The “American Riviera” has plenty to keep you occupied: glorious beaches, the Santa Barbara Mission, the Santa Barbara Zoo, shopping on State Street and bars (Blue Agave, SoHo) and restaurants (Bouchon, Cielito) aplenty. If you’ve never been to this palm and Spanish architecture haven, then sure, don’t miss the hot spots. But if you’re looking for a low key, unpretentious day trip getaway, then read on.
Stop 1: Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Drive through the Oak tree shrouded Mission Canyon neighborhood and past the Santa Barbara Mission itself, and (while still fantasizing about living here) turn left into the Botanic Garden. The grounds are sectioned into six distinct native California botanic environments: redwood, meadow, manzanita, desert, canyon and arroyo. There are also three different trails (5.5 miles in total), a home demonstration garden and an authentic Japanese tea house garden. Dogs are also welcome. Leashed of course. I visited in May and the native flowers were abloom in bounty: blazing orange California poppy, violet lupine and the “Queen of California Wildflowers”, the majestic Matilija poppy.
The redwood grove offers a fresh slice of cool shade under the canopy of native giants, if only for a moment. Astride Mission Creek, which bisects the property, the Mission Dam and Aqueduct system offers a glimpse into early California development. The Chumash Indians built the structures in 1806-07 under the supervision (the labor was most likely forced) of the Franciscan padres.This system provided a reliable water source for the nearby Mission community.
Another highlight is the Manzanita section, which boasts a stunning 60 varieties of the gracefully posed red barked bushes and trees. The Botanic Garden also offers ongoing classes, lectures and demonstrations. A Bonsai tree exhibit and trimming demonstration was on when I was there.
With the ongoing drought, it’s a better time than ever to visit. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to rip out that water-hogging lawn and plant some beautiful native and drought resistant species.
Address: 1212 Mission Canyon Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Phone: (805) 682-4726
Stop 2: The Telegraph Brewing Company
After getting your photosynthesis fix for the day, cool down at the Telegraph Brewing Company with a refreshing and unique beer. Telegraph crafts their brews in small batches using copper clad equipment with a focus on regional ingredients. The brewery is tucked away in an industrial area, inside a long Quonset hut style building. It’s identified only by a small wooden sign.
Inside, a small bar and communal seating add to the simplistic style. Local art graces the walls. A 20-something crowd sets the laid back vibe. On our visit, my wife, Anita, and I ordered a flight of samples having never been there before. Our choices: Ravena Stout, Prime Meridian, Los Padres Saison, Cipher Key Session Ale and the California Ale. While the beers certainly had unique notes to them and plenty of flavor, I found them a bit watery. The Ravena Stout was memorable, being both creamy and smooth. The Los Padres Saison was everything a farmhouse ale should be: sweet yet sour, with pepper, clove and a hint of lemon.
Address: 418 N Salsipuedes St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103
Stop 3: Taqueria El Buen Gusto
This place is as authentic as it gets. It’s not much to look at, but then again these places are usually the best. Here, it’s all about the food. Inside you’ve got TV en Espanol and a salsa bar that you’ll not soon forget. The al pastor super burrito is well, super; bursting with pork covered in zesty red sauce. The tacos don’t disappoint either . Wash it down with a tamarindo Jarritos or a creamy horchata.
Address: 836 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103
La Super Rica’s down the street is another option. Word has it that Julia Child called it her favorite Mexican restaurant, and we know she has good taste. I haven’t been here in years, (because I’m an idiot) but this turquoise trimmed staple of the Santa Barbara food scene is guaranteed to impress. The frequent line of people out the door indicates good things await inside.
Address: 622 N Milpas St, Santa Barbara, CA 93103
Botanical bliss, local beer and some of the best Mexican food this side of the border; Santa Barbara is the quintessential day trip destination. And then of course there’s the beach, the wine and the glamour. . . if that’s what you’re into.