Travel to Santa Barbara, California – Episode 481

categories: USA Travel

Travel to Santa Barbara, California
Hear about travel to Santa Barbara, California as the Amateur Traveler talks to Heather Simon from about the “American Riviera”.

“Santa Barbara is incredibly beautiful. It’s called the American Riviera because of the weather and because it’s a beach with mountains right next to it. Three things to know about Santa Barbara is that it’s incredibly historic, there’s a huge native American history there. The second thing to know is that there was an earthquake in the 20s that basically leveled the town and so that’s why when you go to Santa Barbara it all looks like that Spanish colonial revival [style] because after that earthquake they built all the buildings downtown exactly the same, with the red tile roofs. and the other thing is that it is a south-facing beach, so if you look on the California map and you see a section that faces south, that’s Santa Barbara.”

Heather starts us at the mission in Santa Barbara which is the “queen of the missions”. When the Spanish came into California they built a series of missions a days ride away from each other extending up from Baja California to the Sonoma mission north of San Francisco. The missions became a center of life for the Spanish and were built to convert the local native populations. The Santa Barbara mission is still a working church. She recommends both the mission and the natural history museum nearby for learning more about the native Chumash culture.

Santa Barbara sits on a narrow strip of land between the mountains and the sea. The mountains near Santa Barbara go up to 4000 feet. The place to get a view of the area is from the courthouse clock tower.

No trip to Santa Barbara would be complete without a visit to the beach. The beach downtown also has a wharf filled with tourist shops. Listen to the show to hear what Heather thinks is the “one good restaurant” on the wharf. East Beach is filled with beach volleyball and lined with artists selling their art. Heather also recommends the Santa Barbara zoo where the giraffes have the “best view in Santa Barbara”.

We talk about day trips from Santa Barbara. We head up into the Santa Ynez valley, promoted by the movie “Sideways”, which is the home to a number of wineries and also the home to mesquite-grilled BBQ. The Santa Ynez Valley is also home to the touristy but tasty Danish town of Solvang.

We talk about hikes and nightlife, festivals and fog, lavender fields, and pea soup. Find out why so many people escape from Los Angeles over a long weekend to this beautiful city by the sea.

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Show Notes

Well Planned Travel
Santa Barbara
Museum of Natural History
Old Mission Santa Barbara
Native Americans of Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Courthouse
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Stearns Wharf
Santa Barbara Shellfish Company
East Beach
Santa Barbara Zoo
Funk Zone
Biltmore Hotel
Carpinteria Bluffs
Santa Ynez
Cold Spring Tavern
Los Olivos
Lavender Fields
Fess Parker Wines
Chumash Casino Resort
Mission Santa Ínes
Pea Soup Andersen’s
The Hitching Post 2
Tar: A Santa Barbara Beach Tradition
Hendry’s Beach
Santa Barbara Boathouse
Shoreline Park
Rattlesnake Trail
Arlington Theatre
Santa Barbara Orchid Estate
Santa Barbara Fiesta
Well Planned Travel Facebook
Well Planned Travel Twitter
Well Planned Travel: 7 tips for doing the Hurtigruten classic Norway Voyage


on the episode Travel to Kyrgyzstan – Episode 478 we heard:

We are a family of five that are currently backpacking along the Silk Road for a year. Currently we are at Kyrgyzstan, so it was extra special to hear this podcast while traveling here.

While in Bishkek, we came upon a newly started walking tour twice a week called the “Bishkek Walks” (can find it on Facebook page) which tells the history of the people, building, events in Bishkek for the past 2000 years. It was very informative and we got to see photos in the past and compared to the present as we walked around downtown Bishkek. We also got to hear about the recent 3 revolutions (1991, 2002, 2010) and get a sense of what the future lies for the people here.

This podcast was right on and we had much laughs as we listen to the insightful comments from Eric!

Su Family (Jonathan, Annie, Olivia, Nathan, Joani)

Travel to Santa Barbara, California #travel #trip #vacation #california #santa-barbara #what-to-do-in #wine #food #beach #restaurants #hotels #podcast #state-street


Chris: Amateur Traveler Episode 481. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about Spanish missions, ocean beaches, wineries and vineyards as we go to America’s Riviera, Santa Barbara, California.

Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by TravelSmith. There’s no time like the present to take a trip, and nobody makes it easier for you to pack up your things and head out than TravelSmith. With apparel, luggage, gear, and tips for every traveler, TravelSmith helps you get there, look great and feel good. Check out today.

Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. We’ll hear more from our sponsors, TravelSmith, but first, let’s talk about Santa Barbara. I’d like to welcome to the show Heather Simon from, who has come to talk to us about Santa Barbara. Heather, welcome to the show.

Heather: Thank you. It’s good to talk to you, Chris.

Chris: I say Santa Barbara, and we’re talking about Santa Barbara, California. There may be some other Santa Barbara somewhere else. Why should someone go to Santa Barbara?

Heather: Well, Santa Barbara is, first of all, incredibly beautiful. It’s called the American Riviera because of the weather and because it’s a beach with mountains right next to it.

