Santa Barbara - Cali-friggin-fornia

Pacific Coast WOW Highway


It was Thanksgiving weekend, if you’re American this means family, turkey, football, thanks. If you’re not American this means extra days off work. And if you’re us, that means, roadtrip time!

Not far out of SF we stopped at the charming coastal village of Pacifica to pop into my good friend Shannon and her folks. Getting some family time, albeit with someone else’s family, was lovely and set a cosy tone for our weekend.

We couldn’t stop for too long, our final destination was Santa Barbara, a good 5 hours away. But if you are going to drive for 5 hours you have to do it on the Pacific Coast Highway. The views will blow your cotton socks off, I never tire of it.

I’ve always harboured a yearning to visit Santa Barbara. I’m not sure why but if TV made a show about it and Bono dedicated a song to it, pop culture has clearly deemed it worthy of something. I hoped to find that something.

Beach, sky, palm trees, who's complaining

That ‘something’ turned out to be a bit elusive. SB is an upmarket beach town, it hasn’t quite captured romance the way Carmel (my favourite California beach town) has, but that might be due to Santa Barbara’s larger sprawl. It did remind me a lot of Palm Springs (if PS had a beach and was less Marilyn Monroe and more Nancy Reagan).

It turns out people like to stay home or with family over Thanksgiving, so we snagged ourselves a hotel room with an incredible view of the harbour and the hypnotic sea.

I didn’t want to ignore thanksgiving completely after all we were travelling with a pint sized yank. I genuinely appreciate the sentiment in taking time be thankful. Americans may not have a great reputation for saying ‘please’ but they’ve made a parade and a national holiday out of saying ‘thank you’. We settled into a waterfront turkey dinner.    

The next morning we set off for a dander along State Street. My trustee news oracle (my phone) had informed me to expect bitterly cold weather in SB, it was November after all. I donned my Winter coat including its trim, smug in my fur lined nest I tsked at Dom as he lead the charge outside wearing a thin t-shirt. Of course, it turned out to be more than pleasant with the tickle of a balmy breeze. Dom skittered along with a smile as myself and Róisín (who I had dressed in 4 layers) bundled up the street like abominable snowmen.

The Court House - who framed who
State St is crammed with restaurants and shops, it was nice to scamper along taking it all in. An electric shuttle bus zooms up and down the street stopping only to pour tourists out on the pavement. As the crowds swelled we exited down a side street to check out the County Courthouse. It’s a beautiful building, I felt I was stepping back into medieval Spain. In fact the whole city is an homage to Spanish-Moorish architecture.
Did somebody say Pink pool party!
Sweltering in our Arctic gear (well, some of us) we snaked our way back to our hotel for naps and costume changes. After some well deserved pool time we took a stroll along Sterns Wharf which reminded me of one of my favourite places on earth, Nantucket (read about adventures there, here).

Watchin' the ships roll in

We sat on the creaky jetty, ice creams in hand, inhaling the sea air, following the sun as it started its slow descent.

Delicious candyfloss sunset
As we manoeuvred our way back to land there was time for tearing around the beach much to Róisín’s delight. As the sunset reached its glorious candy floss crescendo we ambled along the boardwalk in the shadows of the palm trees.

I had heard wind of a neighbourhood called the Funk Zone. An unfortunate name in any disguise, #OnlyinAmerica, but as perhaps was it’s intention, it begged to be explored.  

Lots of small wineries offering tastings for the tourists, microbreweries painted full of quirky mustachioed hipsters, and farm-to-table restaurants tucked down side streets.

A snazzy truck skirted to a halt beside us, a Ken doll popped out and rolled up the back door of the truck (with dramatic flair) to reveal an interior comparable to any high class store, a sign appeared on the side "mobile boutique". I stood on the sidewalk entranced by Ken and his prêt-à-portable, what a genius. When I awoke from my reverie Dom and Róisín were gone!

Guitar bar - way too cool for the likes of me
I found them in a similar state of a-gog outside a Guitar Bar. Guitars lined the walls, interspersed with sound booths and whiskey.    

When we came across the inevitable vintage store, Dom knew he had lost me for a good half hour. He had to intervene when I nearly spent 3k on table from the 1940s made from reclaimed redwood. It was stunning and will haunt my dreams.

Funk Zone? As James Brown would say “Get On Up!”
We had a good tip to check out a Mexican restaurant on State Street, but hunger hit and we dived into a little Indian place. It turned out to be a one and half year old child’s Heaven. We threw off our shoes and sat on cushions on the floor. The place was the size of a warehouse and only one other table was taken. Róisín skipped around like a free bird only stopping to gobble some curry and bollywood dance with a 4 foot wooden carving of an Indian minstrel.

Enterprisingly it turned out that everything in the restaurant was for sale. This included an army of wooden elephants and a table that cost 20k. Which I pointed out to Dom made my near 3k purchase of a coffee table look like a steal, just saying.

Mission accepted

The next morning we headed straight to the Santa Barbara Mission. Back in the day, the Spanish Franciscan friars set up these network of Mission churches all along the west coast to spread the faith. I’ve seen a few of these churches and I like their simplicity, with murals and paintings adding a splash of colour. They are a stark contrast to Europe’s grand cathedrals.  

I was hoping to check out the Ronald Reagan Center before we left town, but it was closed. I was just a nipper when he was President so I’ve no sense of how he was as Commander and Chief. He wouldn’t be on my political team but I was curious nonetheless. An actor that became President… really? What’s next, a billionaire buffoon in the Whitehouse?!

Somewhere under the rainbow
Instead, we coasted along the waterfront and checked out the art and craft stalls as Santa Barbarites sat, walked, ran and cycled by. Maybe in Santa Barbara the ‘thing’ is to find your own thing.


  1. Aww, I loved Santa Barbara, you've captured it very well here Sheils 😊


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