About Santa Barbara beaches
The city’s most popular beaches, East and Leadbetter, are south of the commercial area. The sandy beaches flank Stearns Wharf, a wooden structure dating to 1873 that has shops and a small museum. Some beaches have lockers, showers, restrooms and food concessions. For rent along the sands are bicycles (seating from one to nine), surfboards and personal watercraft. Paved paths invite biking, rollerblading and skateboarding.
Scuba-diving is excellent, though it requires hiring a boat or booking aboard a concessionaire travelling to the Channel Islands National Park, about 45km (28 miles) offshore.
Beyond the beach:
Boutique- and cafe-lined State Street is unusual for car-crazed California: it’s pedestrian friendly. Built in 1929, the County Courthouse, 1100 Anacapa Street, features a Roman triumphal arch, turret and sunken gardens. Nearby is the last military outpost the Spaniards built in California, El Presidio de Santa Barbara, now a historic park. And Mission Santa Barbara is one of the grandest of the 21 Spanish missions in the state.
Even the lions have a view of the ocean at the Santa Barbara Zoo. There are about 400 animals kept in lush landscaping here. Narrated whale-watching cruises take advantage of the migration patterns of blue, humpback and gray whales. Youngsters can crawl through a 1,500-gallon tidepool tank to learn about marine life. Horse-drawn wagons and carriages in the Carriage and Western Art Museum reflect pioneer days.
For the first half of the 20th century, this was cattle and horse country. A few ranches still exist, though they cater more to cityslickers, offering trail rides, bike riding and even croquet. In the later part of the previous century, grape-growers began cultivating what is now an estimated 8,500 hectares (21,000 acres). There are more than 30 vineyards and 100+ wineries in the county – five wineries are within city limits. This is where Oscar-winner Sideways was filmed. Nearly 20 companies offer vineyard tours on everything from bikes to limos.
Built as a mining executive’s mansion in the 1920s, the Four Seasons Biltmore is one of California’s prime destinations. Celebrity guests include Bing Crosby, Lana Turner, Oleg Cassini and Natalie Wood. The driveway is still filled with Bentleys and Rollses. Lush landscaping frames Spanish-Moorish walkways, accented by Mexican tiles. The bar seems to have been lifted from an elegant Astaire and Rogers film. The resort has tennis courts, putting green, spa and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.