya for a sweet treat. A chocolate lovers paradise with so many options from dark to white to milk chocolate and in varying shapes and sizes from flowers to classic shapes and even an Egyptian one – which I, of course, chose. The owner is dedicated to providing the best and purest organic chocolate the world has to offer and as her site says “each chocolate in her shop has its own story.”
From the ocean and towards the mountains we headed to Mission Santa Barbara. Founded by Padre Fermín Lasvén in 1786, the Mission was named after Saint Barbara and even after various earthquakes and rebuilding, the inside of the church remains unaltered since 1820. This national historic landmark is still home to Franciscan friars as well as a museum, retreat centre and gorgeous gardens. The pretty pink columns set against the white stone gave it a simply divine air. And on the pavement in front there was still chalk artwork from the spring of last year mostly intact. After so little rain the artistry still remained, the pieces were so varied in style and theme, from dance to animals, I loved standing over these pieces of art, amazed that not only did they still remain after a year but that they could create such detail and realism with chalk.
That night we dined at Trattoria Vittoria a great Italian restaurant with a great server who was not only charming but very handsome, a treat for the eyes and the pallet. We sat at the bar eating and chatting as an old Italian movie in black and white played in the corner. And afterward to top off a great day, back at the house Victoria and I sat at her dining room table into the night, shared our hopes and goals for our blogs, spoke of our upcoming adventures and enjoyed time well spent in great company!
The following morning I readied for my departure and with a bit of time to spare before my train left we wandered around the Farmers Market. I love the buzz of life and smells and vibrant colours that farmers markets evoke. With aisles of beautiful flowers, tons of fresh and organic produce I snapped photos of the plethora of colours I found and even purchased some treats for the ride, organic lemon flavoured pistachios – which were beyond delicious!
Like all our favourite books, all good things must come to an end and with bitter sweet goodbyes we parted and there I stood awaiting my train to San Francisco. I came to Santa Barbara with no idea of what I’d find, but I left with cherished memories of a marvellous new friend and her charming city.
Have you been to Santa Barbara? What was your favourite part?