Katano is a 14-year-old Chestnut Quarter Horse. He’ll be my buddy for the next hour and a half. My wife is riding Midnight. Our wrangler from Los Padres Outfitters is leading the way from atop Serena. We mounted up at the Greenwell Preserve in the Santa Ynez Mountains and are leisurely descending along a forested Montecito trail that slopes down to Summerland Beach.
It’s a glorious afternoon to play urban cowboy. Katano snacks on shrubbery as we pass private homes and sprawling ranches. We spy a threesome of wild deer munching on grass. Wrangler Emma points out an owl perched on a felled tree trunk. We also pass by the Santa Barbara Polo Club where Prince Harry practices the sport. Carry on, then.
To get to the beach we’ve got to cross Highway 101. Over an access ramp bridge, thankfully, not through nonstop north-south traffic. Emma assures us the Quarter horses aren’t spooked by cars. As if on cue, Katano demonstrates his nonchalance. (Remember the scene in A League of Their Own when Tom Hanks stands at a clubhouse urinal for what seems like an eternity? In an endurance race, Hanks loses to Katano.)
We make it across the 101 and to the shoreline. Summerland Beach is relatively narrow but equine friendly. We pass by two other groups on horseback. With a slight breeze wafting in off the Pacific Ocean, the horses seem to enjoy the surf and sand under their hooves. It’s an uncommon moment of joie de vivre. We take photos, of course, though a camera phone can barely do justice to this unique, sublime, picture-perfect, riding-horses-on-a-beach experience.
Summerland is geographically south of Montecito. Both are located in Santa Barbara County. Upscale and chic, Montecito is well-known as the neighborhood where Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe, and lots of well-heeled celebs have homes. Less-renowned, Summerland is actually a home base for superstar comedian Ellen DeGeneres, though the seaside town has become better known as a mecca for antiquers and home-and-garden enthusiasts.
My wife and I are checked in for a two-night stay at the posh, 161-room Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel in Montecito. We’ve got keys to a garden bungalow suite. The decor is white and airy, predominated by floor-to-ceiling windows. A parlor room features a fireplace and a highly curated minibar. The bathroom has an extra wide freestanding bathtub. A dreamy bedroom opens to a patio that stretches further into a grassy garden. If she had to, Oprah could make do here.
Our itinerary includes two elegant on-property meals and a couple more casual restaurant visits in the area. The Rosewood’s premier dining establishment is the beachfront, open-air Caruso’s (named after the property’s developer, Rick Caruso). Part of the fun in arriving at the Michelin-starred Caruso’s is walking from the hotel’s central hub across active railroad tracks (always manned by an attendant). Recommended: Chef Massimo Falsini’s four-course prix fixe dinner. His Italian and seafood-inspired menu includes Charred Fremantle Octopus, Magic Myrna Gnochetti, Monterey Black Cod, and so many textured, tasty choices.
On-property Ama Sushi has an omakase option as well as its own prix fixe menu. The latter requires some guidance, and a knowledgeable server leads us through a glorious four-course meal of nigiri, sashimi, cut rolls, and the double delight of Yuzu Cheesecake and Pan-Roasted Butter Mochi Cake.
While exploring the surrounding neighborhoods, two lunch spots stand out. Field & Fort in Summerland has a cafe called Feast. Fresh salads and sandwiches draw you in. The retail store’s antiques and vintage offerings tempt you to shop for trinkets and treasures you didn’t know you needed.
Coast Village Road is Montecito’s main drag for dining and retail. We’re directed to Bettina for pizza — and not just because Ellen DeGeneres is a regular at a counter barstool. We hear multiple raves that drive us to taste the Neapolitan-style pepperoni pie, as well as the only peach-topped pizza I’ve ever encountered. Molto delizioso!
Blocks away on Coast Village Road: Montecito’s only wine-tasting room, Folded Hills. We sip and sample a half dozen offerings from a vineyard owned by progeny of the Anheuser-Busch dynasty. We range from a light and refreshing 2020 Lilly Rosé to an Estate Grenache made entirely from fruit grown at Folded Hills’ fields in Gaviota (Northern Santa Barbara).
One of the best blokes you’ll meet on Coast Village Road is Martin Watson, owner of Mad Dogs & Englishmen bicycle store. In June 2023, British-born Watson famously connected to the transplanted royal family here by gifting a bike to Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s boy, Archie. It was an act of kindness that went viral, drawing out both admirers and trolls. The gift earned Watson a lovely thank you letter from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Watson has rented to celebs such as musician Adam Levine and reality TV icon Simon Cowell. America’s Got Talent, sure, and today I’ll see if this Yank has the ability to navigate coastal Santa Barbara County on an electric bicycle.
An avid bicyclist, this is my first go on an e-bike. Damn, I didn’t want to get hooked. Not sure how much exercise I got in an hour, but I discovered how easy it is to maneuver hills on a Specialized e-bike operating under full pedal-assist.
We’re biking the coastline and surveying pristine Butterfly Beach. Along the way, bike paths are lined by well-manicured green spaces and flowery gardens. Near Santa Barbara Cemetary is a dormant Four Seasons property. It’s owned by colorful Beanie Baby founder Ty Warner. I suggest you watch The Beanie Bubble limited series on Apple TV+. Warner is a bit eccentric and my wife and I treated this sighting like a celebrity interaction.
We don’t encounter any human celebs on the trip. We do take in the sights astride powerful e-bikes and magnificent Quarter Horses, and stay on the privileged grounds of Rosewood Miramar, a property suitable for princes and princesses. How grand it is to make the Santa Barbara scene while feeling like a visiting royal.