Chris: And it’s called that mostly by Santa Barbarans, as I recall.

Heather: Yes, yes. We have this area of town called the Riviera, which is the mountains.

Chris: Excellent. You know, it is a very pretty area. I happen to like Santa Barbara. I’ve been there many times over the years, although not in detail, not in the detail I hope we’ll go through it here. So I don’t actually know what I would recommend to someone if they had a few days to spend in Santa Barbara. And we’re going to do Santa Barbara and the region here. The one thing we should get across, first of all, is for those people who know Santa Barbara from the TV show Psych, they actually don’t kill somebody every week there.

Heather: And that’s filmed in Los Angeles. There’s no actual Santa Barbara in that.

Chris: That is very disappointing. I think some of the establishing shots were Santa Barbara.

Heather: No, no they weren’t.

Chris: They weren’t, really? Oh my gosh.

Heather: It’s all Los Angeles, same with that soap opera that was in the ’80s.

Chris: Oh, Santa Barbara. Oh gosh, I had forgotten all about that.

Heather: All in Los Angeles.

Chris: The main fact had been forgettable. So what should we see when we go to Santa Barbara?

Heather: Well, before we talk about that, I think that three things to know about Santa Barbara to help you understand, is that it is incredibly historic. There’s a huge Native American history there with the Chumash Indians. The second thing is that there was an earthquake in the ’20s that basically leveled the town, and so that’s why when you go to Santa Barbara, you see that it all looks like that Spanish Colonial revival. It’s because after that earthquake, they built everything, all the buildings downtown, exactly the same with the red tile roofs and that type of stuff. And then the other thing is that it is a south facing beach. So if you look on the California map and you see that there’s a little section of California that faces south, that’s Santa Barbara.

So it gets confusing because you think you’re going east and you’re really going north. And the freeway is north and south in Santa Barbara, but it really is east and west. It gets a little confusing if I say, “I’ll go north,” you’re really west, but the freeway says north. So, anyways.

Chris: And you mentioned the Native American culture. Is there a place that you can access that in Santa Barbara?

Heather: Well, there is a couple of places. The Natural History Museum has quite a bit of exhibits about the Chumash Indians; the Mission, which I’ll talk about. And of course, they have their casino and their reservations. That’s definitely an accessible place, it’s the casino.

Chris: Excellent. And I interrupted you. You were about to head off into Santa Barbara.

Heather: Yes, yes. So, the biggest sight, or whatever, in Santa Barbara is the Santa Barbara Mission. And that’s more than just Santa Barbara people, but it’s called the Queen of the Missions, because it’s a larger, it’s the most well-preserved, and it has two bell towers, whereas the rest of them only have one. It is still a working church. Outside of the Mission, there is a large lawn and a rose garden which is just absolutely beautiful, the rose garden right in front of the Mission. Then I would go into the Mission. There is a couple dollar charge but it’s definitely worth the money. There is a great museum in there, and then there’s some gardens inside of the Mission. And of course going into the mission, it’s very beautiful. It’s something maybe you’d find in Europe.

And then right outside the Mission, which you still need to pay for, is a cemetery. And the cemetery is pretty interesting because it’s basically all the founders of Santa Barbara were buried there.

Chris: Now, the Mission, is it a state park?

Heather: No, it’s part of the Catholic Church.

Chris: It is still? Okay.

Heather: Yeah, as I said, I think it’s the Franciscans, if that makes sense.

Chris: Okay, got it.

Heather: Which they’re still there. You can see them in their robes and that type of stuff. And there’s a cloister and all that stuff.

Chris: Well, we should back up a bit because not everybody grew up in the California school system as you and I did and had to do a model of a Mission in fifth grade, which we did, both of us, I assume. There’s a string of California missions, for those people who don’t know, that the Spanish built all the way from…well, into Baja California, each a day’s drive away from…a day’s drive…

Heather: A day’s drive, yeah.

Chris: A day’s ride away on horseback with the northern most mission being Mission Dolores in San Francisco. And Mission Dolores was founded in 1776. It was always easy to remember. So all of the other ones south of there get increasingly older as you go south, the oldest ones being…well, the oldest one in California being in San Diego. So, yeah, this is all built by the Spanish as they went to colonize California. And obviously, they also went to proselytize the Native Americans, to convert the Native Americans there. They sent in both soldiers, and then they also sent in monks and priests and built these missions. And they became the center, on almost all cases, of a town, although there are some that were built more remotely and are not the center of town. But in Santa Barbara’s case, I think that really did become the center of the original Santa Barbara community.

Heather: Right, right.

Chris: Excellent. Anything else we want to see at the Mission while we’re there?

Heather: No, I think that’s about it. You have to be aware that if there’s a Church service going on around Saturday, if there’s a wedding going on, there’s going to be a wedding, that you won’t be able to go into the actual Church part, because it’s a working Church.

