Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by M. Y. Mim

To celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a motley group of pets and their human companions gather on the lawn outside the exquisite Santa Barbara Mission.

Although fall means crisp temperatures in other parts of the country, Santa Barbarans stand under clear blue skies in short-sleeve weather, overlooking the town, the ocean and the islands in the channel. The Fransiscan fathers, residents of this “Queen of the Missions,” sing, pray, pet and bless each animal (or insect) with holy water.

Paul Sinicrope, an otherwise pet-less young man of about 10 years old, has brought his handmade clay leech. The good Franciscan father even blesses the leech and includes it in the sung prayer.

St. Francis of Assisi is honored as the patron saint of animals and ecology, and his Feast Day is October 4. Francis was born at Assisi in Umbria, Italy, about 1182. The blessing of the animals in honor of St. Francis takes place at Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and other churches around the world.

Visiting beautiful Santa Barbara feels like a blessing in itself.

Mission Santa Barbara stands out as one of the best items on the Santa Barbara must-see list. Across the street, the well-kept rose garden, with more than 1,000 varieties, appears to bloom all year long. [Santa Barbara Mission: http://www.sbmission.org]

Every year in Santa Barbara during the Memorial Day weekend, residents and tourist flock to the Santa Barbara Mission for I Madonnairi, a festival of European-style street painting. This is one event I try hard not to miss.

The Festival, started here in 1987 as a fundraiser for the Children’s Creative Project, features hundreds of artists working throughout each three-day Memorial Day weekend to complete their works of art. The chalk-on-pavement drawings mimic the 16th century Italian “Madonna painters” because they reproduce icons of the Madonna.

Father Junipero Serra began establishing the chain of 21 missions on July 16, 1769, allegedly separated by one-day’s ride. The Missions stretch 650 miles along the El Camino Real (The King’s Highway, in English). The Santa Barbara Mission, the tenth, and completed December 4, 1786, quickly became known as the most beautiful. This Queen still reigns today.

The original water system at this mission was so extraordinary that the City of Santa Barbara still uses parts of it today. Water from a dammed creek in the hills two miles above the mission was carried by a stone aqueduct to a storage basin near the church. There was even a separate branch with a filtration system used for drinking water.

Up the road you can see the creek and system at another must-see destination: The Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens. [SB Botanical Gardens: www.sbbg.org]

The Gardens’ 78 acres emphasizes plants native to California. Divided into different ecosystems, a couple hours wandering though the Botanical Gardens take you from the redwoods to the desert to the chaparral.

If these don’t suffice, then Santa Barbara boasts more parks per capita than any other U.S. city.

Getting around is easy. State Street, the main street, runs to the harbor, with shopping and restaurants on either side for some 20 blocks. One unusual characteristic you’ll hardly find elsewhere makes it even easier: City parking lots, every few blocks on the two one-way streets than run parallel to State Street on both sides, offer free parking for the first two-and-a-half hours. But why bother with parking at all when the Downtown Trolley runs up and down State Street?

One can’t talk about Santa Barbara without talking about the beaches. You may feel disoriented until you realize that Santa Barbara lies on that part of the California coast that juts out, meaning that to face the ocean actually means facing South. This creates geographical and climate conditions that exactly match the other Mediterranean climate along the French and Spanish Rivieras. Santa Barbara has its own Riviera, the stretch of land in the hills that give the best views of outstanding sunsets.

The perfect place for a sunset cocktail is the historic El Encanto (“the enchanted” in English). Located in the exclusive Rivera neighborhood, the hotel and restaurant sits at 500 feet above sea level. Its nearly seven acres are lushly landscaped with meandering paths leading to the various cottages and villas of El Encanto. Just one-half mile past the historic Santa Barbara mission, the hotel is just five minutes to the historic downtown center of Santa Barbara.

[El Encanto: www.elencantohotel.com, (805) 687-5000]

The unique geography also means no smog. While global weather patterns are changing yearly, you can count on temperate weather all year long. Santa Barbara doesn’t believe much in humidity, either. Even mosquitoes are uncommon.

