Best of Santa Barbara

The Best of Santa Barbara

You drive through it as you make your way along Highway 101, but when was the last time you actually stopped in Santa Barbara? My husband and I often pause long enough to have a quick bowl of chowder on the pier, but stay overnight? Neither of us could remember the last time.
But now we’ve checked that box and had a grand time doing it.

We stayed at Belmond El Encanto, an uber-luxe property in a neighborhood above the city. The gracious bungalows here started out as lodging for students and faculty when a state teacher’s college was established on the site in 1909. When the school was relocated, the housing became private homes and later a small hotel where movie stars sought privacy in the 1930s and ’40s. belmond.com/el-encanto-santa-barbara

Best of Santa Barbara

The historic lodging at Belmond El Encanto has a serene feel

As it was then, the outstanding feature of El Encanto is the panoramic ocean view that includes the Channel Islands. In addition to luxury suites, bungalows, and lush gardens, the resort offers carefully crafted meals that include herbs grown on the property and cheese made from the milk of Ellie, the resort’s cow. Because of the flavors and the setting, we lingered over drinks and meals on the sheltered porch and under the stars.

Best of Santa Barbara

Belmond El Encanto

Our spacious bungalow, number 15, with a fireplace and sitting area, felt very welcoming. I also loved the heated marble floor in the bathroom and the mellow colors throughout the design. We didn’t have time to play tennis or take in a polo match (now through October 4), but we did have fun floating in the resort’s beautiful saltwater pool.

Central Coast Wines

Anyone who’s seen the movie Sideways knows that the Central Coast of California is known for the Pinot Noir varietal. Belmond El Encanto has lots of good Pinots in their wine room and there’s no shortage of tasting rooms around town, but it’s often fun to taste closer to the source.
At Pence Ranch, just north of Santa Barbara in Buellton, visitors can taste Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays made with grapes grown on the 200-acre property. These wines are not available at retail outlets, but are served in selected restaurants in New York and San Francisco. Tasting is by appointment (mention you’re Ranch & Coast reader), and wines can be purchased at the ranch.

What sets the Pinots made by Blair Pence apart from others is his commitment to the old school winemaking tradition of Burgundy. His method is totally organic, his grapes are carefully picked by longtime staff, and he uses custom-made concrete boxes (versus stainless steel) for fermentation. Pence also goes to France frequently to align his palate and keep Burgundy as a reference point for his wines. penceranch.com

Best of Santa Barbara

Blair Pence makes Pinots according to the old school traditions of Burgundy

Explore Old and New Santa Barbara

Somehow, in our rush to find a bowl of chowder (the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company on Stearns Wharf is our favorite), Richard and I had repeatedly overlooked the advantages of the nearby harbor area. Here, on the fourth floor of the Waterfront Center, we discovered the Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center. This hidden gem provides a sweeping view from the mountains right out to the ocean, good info on the Channel Islands National Park and the National Marine Sanctuary, and — best of all — details on excursions to the islands.

Best of Santa Barbara

The panoramic harbor view from the top floor of the Waterfront Center

Like San Diego, Santa Barbara has a lovely old mission on a hill overlooking the city and a historic presidio in town, as well as a botanic garden with walking trails.

Best of Santa Barbara

Old Mission Santa Barbara is a beautiful church with a large and active parish

And what’s new? Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, wedged in between the beach and Highway 101, is a hip area where industrial buildings — now covered in murals and graphics by local artists — offer opportunities to shop for vintage goods, visit art galleries, and taste wine.

We caught an “Eat This, Shoot That!” walking food tour of the Funk Zone that included stops at Municipal Winemakers and (yummy) Lucky Penny.  ETST founder Tara Jones, a graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography, provides photo-taking tips along with an entertaining commentary on the SB food scene. eatthisshootthat.com

At The Lark, we dined on imaginative dishes — my favorite was the crispy Brussels sprouts with Medjool dates, garum, sesame, and lime. In fact, the food at The Lark was so good that I think our days of grabbing a quick chowder on the pier may be behind us. thelarksb.com   Elizabeth Hansen

Best of Santa Barbara

The Lark

Belmond El Encanto: Photo courtesy of Courtesy Belmond El Encanto     All other photography courtesy of ADAMS / HANSEN STOCK PHOTOS