Chris: Excellent. And as long as I’m talking missions, we should say that the Father Junipero Serra, who’s behind the California missions, has recently been canonized or is in the process of being canonized – I’m not quite sure what the status is – which is quite controversial because certainly some people don’t like some of the way that the Native Americans were treated in and around some of the missions.

Heather: Yeah, and if you go through the museum in Santa Barbara, you’ll really realize why a lot of people aren’t happy about that.

Chris: Right.

Heather: Right next to the mission is the Natural History Museum, and that was a favorite museum of mine as a child. I haven’t been there as an adult, but it’s a great museum if you have kids to go into. That’s almost right next to the mission.

Chris: You say as a child, we didn’t quite say, but we’ve hinted that you grew up in Santa Barbara.

Heather: Right, I grew up. I moved away for college and haven’t come back, and live in Minneapolis, but my parents still live in Santa Barbara. And for some odd reason, people in Minneapolis want to come with me to Santa Barbara in the winter, so I’ve shown a lot of people the town.

Chris: I completely can understand that.

Heather: Yeah. So, the next big sight in Santa Barbara is the courthouse. It’s in that Spanish colonial revival style of the white and the red tile roofs. It was built after the earthquake. And it’s really beautiful inside, but the big thing to do there is to go up to the top of the clock tower. And that’s free. There’s an elevator, so you don’t have to climb steps. And it just offers a beautiful view of downtown Santa Barbara, the mountains, and the ocean.

Chris: You say the mountains, and I’m not sure that everybody pictured…there’s hardly a lot of room for a city where it is between the mountains and the beach here. The city can’t really grow a lot from where it is, because it’s right up against the mountains.

Heather: Right, right. And they’re not small mountains. I think 4,000 feet is how tall the La Cumbre peak, which is the tallest mountain. So, 4,000 feet. Then right next to the courthouse is the Santa Barbara Art Museum, and it is a nice art museum. They’ve got some of the biggies of Monet and of van Gogh but really nice collections of classic sculptures, Roman and Greek sculptures. And that’s right on State Street, which is kind of the main street in Santa Barbara, and that’s the street where all the shopping is and that type of thing.

If you head down State Street, you get to the beach. And the downtown beach, there’s a wharf, and it’s called Stearns Wharf. You can actually drive out there. And if you eat lunch out there, it’s free parking. There’s some really just touristy shops out there. And there’s a marine museum out there, and there is a couple of restaurants. Most of them are pretty bad. I mean, they’re geared towards the person who comes one time, and it’s for the view. And one time, and you never go back.

Chris: And people wonder sometimes why we don’t have members of the Tourism Board on that often, but we want you to know the information. So where would you recommend we go instead if we’re going down and visiting the beach?

Heather: There is one good restaurant at the very end of the pier, and it’s called The Santa Barbara Shell Fish Company. And that’s a place you can get crabs and all the different types of shell fish. And it’s quite good. You sit outside out on the picnic tables and that type of stuff. So if you’re going to eat on the pier, that would be the place to eat.

Chris: Okay. Let’s take a break here and hear from our sponsor, who is TravelSmith. Planning a vacation, family reunion, business trip, or a weekend getaway? There’s no time like the present to take a trip, and nobody makes it easier for you to pack up your things and head out than TravelSmith. With apparel, luggage, gear and tips for every traveler, TravelSmith helps you get there, look great, and feel good. Their vast collection is full of lightweight, easy to pack items that are loaded with features to make your travel easier, safer, and more comfortable. TravelSmith also has the industry’s largest selection of RFID blocking luggage, gear, and apparel to keep tech savvy thieves from ruining your travels. For vacations, quick getaways, business trips, and more, shop today. Take the stress out of your travels and go there with TravelSmith,

Heather: Next to the pier there’s East Beach, which is the big touristy beach, big sand, a lot of sand volleyball courts. And then on Sundays, there’s a really good art fair that’s every Sunday. There’s a big bike path that goes along the entire beach. And then they have about 200 hundred artists every Sunday who are out there selling their works.

Chris: Okay, and you say beach volleyball. I really associate beach volleyball with Santa Barbara, maybe Malibu. I mean, this is where this sport got started, it’s down here in southern California.

Heather: Right, right. Many of the Olympic volleyball players, especially the men, are originally from Santa Barbara. So that’s the east of the pier, and then the west of the pier is the Santa Barbara Harbor. It is also called the Break Water, and that’s where everybody has their sailboats and that type of stuff. It’s quite large and you can walk all the way along the Break Water and get out on the other side of the harbor. There’s a little sandy beach and it’s just pretty amazing views of the sailboats, the ocean, the mountains, and that type of thing.

Chris: Okay.

Heather: Then the other big sight in Santa Barbara would definitely be the Santa Barbara Zoo, and it’s actually a really nice zoo for the size of the town. They’ve got the gorillas and the elephants and that type of stuff, but they’ve got also the California Condor, which was a…

Chris: Endangered species.