No doubt you’ll enjoy Santa Barbara residents’ favorite pastime: people watching at one of the ubiquitous outdoor patios. A particular favorite is the large terrace outside of Borders Bookstore on State Street. Don’t be surprised if passersby look you in the eye and smile. That’s our unique, Western friendliness. If you’re studying a map, inevitably a resident will ask if you need any help. Striking up a conversation isn’t impertinent, it’s our way of being friendly.

You may find yourself hearing and divulging personal life information, although aware that it is unlikely you’ll ever see this person again. I’ve heard outsiders call us phonies for this habit. I believe it comes from the Western history of migration and transience combined with Santa Barbara’s casual, friendly, sunshine attitude. We see it as making a special connection with someone, even if it lasts just 15 minutes.

Discovering a new person in one of the loveliest towns on earth is just one of the many, many blessings of this gorgeous destination site.

For More Information:

Accommodations

Luxury:

Simpson House Inn: Rated North America’s only AAA Five Diamond Bed & Breakfast, the property is nestled on an acre of English gardens and features 15 rooms, suites and cottages. They also offer in-room European spa services and gourmet vegetarian breakfasts served in-room, on your private patio or on the veranda.

Simpson House Inn, 800-676-1280

The Four Seasons Biltmore: Long the Grand Doyenne of Santa Barbara’s luxury lodgings, friends of Charlie Chaplin and other famous silent-era actors and directors often stayed here when working in California’s first major movie studio, Flying “A” Studios (1910).

Santa Barbara was the original “Hollywood.” In the early days of cinematic history, weather and dynamic backdrops were integral to year-round filming, and Santa Barbara fit the bill from the seascapes of France to the sandscapes of Morocco.

Four Seasons Biltmore/ (805) 969-2261

Bacara Resort, a relative newcomer, offers very luxurious accommodations with all the amenities expected of a first-class resort, including restaurants, bars and lounges, spa, tennis center with shop and professional instruction, and two renowned 18-hole golf courses. All this sits on 78 beachfront acres nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Bacara Resort

Non-Luxury:

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a bad hotel in a scary part of town, so let your budget be your guide and you’ll be fine.

Dining

You’ll find any cuisine at any price. Here are some special spots:

Cajun Kitchen—De La Vina

Cuisine: American, Cajun / Creole

1925 De La Vina St, Santa Barbara

Tel: 805.687.2062

Also under $10, wins most polls for best breakfast spot.

Joe’s Cafe

Cuisine: American

536 State St, Santa Barbara

Tel: 805.966.4638

An SB institution since at least the 1950s. Best bar if you like them strong!

Beach Grill at Padaro

Cuisine: American

3765 Santa Claus Lane

Carpinteria, CA

805.566.3900

Inexpensive, kid-friendly and a stone’s throw from the beach

La Super Rica Taqueria

Cuisine: Mexican

622 N. Milpas St, Santa Barbara

Tel: 805.963.4940

Great Mexican food for less than $10. Julia Child used to drop in often.

Outside Activities for the Adventuresome

Whale Watching

More than 27 different types of whales and dolphins inhabit the Santa Barbara Channel at various times of the year, making these waters one of the best whale watching areas in the world. During February, March and early April, we have California Grey Whales. From May to September, you can see Blue Whales, Minke Whales and Humpback Whales. Occasionally, you can see Right Whales or Orcas. All season long you have an excellent chance of seeing dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions.

Many charter companies offer whale watching excursions, including Condor Cruises, Tel: 805.882.0088, Email: info@condorcruises.com, Website: www.CondorCruises.com

Sailing

Boat charter companies offer a variety of sailing opportunities, including instruction or a full crew.

Skateboarding

Want to make it a family vacation but the typically sullen teenager is balking? Let her or him loose at Skaters Point, offering the best in bowl riding and street skating. Bring pads and a helmet—skating is not allowed without them. Located near Stearn’s Wharf, the kids can rest by safely hanging out with new friends on the beach.

Horseback Riding

One of the best ways to see the Santa Barbara’s unique ecosystems and wildlife is to go where cars can’t. For many of us, a vigorous back-country hike is out of the question. Horseback riding fills the bill. Two superb places to rent horses are:

• Circle Bar B (www.circlebarb.com): In addition to the stables, Circle Bar B offers charming accommodations and a delightful dinner theater.

