105 Reasons to Live in the 805
By David Michael Wieger
1) Santa Barbara beaches. They are clean, easy to reach, with lots of parking and come in all kinds and shapes — wide and flat for volleyball, lined by cliffs for walking, boarded by lawns and shaded by palm trees, and best of all, sheltered and vacant. Being an ocean-swimmer myself, and having grown up in Marin (up near San Francisco) where the water temperature remains in the mid-50s, the ocean in Santa Barbara is in the 70s a good hunk of the year, which means I can swim in the ocean 8 months a year without a wetsuit. Then there is the added bonus of seeing a dolphin, which I consider akin to seeing a shooting star; something that happens far more often than you might think.
2) A mountain trail, or a beach is never more than a 10 minute drive away. That’s with traffic, or a lack thereof. That’s 10 minutes from wherever you are in Santa Barbara to standing in the surf. That’s 10 minutes to reaching a trailhead that leads you to a stunning vista. That’s 10 minutes to a field of wild mustard, or a grove of oaks. Ten minutes….
3) Even during a downturn in the economy, Santa Barbara is considered one of the “gold standards” in property values, and over time, most homes in the area have appreciated in value more quickly than the DOW 500. So not only do you get to live here, but you get to invest wisely in living here. Not bad.
9) The Municipal wine tasting room. Funky and fine. Years ago, “The Funk Zone” was where you went to buy a new surfboard at Al Merrick’s Channel Island Surfboards or went to purchase a plank of exotic wood at Soboba Wood Company, but now you can dine well at The Lark or go to one of many wine tasting rooms and still pick up your board, and your board, but that’s after.
21) Coffee houses. While Santa Barbara isn’t Seattle, or Portland, folks around here take their coffee pretty seriously. The Handlebar and Dune are two of the best. Having said that, discussing “best coffee” with a stranger — you — is a more volatile subject for a conversation than politics, but I don’t care. Drink coffee and vote.
22) Lotusland. Madame Ganna Walska, a well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, purchased the estate in 1941 and spent the next 43 years creating Lotusland. In order to do so, she also kept marrying wealthier husbands which, in part, allowed her to create a collection of exotic plants throughout her dramatic and whimsical 37-acre property. After her death in 1984, Lotusland became a nonprofit botanical garden and opened to the public in 1993. As a young man I used to skinny dip in the abalone lined pool on full moons, but please don’t tell anyone. Now I keep my clothes on and enjoy the magical gardens during daytime tours.
26) Cold Springs Tavern. A short drive up the (San Marcos) Pass, but when you arrive at this old stagecoach stop from the 1800s, you will feel transported in time and place. Then there’s the local music and the tri-trip sandwiches on Sundays! My favorite memory is having a huge, hairy, bare-chested, long-haired, bearded Harley-dude, approach me with an emotionless stare and gesture the beer bottle in front of me: “You done with that?” It was only then that I saw the giant plastic bag in his free hand. He was collecting bottles for recycling. So much for first impressions. Same thing with Cold Springs Tavern. It may look like a funky beer-joint, but there’s a lot going on under the rustic veneer.
27) Glass Blowing. You can have a private lesson with Saul, a master, and walk away with either an elegant glass bowl, or an interpretation of an elegant glass bowl. In either case, you’ll walk away with a good time. On a side note, one of my favorite architects in Santa Barbara, Jeff Shelton (more on him later) recently commissioned Saul to create some abstract pieces for his newest creation to great effect. Visit his website
28) Lawn Bowling. Okay, true confession: as an athlete myself, lawn bowling sounds silly and designed only for very old people, perhaps in walkers, but if you like bocce ball (okay, who doesn’t?) and you like playing a game while holding a glass of wine in one hand (again, who doesn’t?), I can tell you from experience that lawn bowling is a heck of a lot of fun. Both of the bowling courts (I’m not even sure if that’s what they’re called) have mountain views. Go on. Give it a go.