Heather: Endangered species. And the highlight for me is the giraffes. It’s a pretty big area where the giraffes are, but the reason why it’s pretty great is that those giraffes literally have the best view in all of Santa Barbara. It’s right along the ocean, so you see giraffes. And then right beyond the giraffes is the ocean. So it’s a pretty neat place to see the giraffes and take a picture of giraffes and the Pacific Ocean. Yeah, so that’s the big sights. If you’re wanting to go for night life, there’s an area between Highway 101 and the ocean and downtown Santa Barbara, and it’s called The Funk Zone. It’s a newer area and there’s lots of art galleries, restaurants, and then a lot of wineries from Santa Ynez have come down and opened up tasting rooms down there. So you don’t actually have to go up into the mountains to do tasting, because you can go do that down there.

Chris: Well, we’re going to get up into the mountains here a bit for those people who saw the movie Sideways. We’re heading into that kind of country side here, but before we get there, I usually ask what’s the best time of year to go to a particular place. Is there a bad time of year to go to Santa Barbara?

Heather: I would say that the worst time to go to Santa Barbara would be June. Santa Barbara gets, they call it the June gloom.

Chris: So the fog.

Heather: The fog.

Chris: And we say fog not a low fog, but a high overcast.

Heather: And it can get low, but it’s not really…if you’re going and you want to go out to the beach, it’s kind of cold. Any of the other times, except for when there’s the occasional storm that never seems to hit Santa Barbara, it’s pretty good weather, yeah.

Chris: Well, what a lot of people who aren’t from the area wouldn’t know, is that in the summer time, of course, the coasts are going to be cooler, so inland California gets quite warm. You go over one range of mountains and you can easily go up 10, 20 degrees in the summer time. We have places where you can drive half an hour and see 50 degrees temperature range up here in northern California, not quite as bad in southern California. In the winter time, it’s the opposite. The coast is often warmer than inland, especially further inland, more like the central valley.

Heather: Right.

Chris: Excellent. So, looking a little further afield, where else should we go while we’re in Santa Barbara?

Heather: Well, a couple other places just before going up into the mountains, is that Montecito is right next to Santa Barbara, and that is where the celebrities and the extremely wealthy live. It’s really interesting to just take a drive in there and see these mansions and the fancy Biltmore Hotel which you can walk around. And that’s where the stars stay and that type of stuff. Then a little further south from Montecito is Carpinteria. It’s a small town that’s a little bit more, I use the word livable, but it’s not as touristy. But there’s a really nice downtown area which feels like you’re in a little beach town. But the highlight of Carpiteria is called the Carpinteria Bluffs, and you park and walk down these Bluffs and it’s a large sea lion nesting area.

Chris: Okay.

Heather: So you can see just hundreds and hundreds of sea lions. But yeah, then you would want to drive up the mountain. There’s two ways to get into Santa Ynez. There’s the easy way, and that’s to take Highway 101, which will take you along the ocean and around the mountains; or just to drive up the mountains, and that’s highway 154, and they call it The Pass. And I like to take The Pass. It’s a good road but about half way up the mountain, there’s a place that’s called Cold Spring Tavern. If you’re there on a weekend, they have the famous Tri-Tip sandwiches, which is famous in that area, the Tri-Tip sandwiches. That’s a former stage coach stop too, so it’s very popular.

Chris: Well, you say Tri-Tip, and a lot of people know the different barbecue styles in the U.S. and they can spot your North Carolina barbecue, or your South Carolina mustard barbecue, or your Texas barbecue, or your rubs up in Kansas City. This is yet another style, and this is a mesquite grilled Tri-Tip, which very much comes from this area of California, from the Santa Ynez valley.

Heather: Right. Yeah, I’ve tried to find it in other places, and I have yet to find it.

Chris: Oh, we have it up here all the time now. It’s definitely places that are doing Tri-Tip on Tuesdays or are doing Tri-Tip sandwiches or whatever, so it’s very common up here and in the Bay Area now also. And I’m seeing it spread, but mostly in California.

Heather: Right. It has not made its way to the Midwest.

Chris: Well, I had the fortunate experience, one time we had relatives in Solvang, which we may mention, and they invited me to a rancher’s barbecue. And that, I think, was the first time I had Tri-Tip, was from the people who actually invented it.

Heather: Oh wow, yeah.

Chris: The ranchers in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Heather: So, yeah, we can start talking about Santa Ynez Valley. That is the area in the mountains above Santa Barbara. And kind of what you talked about before, it does get quite hot in the winter. It might be 70 degrees in Santa Barbara, but 90 degrees just a half hour away up in Santa Ynez.

Chris: In the summer.

Heather: Right. So I like to go, when I’m in Santa Ynez, to Los Olivos, and that’s actually where a lot of that movie, The Sideways, was filmed.

Chris: The olives, in Spanish.

Heather: Right, right. So there is quite a few tasting rooms, which they use in the movie, and a couple of art galleries, and some really good restaurants.

Chris: Do you want to give us some recommendations there, before we pass on out of town? It’s not a big town here; we’re not going to be that long.

