SANTA BARBARA DAY 3: Lotusland, Four Seasons Resort, Santa Barbara Polo Club
Today, explore the nearby towns of Montecito and Summerland, a short drive away. Montecito is a wealthy enclave that is home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges, Kirk Douglas, Kevin Costner and many others. The neighborhood earned its fancy reputation during the early 1900s for being the winter getaway for rich families from Chicago and the East Coast, who built palatial homes in the wooded area. While many mansions are tucked behind private gates at the end of long driveways, Montecito is nonetheless lovely to drive through and explore, with plenty of stops available for lunch or shopping. The majority of shops are located on Coast Village Road (or just CVR to those in the know), but there is also Montecito's "upper village" which includes one of Santa Barbara's oldest bookstores, Tecolote. Tours of the famous Lotusland gardens — created by the oft-married, late Polish opera diva Madame Ganna Walska — and the house and garden of charming Casa Del Herrero are available by appointment and offer peeks into the lifestyles of the rich and famous of yesteryear.
Summerland, just down the coast, is an antique lover's mecca and a charming seaside community with a terrific beach and grassy park. The town's roots are in the spiritualist movement of the late-19th century, when its earliest inhabitants were known to conduct séances. Today, little Summerland has a laid-back, wear-your-flip-flops attitude.
If you plan on having breakfast in Montecito, popular spots include Jeannine's American Bakery and Montecito Coffee Shop (also known as the Pharmacy). In Summerland, expect a wait at the immensely popular and dog-friendly Summerland Beach Café for breakfast on weekends.
Montecito is home to the Four Seasons Resort, the Biltmore, set across the street from the Pacific Ocean on Channel Drive. Even if you don't stay here, stroll the gardens, home to 2,000 different species of plants, and enjoy a drink in the bar. The Spa is also open to the public. Nearby, The Music Academy of the West hosts classical picnic concerts during the summer; but throughout the year their antique shop, The Treasure House, is an excellent excuse to see the beautiful grounds of this former estate. Purchases benefit a full-scholarship program for gifted musicians from around the globe.
Popular lunch (and dinner) spots include The Montecito Café, Cava and Via Vai, where you'll find some of the best thin-crust pizzas in town. Italian options abound in Montecito, with standouts including Trattoria Mollie's (Oprah's favorite) and Tre Lune, a see-and-be-seen spot.
Summerland is the place to go for burger joints, and you'll find the best burger around at the small, unassuming Tinker's. Take your order and grab a picnic table at Overlook Park, just a block away, with wonderful ocean views. Should you want a more sophisticated drink, award-winning Summerland Winery has a wine tasting room — but call ahead to see if they're open, since they are usually closed in the evening.
During polo season in the summer, the historic Santa Barbara Polo Club just south of Summerland is a delightful Sunday outing. Prince William scored four goals in a match played here shortly after marrying Kate Middleton. Pack a picnic and watch the horses gallop in this "sport of kings."
For dinner, if you choose to dine in Montecito, Lucky's is a classic old school steakhouse with a lively bar. We love the food and energetic atmosphere at Pane e Vino, an unassuming trattoria in the back corner of Montecito's upper village, where grilled branzino is a favorite when it's on the menu.
Everywhere you look, Santa Barbara delights the senses and surprises the eye. The area is among those rare places where the elements of nature and culture come together — and the result is paradise.
By Michael Cervin