35) Reunion to watch Ultimate Frisbee. You can eat breakfast outdoors and watch some of the best Ultimate Frisbee players in the state play for you on the soft sand, only fifteen feet from your omelette. I call this guilt-free dining. And as a shameless plug, while I am not one of those “best Ultimate Frisbee players in the state,” I play this game most every Saturday morning, and most Sunday’s. I do this not only because I love the game, having played it for more than 40 years, but also so that I can, from time to time, score a point on a young, stud half my age. So, come cheer me on!
42) Cheese Shop Santa Barbara. They have a huge selection of really good cheese sold to you by really good people. This may embarrass me later, and much of what I say embarrasses me later — the whole gluten-fat-free lifestyle makes me sad. C’est Cheese makes me happy. Go be happy.
50) Renaud’s. Not to sound too snooty, but I can’t stand a bad croissant and love a good croissant and it’s been 30 years since a really good croissant has been sold in Santa Barbara. Thank goodness for Renaud’s! They also have killer pastries and such, but the croissant….Oui!
51) “Flatbreads” in Los Alamos. Also called Full of Life. I don’t know what it is about my love of places that have two names (see: Hendry’s Beach & Arroyo Burro Beach, and The Wilcox Property & The Douglas Preserve.) but upon (brief) reflection, I think it has something to do with the fact that the place/s are so dang fabulous, who cares what they’re called? Back to Flatbreads/Full of Life — years ago I lived in a tiny town in Italy and learned how to make, and eat, enormous amounts of exquisite pizza. Clark, the chef at F/FOL does it right. Not only is the crust perfect, but all of his ingredients are local.
52) Sunstone Winery. Drive 35 minutes north of Santa Barbara, and become transported into the French Provincial countryside. Now that you’ve saved yourself the airfare to Europe, have a glass of wine in the lavender and rosemary scented courtyard. And enjoy knowing that Sunstone has been committed to growing their grapes without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or synthetic fungicides (the only “cide” I want when drinking my wine with is a “side” of cheese and crackers!)
63) Jeff Shelton. There are many extraordinary architects in Santa Barbara, and I’ve sold homes designed by some of the very best. The reason I’m giving Jeff a number all to himself is because 1) he’s a friend, and 2) his work looks like none other, 3) you may love it, 4) you may hate it (which is fun, too) and 5) he’s a Frisbee enthusiast. No matter the reason, you will most likely smile upon seeing his work. Check it out for yourself!
66) Corazon Cocina. Extraordinary, fresh, innovative, yet respectful of its roots, Corazon is my go to spot for boys-night-out with my 5 year old son. Best of all Zander (my son) is smitten with Claudia who serves up some of the best Mexican food in Santa Barbara. Corazon Cocina.
79) La Paloma Cafe. It’s located in a 1915 vintage brick and stucco building that years ago was an Italian bakery. While that’s sweet and nostalgic, what I love about the “Paradise” are four things, in the following order: 1) There’s an old, fading mural of some guy (Leo Carrillo) on horseback facing the patio. 2) They make a killer burger, cooked over live oak — great fish, too. 3) It’s not on State Street, so it’s more for locals. And 4) You can show up dressed up, or in shorts and flip-flops, sand on your feet, and you’re totally welcome. My kind of place! Visit their website here.
87) UCSB Arts & Lectures. Santa Barbara may not be New York, or Los Angeles or San Francisco, but the cultural events the folks at UCSB Arts & Lectures have been able to attract over the years are truly amazing.
98) Salt Cave Santa Barbara. One imagines strapping on a headlamp and entering a dimly-lit cave, but no! The Salt Cave is a basement spa right on, or rather directly under, State Street, Santa Barbara’s main drag. While the “real world” (if one were to refer to living in Santa Barbara as the “real world,”) bustles overhead, you enter a man-made cavern covered with 45 tons of 250 million-year-old pure Himalayan salt and you’ll find soothing music, amber-colored light glowed through gigantic salt crystals, and for a few bucks you can lay on the chaise lounges in a private cave. The salt is said to “balance your energy and lift your spirits.” I’m not so sure about that, but it sure is beautiful and relaxing.