Heather: Right. There’s really only two or three. One of them is a sandwich place. I don’t remember the name, but it’s really good sandwiches. And then there’s a little nicer one that’s more of a wine restaurant, but has a little fancier food. They actually did film a scene of Sideways in that restaurant as well.

Chris: Okay, so we’re just going to have to recommend you go to Yelp and look for the two good ones.

Heather: Right, right. I don’t remember the names of them. But there’s probably only two or three restaurants in there. It’s literally just a street. Yeah, it’s a really cute, little town. They actually filmed Return to Mayberry there, I think, in the ’80s or ’90s.

Chris: Oh funny, okay.

Heather: And the Andy Griffith Show, so it has that feel. And then there’s lots of wineries all over Santa Ynez. It’s a newer wine country area. It was all ranches and stuff when I grew up, but it’s now almost all wineries. And what I like to do, is I like to take the road between Los Olivos and Solvang. Those are just a lot of little wineries that you can stop in and go wine tasting. There is another little sight on that road, and it’s an actual lavender farm.

Chris: Oh interesting.

Heather: So if you hit at the right time…and I don’t know when the right time is. I think it’s in the spring, or it might be twice a year. I’m not sure, but you can see just fields and fields of lavenders. And you can go into there – they have a little tiny store – and buy different lavender products. So, yeah, that’s a small little place that not a lot of people know about. The big winery I like to go to, and that’s actually more in Santa Ynez as opposed to Los Olivos, is Fess Parker has a winery.

Chris: Okay. And a lot of people are too young to have any idea who you’re talking about.

Heather: Right. I’m too young too, but just because he’s from Santa Barbara, he played…is it Davy Crockett in the ’50s?

Chris: I think that sounds right.

Heather: Yeah. And anyways, he’s very big in Santa Barbara. He has a hotel and a winery.

Chris: Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Sorry, I had to look that up.

Heather: Oh, okay. And I think he’s still alive, but I’m not sure. Yeah, so he has a big hotel in Santa Barbara.

Chris: He died in 2010.

Heather: Oh, okay. There you go. Anyway, so there’s a hotel that he started, pretty nice fancy hotel in Santa Barbara. And then he has this big winery, and it’s a good place to go wine tasting. There’s a lot to do there, and you get the wine glass with him and it has a little coon skin hat and that type of stuff. That’s his label. But I like the smaller ones, and that’s on the road between Los Olivos and Solvang. And then on that road also, you can go by the Chumash Indian casino if that’s your thing.

Chris: Okay.

Heather: I think I’ve been there one time but…I think it’s quite large now. But yeah, then Solvang, and Solvang was a Danish settlement. I think in the ’20s people moved there. They wanted to get out of the Midwest cold, so they settled in this little town in the mountains above Santa Barbara. So it really has this Danish feel. There’s lots of windmills, and the buildings look like what it looks like in Denmark.

Chris: Although we’d have to say it’s pretty touristy.

Heather: Oh extremely.

Chris: It’s not working windmills or thing like that.

Heather: No.

Chris: I say that as someone who’s related too much of Solvang, so I literally have cousins or second cousins and such in Solvang, which is why I mentioned that I had been down there. I used to be related to the Postmaster and things like that. So, it is a touristy town.

Heather: Right. As they say, it’s fake Danish.

Chris: Yeah, that’s right.

Heather: Yeah, it doesn’t look like what Denmark looks like from my travels, but it looks like what we think Denmark looks like, Americans think of Denmark. But there’s a lot of boutique shops, a lot of wine tasting rooms, and there is a mission there.

Chris: Oh, I didn’t realize that.

Heather: Yeah, you can get the Danish food and pastries.

Chris: I was going to say, if you hadn’t gone to the pastries, you missed the whole reason to go to Solvang.

Heather: Right, yeah. So it’s a fun place to go. I used to go up there a lot as a child, and I still enjoy going up there as an adult. So it’s a good place to visit.

Chris: And I’ve done this once, although it’s been a number of years ago, I think they still do the Solvang Festival Theater in the summer time.

Heather: Correct.

Chris: Which they’ve been doing, I understand – here from Mr. Google tells me – since 1974. But a nice thing to do, add on to a summer itinerary, is a play out basically in an old Elizabethan style theater.

Heather: Right, yes. The other town that’s up there is called Buellton, and that’s not very touristy. It’s right off of highway 101.

Chris: With one exception, which is Pea Soup Andersen’s, which was…

Heather: Yes, I was going to mention that.

Chris: Which you see advertised for hundreds of miles.

Heather: Yes. Yes, I was going to mention that. The actual town is not touristy.

Chris: No, right, exactly.

Heather: They are quite a few wineries in Buellton. Those are the smaller ones, lot of vineyards. And then yes, there’s the Anderson Pea Soup, which was a childhood favorite. So if you haven’t been to Pea Soup, there’s a couple in California, and they’re advertised on billboards on all the freeways for hours and hours. It says 200 miles until you get to this place. And it’s in a Danish style. There’s a lot of shops and that type of stuff. And it’s just diner food, but they do have good pea soup if you like pea soup.

