With a little creativity and imagination, it is possible to get a travel fix with some international flavor within the borders of the Santa Barbara County lines. To start, Santa Barbara has long been considered “The American Riviera®” given the striking similarities to the French and Italian Rivieras. Between the Mediterranean climate, cuisine and lifestyle, the Spanish-Moorish architecture and the dramatic way the mountains meet the sea, the city gives off a distinctively European vibe.
Whether you’re visiting Santa Barbara on vacation or a local looking for some staycation inspiration, here are 10 ways to channel your inner globetrotter.
The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes have stood in for locales like Egypt and Morocco in many feature films over the decades—dating as far back as The Sheik, a silent picture released in 1921. In 1923, Cecil B. DeMille built the largest movie set in history on these sandy shores for The Ten Commandments, traces of which can still be seen depending on how the wind is blowing. Take a stroll along the remote beaches of the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve and soak up the solitary essence of the mystical landscape that has inspired countless creative visionaries.
Horseback riding along unspoiled beaches is a quintessential Baja, Mexico photo op. Los Padres Outfitters can help you capture a very similar romantic vibe riding into the sunset on the beaches of the South Coast’s own Summerland. Pre-mix mason jars of margaritas in advance or fill your flask with a smoky, sippable mezcal to further channel the flavor of Mexico with a post-ride libation.
With more than 250 wineries in Santa Barbara County and a growing climate that allows a broad diversity of grape varietals to flourish, our winemakers reflect an equally international influence. Spend a day channeling the joie de vivre of France sipping your way through the Santa Ynez Valley—with a designated driver, of course. It’s not hard to pretend you’re in Provençe in the courtyards of Sunstone Vineyards & Winery, which was modeled after the wine estates dotting the French countryside. Make Bordeaux your next destination with a high-end private tasting at Crown Point Vineyards. The winery specializes in cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blends made by a team of esteemed French winemakers.
The Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary located 25 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara have long been considered the “Galapagos of North America.” The comparison is due to the incredible diversity of the marine, animal and plant life as well as the pristine, untouched environment. Read our island-hopping guide to discover the many ways you can channel Charles Darwin as you get acquainted with the more than 100 endemic species only found on the Channel Islands.
An easy 30-mile drive from Santa Barbara proper, Solvang, the Danish Capital of North America, makes a great day trip. The moment you spot the windmills, you’ll feel like you’re in another land. In 1911, the village was settled by Danes whose legacies live on through family-run businesses that still flourish today. From the architecture and attire to the authentic Scandinavian treats served in bakeries like Olsen’s and restaurants like Paula’s Pancake House and Solvang Restaurant, it’s easy to imagine you’re in Copenhagen … or living in a Hans Christian Andersen tale.
Built in the early 1920s, the historic El Paseo outdoor shopping center in downtown Santa Barbara was designed to feel like a “Street in Spain.” Picture yourself in Seville as you wander through its tranquil, bougainvillea lined courtyards appointed with gurgling fountains. Settle into the patio seating areas of the many premium wine tasting rooms that now call El Paseo home and soak up the rich ambiance and you sip vintages from The American Riviera®.
Italian immigrants from the Piedmont and Veneto regions settled in Santa Barbara in the 19th century and left their mark in trades including our dairies, fisheries and stone masonry. Today, you can get the most authentic tastes of Italy through the iconic atmosphere of family-run Arnoldi’s Café founded in 1937 as well as the superior Sicilian cuisine crafted at Olio e Limone, a local staple since 1999. If you want to travel to Umbria to do some souvenir shopping, step into Italian Pottery Outlet, an import shop established by another local Italian family in 1982.
Greece is known for its superior extra virgin olive oils and that tradition has been translated locally by Theo Stephan, the maker behind the Global Gardens range of gourmet oils and vinegars. Theo embraces her Greek heritage and shares her passion for “Caliterranean” cooking with wholesome ingredients at her farm stand and tasting bar in Los Olivos.
Visit the Vedanta Temple in the foothills of Montecito to take a virtual spiritual quest to India. Walk the scenic grounds of the 45-acre property, taking in its sweeping Pacific views. Meditate in the temple, explore the world’s religions in the bookshop or attend one of the weekly talks and services.
Find your Zen in the newly renovated Japanese Gardens at Lotusland in Montecito. Dating back to the late 1960s, the garden was created by one of Ganna Walska’s talented staff gardeners. Frank Fuji, son of Kintsuchi Fujii who designed the famed Japanese Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, was responsible for one of Lotusland’s most revered accomplishments of its time. Over the ensuing decades, he lovingly tended to the garden until his retirement in 2007. The impressive garden recently reopened after a meticulous, two-year restoration project that improved the water clarity in the ponds and made it wheelchair accessible for the first time. Pay a visit and practice the Japanese art of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) while soaking up the serenity of the grounds.