1800 Refugio Road, Goleta, CA 93117

Guest Ranch: 805.968.1113; Horseback Riding: 805.968.3901, Email: info@circlebarb.com,
Website: www.horsebackridingsantabarbara.com

• El Capitan Ranch (www.elcapranch.com ): My favorite place to ride includes some of the best scenery as well as lodging in comfortable cabins, horse-drawn carriage rides, chuck wagon dinners, summer horse camps, and horse shows and events.

El Capitan Ranch, 10920 Calle Real, Santa Barbara, CA 93117

Tel: 805.685.1147; Email: info@elcapranch.com

Hiking and Camping

The area includes hundreds of well-maintained hiking trails, good for day trips or backpacking. Finding a trail guide is easy by asking at any bookstore or recreational store.

Fishing

Again, charter boats will take you out for the catch. Expect calico bass, sand bass, halibut, white sea bass, rockfish, and more. The best place for scheduling an ocean fishing expedition is Sea Landing).

For lake fishing, choose either Cachuma Lake at the top of the mountains, or Lake Casita slightly south.

• Cachuma Lake is considered one of Southern California’s finest fishing lakes. Game fish include largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie and red ear sunfish. Trout are stocked early fall through early summer.

Cachuma Lake, HC 58, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Tel: 805.688.5054. Tackle Shop: 805.688.4040. Fishing Report: 805.688.7724. Boat Rentals: 805.688.4040. Cachuma Store: 805.688.5246.

• Lake Casitas is another one of Southern California’s “Big Bass” lakes with a monster 21 lb., 3 oz. largemouth holding the current lake record. Catfish are also very popular with specimens up to 40 lb. caught yearly. The lake also holds a large population of red ear sunfish, crappie, and trout.

Lake Casitas, 11311 Santa Ana Road, Ventura, CA 93001
Tel: 805.649.2233. Casitas Marina: 805.649.2043. Boat Rentals: 805.649.2043. Camping Reservations: 805.649.1122.

Both spots include full camping and RV facilities, and even Yurt camping at Lake Cachuma!

Golf

According to John Dickson’s Santa Barbara Activity Guide (www.santabarbara.com/activities/golf/), “You may not automatically think of golf when you think of Santa Barbara, but you should.” The golf scene in Santa Barbara is excellent.

Santa Barbara county boasts six public 18-hole golf courses, four of which are within a half hour of downtown. Three of these four boast championship level play. The fourth is one of the busiest municipal courses in the country (and some years THE busiest). There are also excellent 9-hole courses with practice facilities open in the evenings.

Polo

Established in 1911, the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club is the third oldest polo facility in the United States and is world renowned for its three lush polo fields and international outdoor competition. Polo season runs from April through October. The Polo & Racquet Club even includes a school—you, too, can learn to play polo! All levels accepted.

Tennis

Five public courts and nearly ten private clubs offer tennis all year round. The best way to find a court for your style is to ask the concierge or simply check the phone book.

To find out more about Santa Barbara, including festivals and special events, try http://www.santabarbara.com/ and http://www.santabarbaradowntown.com/

About the Author:

Mym, as she is known to her friends, has always lived in beautiful places: San Francisco, London, Seattle and Santa Barbara. “I can’t think of anywhere I wouldn’t go at any time” is her theory about travel. Her latest big trip was with the Santa Barbara Art Museum to Havana, Cuba. Next spring she plans to visit her 25-year-old son in his home in Taiwan.

Besides writing, Mim is passionate about music, especially jazz, as well as horseback riding, art, architecture, design and style. And her service dog Rosa, a Portuguese Water Dog who assists her with her disability (fibromyalgia). Having studied kanji with a Japanese sensei, she celebrated her 50th birthday by getting a teal-colored tattoo on her shoulder of the kanji symbol for “friend,” explaining, “My friendships are among my highest values.”

M. Y. Mim is a freelance journalist based in Santa Barbara. She may be reached at mymim3@cox.net, or through her agent, R. Almqvist, at 805.705.5349.

Photos courtesy of Santa Barbara Visitors Bureau and corresponding websites mentioned in the article. http://www.santabarbaraca.com/

Santa Barbara romantic hotels

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