Chris: It is good pea soup; I grant you that. I would skip the wine tasting room in Pea Soup Andersons and go to one of the other ones, but absolutely have the pea soup.

Heather: Exactly. And you can buy the cans of pea soup, and I usually actually buy a box and throw it in my suitcase and take it home, because I really like that pea soup. But yeah, if you have kids, that’s a really good place to take the kids, especially to eat, because they can be loud because that’s the environment. Then the restaurant that I would recommend in Buellton is called the Hitching Post.

Chris: Okay.

Heather: And that was also in the movie Sideways, but it’s kind of a steak, kind of a meat type of place, and they have their own winery. And it’s probably the best wine around, in my opinion.

Chris: And we say winery and wines. Are there particular types of wines that you recommend in the Santa Ynez Valley?

Heather: Yeah, I think that…now, I’m not a wine expert.

Chris: Okay.

Heather: But I think that Pinot is the big wine up there. You put it in front of me and I usually like it, but the Hitching Post wine, something special about it and it’s quite good. And it’s a more expensive restaurant, but it’s a really good restaurant to go to.

Chris: Okay.

Heather: So I think that’s about it for up in Santa Ynez.

Chris: One thing that we should say in terms of Sideways, just because we had mentioned the movie a couple of times, it’s been now, gosh, at least 10 years since that came out. I’m seeing an article, about 10 years ago, and I think that article was released in 2004. Apparently, it is popular overseas as well, like in Korea, for some particular reason. And so sometimes that will attract tourists to the region.

Heather: Sure. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t like that movie. It was cool to see all those sites in real life, but I did not enjoy the movie at all, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend someone to see the movie. So yeah, if you could go up the mountain to get to this area, then I would drive back on highway 101, which is the main freeway. And you’ll drive along the coast and by a couple of state parks and that type of stuff, state beaches.

Chris: One warning you would give about Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara, that area?

Heather: I didn’t really talk about the beaches, but I think that the big warning is about tar.

Chris: Okay, if you hadn’t said it, I would have.

Heather: Yes. It is not because of an oil spill or anything like that, but on Santa Barbara beaches, there’s quite a bit of tar. I mean, it’s a natural seepage from the bottom of the ocean that’s off the coast of Santa Barbara. It gets on your feet, and so if it gets on your feet, you have to either use baby oil or olive oil and rub it.

Chris: Or lighter fluid, but not lit.

Heather: But I wouldn’t recommend that. Yeah, I would recommend the best thing that you should do is probably just go to a drug store, like a CVS, and buy a pair of flip flops and use those to walk along the beach.

Chris: Well, I know at Goleta Beach, which is out there on the way to…if we take the 101 up to the Santa Ynez Valley, there was a little concession there that actually sold, basically, wipes that had the right amount of things on them so you can just wipe the tar off your feet.

Heather: Yeah. Yeah, it’s easy to get off, but you don’t wear your really nice shoes out if you’re going to walk on the beach.

Chris: And it’s worse sometimes than others, but it is something you need to know.

Heather: Right.

Chris: And then occasionally, the hills do catch fire, but that’s relatively rare that they threaten the city. But we have had that in the last seven years, a couple of times.

Heather: Yeah, my grandmother’s house burnt down 20 years ago. So yeah, I’ve experienced it.

Chris: But that’s also because we’re talking about a place that won’t get rain in the summer. So if you are planning summer plans for Santa Barbara, you could pretty much count on good to great weather.

Heather: Correct. And even when it is the rainy time, I think the biggest rainy time is March, it still doesn’t get a whole lot of rain.

Chris: No. We’re talking about a dry area, yeah. What’s the best day you’ve spent in Santa Barbara? What did you do?

Heather: Well, I would say that the best…my favorite place actually is called Hendry’s Beach, and that’s in the middle of Santa Barbara. It’s not a touristy beach; it’s where the locals go to. And so I wouldn’t recommend if you’re wanting to go sit at the beach that you would sit at one of the downtown beaches, but find a different one in Hendry’s Beach. It’s also called Arroyo Burro. That’s the official name, but nobody calls it that. Anyways, it’s a really nice beach, and I just really enjoy hanging out, sitting on that beach. You can just look out and you’ll see dolphins swimming by. It’s quite often that you’ll see dolphins right out in front of you on that beach. And then I also like to go to this restaurant that’s right at Hendry’s Beach, and you sit outside and there’s just an amazing view of the ocean and the dolphins. It’s a good place to get breakfast.

Chris: Excellent. Do you remember the name of the restaurant?

Heather: Santa Barbara Boathouse.

Chris: Okay.

Heather: They just have this amazing outdoor area that is protected from the wind; they have glass. And I like to go there for breakfast. The views are amazing and…

Chris: I think I have had breakfast at the Boathouse.

Heather: Yeah. And then the big difference between going to that beach or even Goleta Beach, which is the beach out by the airport in UC Santa Barbara, is that the parking is free there, whereas you can end up spending quite a bit of money to park downtown.

Chris: One thing we haven’t said is, we’re talking about an area that is often used as a weekend getaway from Los Angeles, because we’re really not that far away. You’re what? An hour from…?

