April 21, 2010

So Cal, So Cool

Santa Barbara, CA - for me, going to California is like walking into the supermarket w/o a list; once inside, all bets are off.

No less an authority than the Economist made a rather compelling case last summer (which I won't get in to, but rest assured it was characteristically dry and witty) in favor of the Lone Star State vis-a-vis its downtrodden westerly neighbor, yet as the puddle jumper shuttled us from LAX to Santa Barbara, snaking alongside the coastline and following the PCH, I found myself thinking... I could live here.

And so it was, for the next three days as family and friends descended upon this town b/t the mountains and the ocean,
discovering just a couple of the many great spots it has to offer.

Unlike so many beachfont parcels of land that abut a main entertainment thoroughfare (State St. in this case), Santa Barbara has allowed its unique and independent hotels to operate in lieu of what you might expect to find... Hyatt, W, Marriott, Westin, Four Seasons, Ritz, repeat... We stayed at the Casa Del Mar Inn, located on Bath St.
half a block off W Cabrillo (ocean drive) and State. Quaint spot, maybe 20 rooms, with bougainvilleas in full bloom. And great access to the running trail alongside the beach, which on one day played host to the Santa Barbara Chardonnay 10-miler and 5k.

In search of cocktails, we (wife, brother, sister-in-law) found ourselves at the Canary Hotel; with summer drink season approaching, I jumped the gun a little and ordered a half-and-half martini (Hendrick's and Ketel One), up w/ a twist. Then another one. It gets a little fuzzy after that, but I think the music was great.

Someone help me come up w/ a better
name for this than the "Half-and-Half"

Brunch the next morning, which I skipped, was at Sambo's, which again in spite of its location practically on the pier has maintained considerable originality. Or so I'm told. The line when I walked by later in the morning was long but content, probably because they'd all been there before.

That afternoon we celebrated my mother's wedding on the idyllic grounds of the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Hills in the background, a Santa Barbara Rose Society garden situated beautifully on-site, and Jack Johnson being played on the guitar. Just cool.

Post-wedding dinner was at the Cafe Buenos Aires (great ambiance), after which we stumbled upon The Marquee, appropriately located beneath the marquee of the recently restored Granada Theater. The low lighting and size made it very intimate, though not uncomfortably so. Perfect for four people hoping to recap the weekend's happenings and wind down the final evening of a great trip. As a side note: blaming intoxication on both the conversation as well as the Guinness, I managed to leave the bar and get back to the hotel before realizing that I'd left my wallet, phone, and tie sitting on the table behind us. A frantic ten minutes later a taxi re-delivered us and, to my great relief, our server Amy had taken it and stashed it in the office. Crisis averted.

We also noticed an inordinate number of people milling about the Granada in costume, and upon inquiry learned that there was a Carnival-themed wedding going on. A shot of the bride and groom here captures the essence of the night...

Lastly, no trip to Santa Barbara, as my wife was quick to point out, is complete
w/o paying homage to the grand dame, the Biltmore, where on our final morning my aunt and uncle were kind enough to treat us for brunch before we headed back to Texas. As expected at a Four Seasons, the setting was pristine, with the front of the property overlooking the Pacific and the back facing the foothills of Los Padres National Forest.

The spread consisted of everything and more that one could want, including fresh oysters on the half shell, caviar, salmon roe, a mimosa that never seemed to get less than half full, and the Sunday Times.

So, until the West Coast beckons again...

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