Heather: An hour, hour and a half, depending on…

Chris: Yeah, depending on which part of Los Angeles you’re talking about.

Heather: Yeah, and traffic.

Chris: And traffic, yeah, well, there is that.

Heather: Yes.

Chris: What’s going to surprise me when I come to Santa Barbara?

Heather: I think the mountains are pretty surprising when people come. You think you’re going to Santa Barbara and you’re going to see the beach and that type of thing. The mountains are right there, and they are, as I said, quite large. The tallest one, I think, is about 4,000 feet.

Chris: Well, even just as you drive to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles, you’re driving between Ventura and Santa Barbara. It’s the beach, the road, and the mountains.

Heather: Right.

Chris: And that’s all there is.

Heather: Yup. Yup, definitely if there’s a mud slide or something like that, you can’t get to Los Angeles.

Chris: Right. You’re standing in the prettiest spot in the whole Santa Barbara area, where are you standing and what are you looking at?

Heather: Well, above the harbor, there’s a park. It’s called Shoreline Park. If you look back towards downtown, the view is just unbelievable. You can see the harbor, the pier, and the ocean. And then also Santa Barbara has the Channel Islands, and so you can see the Islands and the mountains just all in one look.

Chris: And the oil platforms.

Heather: And the oil platforms.

Chris: That’s going to surprise some people, because we haven’t mentioned that yet, just offshore there between you and the Channel Islands.

Heather: Yeah, it’s Shoreline Park towards the end of it, towards downtown Santa Barbara, just the view there is pretty amazing.

Chris: Excellent. Here’s a question I don’t usually ask: best state park that only locals go to in the area?

Heather: I would say some of the hikes on the mountains a lot of people don’t go to, Rattlesnake Canyon Trail is a really amazing trail, if you like to hike up in the mountains. It is not named Rattlesnake Trail because of the snakes but because of the windingness of the trail.

Chris: I’m not sure that was good marketing, but that might be why only locals go there.

Heather: Yeah, so there’s a quite a few. There’s a website that’s called Santa Barbara Hikes, and they have information all about the different trails. I think a lot of locals will go up into the mountains and hike, and you can get views back of the oceans. But I think that just going to different beaches that are not the downtown beaches is what the locals do. I don’t know anyone who goes and sits down, hangs out at East Beach all day, but they certainly hang out at one of the other beaches.

Chris: Well, one of the reasons I asked about the parks, is that because of the way the terrain is in this part of California, and really in most of California, we have these wonderful little unknown regional and state parks and some wonderful hikes. And I don’t think a lot of tourists know to take advantage of them, and so that was a great resource.

Heather: Yeah.

Chris: Before we get to our last three questions, what else should we know before we go to Santa Barbara?

Heather: I think that a couple of things is that if you like to go to movies, I recommend seeing a movie at the Arlington Theater. It’s a huge old style movie house. I think Gone With The Wind had one of its premieres there.

Chris: Oh wow, okay.

Heather: And it’s…

Chris: Art deco?

Heather: Yes. Well, no, you walk inside and they have a Spanish facade on the sides, and then stars on the ceilings so it makes you feel like you’re outside. But it is a gigantic theater, and there’s a pipe organ that comes up, I think, on the weekends before a movie and that type of stuff. So if there’s a movie there, I recommend going and seeing a movie there, if you like to go to movies.

Then a little hidden place that I really like to go to is called the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. And this is way out in Goleta. It’s actually pretty easy to get to. But Santa Barbara happens to have the perfect climate for growing orchids, and you go out there and it’s just every type of orchid. And it’s all outside and they have tons and tons and tons of green houses. You just drive up, looks like you’re driving up to a farm or  company, and you just can walk all around and look at the different orchids. And there’s people who work there who just will talk to you all day about their orchids, and you can buy some. They’ll pack them up to go on a plane, if you want. And it’s very reasonably priced. But yeah, it’s called the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. That’s one of my favorite places. I try to get there whenever I’m visiting.

Chris: I had never heard of it, and I’ve driven through Santa Barbara many, many times.

Heather: Yeah, it’s not advertised, but Santa Barbara is a big orchid producer.

Chris: My son lives in Southern California and when we go see him, we often will drive down the middle of the state when we’re driving down, because it’s…we’re trying to get there and it’s usually night by that time anyway. But when we have extra time, we’ll do the drive along the coast through Santa Barbara as a reward to ourselves on the way back. It takes just a little longer but it’s a lot prettier.

Heather: Oh definitely, definitely.

Chris: What’s the best day of the year? Best festival, or best time of year to be in Santa Barbara?

Heather: Well, the biggest festival in Santa Barbara actually just happened. I think it’s in the first weekend of August, and it’s call Fiesta. And it’s celebrating the old Spanish days. The whole town shuts down for it; there’s parades; there’s a lot of shows where they do the flamenco dancing and the music, and then there’s a couple places that have giant…they call them the mercados, but basically you go and you can get different types of Mexican or Spanish food and listen to music and that type of stuff.

Chris: And I’m assuming you meant flamenco dancing, unless they do an entirely different type of dancing in Santa Barbara. Flamingo dancing has an interesting mental picture there.

Heather: Yeah, sorry. The other big thing, is they sell these little eggs, and the eggs are filled with confetti and so you get…someone will walk up and smash the egg on your head spread and get confetti everywhere. So that’s a big thing for some reason. It’s part of fiesta. Of course the prices are quite a bit more expensive then, but it is the big fiesta, which means party, party of the year in Santa Barbara.

Chris: Excellent. Well, I know the area from…I dated – or I thought I was dating, but that’s a whole other story – a girl in high school who’s family would rent one of the beach houses along Carpinteria. And that’s the other thing I would look into, is rentals if you’re there, or Airbnb if you’re there. Especially if you’re there in a high season, there are a limited number of hotels there.

Heather: Right. And in fact, I would look at Airbnb for staying, no matter what time of year, because it is quite expensive to stay in Santa Barbara.

Chris: Excellent. Last three questions. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Santa Barbara”?

Heather: You go out, it’s maybe like 60, 65 degrees, and you see someone wearing a down coat and winter boots and shorts.

Chris: Okay.

Heather: Santa Barbara, they’re used to perfect weather. And when it’s not perfect, they think it’s the dead of winter.

Chris: All right. When my family first moved out from Ohio to the central coast of California, my parents tell me that we were the ones who were dressed like that because the winter would be on those cold foggy days. The chill would just go through you.

Heather: Sure.

Chris: And now, of course, I think that is summer days.

Heather: Yeah.

Chris: Of course the opposite having grown up in that.

Heather: Right.

Chris: Finish this thought: you really know you’re in Santa Barbara when, what?

Heather: You’re looking out and in one sight you can see the mountains and the ocean.

Chris: Excellent. And if you had to summarize Santa Barbara in just three words, what three words would you use?

Heather: Casual. Santa Barbara is very casual. You don’t really have to dress up ever. Beautiful and historic.

Chris: Excellent. Our guest, again, has been Heather Simon, and where can people read more about your travels?

Heather: Facebook on Well Planned Travel. I have a website, it’s called And then I’m on Twitter. It’s wellplantravel, because wellplanned, it was…

Chris: It was too damn long.

Heather: Too long, so wellplantravel.

Chris: Excellent. And what’s the best article you’ve written on recently?

Heather: I have gotten a lot of traction. I just wrote one on taking the Hurtigruten, which is the…

Chris: Oh, excellent, up the Norwegian coast.

Heather: Right. I did that.

Chris: There is an episode of the Amateur Traveler on Cruising on Hurtigruten.

Heather: I heard that. I think I might have even listened to it before I went.

Chris: Excellent. I should say, the thing I was trying to remember earlier when I was asking you the type of wine, I remembered that in the movie Sideways, which we keep referring to here, the character that was the main character, Paul Giamatti’s character, was a Filipino and really refused to drink Merlot completely. So I was expecting that Pinot would be the wine that you would mention, but I couldn’t remember Merlot. I couldn’t remember what it was he hated, so I had to look that up. Excellent. Well, Heather, thanks so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love of Santa Barbara and the region.

Heather: Thank you for having me.

Chris: In news of the community, I heard from the Su family in response to the episode we did on Kyrgyzstan. “We are a family of five that are currently back packing along the Sok road for a year. Currently, we are in Kyrgyzstan, so it’s extra special to hear this podcast while traveling here. While in Bishkek, we came upon a newly started walking tour twice a week called the Bishkek Walks. You can find it on Facebook, which tells the history of the people building events in Bishkek for the past 2,000 years. It was very informative, and we got to see photos in the past and compared them to the present as we walked around downtown Bishkek. We also got to hear about the recent three revolutions, 1991, 2002, and 2010, and get a sense of what lies in the future for people here. The podcast was right on, and we had much laughs as we listened to the insightful comments from Eric.”

Thank so much for the comment, always great to hear feedback on the shows. With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. Again, if you’re interested in an Amateur Traveler trip – we’re trying to narrow down where to go – go to to join the private Facebook community for that. If you have any questions, send an email to host at, or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, as Chris2x. And as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

One Response to “Travel to Santa Barbara, California – Episode 481”



I enjoyed your Santa Barbara episode. As a native I was surprised to learn some things as well! I thought I would add a few things. Fiesta was mentioned but there are many festivals in the area, notably Summer Solstice, ethnic festivals and beer festivals. Speaking of beer, there are two breweries in Buellton, Firestone and the newer and hipper Figueroa Mountain. “Fig” as it’s known to locals is in an industrial area that is growing with wineries and restaurants. While Fig doesn’t have a restaurant yet there are often food booths and you can also order food delivered from the Excellent Gino’s. Industrial Eats is a restaurant that has shared tables, eclectic food and you can bring your own wine (lots of local wine tasting) and no corkage fee. Love your podcast, keep up the good work!

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