Looking to bring a global presence to your next meeting without having to fly overseas? 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.
Here are ten creative ways to infuse international flavor into your next event in Santa Barbara.
Horseback riding along unspoiled beaches is a quintessential Baja, Mexico photo op. Los Padres Outfitters recreates this small group activity riding on Summerland Beach. Gentle, well-trained horses led by experienced guides will take your group on a beautiful walking ride along the gentle waves of the Pacific. Pair this seaside exploration with a tequila tasting or Mexican buffet back at your hotel for a memorable afternoon of soft adventure.
With more than 250 wineries in Santa Barbara County, wine tours and events at wineries are a natural fit for groups looking to channel the joie de vivre of France while sipping through the Santa Ynez Valley. 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. Sunstone is just one of many wineries with private event space to bring the beauty of wine country to your offsite excursion or dinner.
An easy 30-mile drive from Santa Barbara, Solvang, the Danish Capital of North America, is a great sightseeing and shopping stop on trips to or from wine country. 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 and restaurants, groups find this stop a charming way to spend a few hours of shopping and exploring.
A sight not to be missed in Santa Barbara is the impressive Spanish Moorish architecture of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and called one of the most beautiful public buildings in the United States, events in the Sunken Gardens or the stunning Mural Room are truly one of a kind. For an afternoon of free time, the historic El Paseo outdoor shopping center, designed to feel like a “Street in Spain,” is especially scenic. Tranquil, bougainvillea lined courtyards appointed with gurgling fountains lead to patio seating areas of the many premium wine tasting rooms on the Urban Wine Trail that now call El Paseo home. Within this special area, officially named The Presidio Neighborhood, a variety of historical and culinary walking tours can be customized for groups to enjoy.
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, groups can delight in authentic tastes of Italy and rousing games of bocce at family-run Arnoldi’s Café founded in 1937 or reserve private dining with superior Sicilian cuisine crafted at Olio e Limone, a local staple since 1999. For free time 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, where groups are always welcome. The Santa Barbara olive tasting or olive oil blending experience also can be created as a wonderful pre-dinner customized group activity at your hotel.
Create a one-of-a-kind wellness activity in the newly renovated Japanese Gardens at Lotusland in Montecito. 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. This 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. Groups visiting Lotusland delight in this iconic Santa Barbara cultural treasure and enjoy the benefits of the Japanese art of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) while soaking up the serenity of the grounds.
Polo has been in existence since 821 A.D., and since winning the first Cup of the Americas in 1928, Argentina has dominated this international sport. Santa Barbara offers a variety of unique and unforgettable venues to host an exhilarating Exhibition Polo Match, followed by a lunch or dinner experience. Whether it’s at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (home to the July 2011 visit by Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge) or at one of Santa Barbara’s several private Polo Estates, guests will experience the Sport of Kings in an awe-inspiring setting.
A gorgeous 150-acre ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley might not look much like England, but it’s home to one of the West’s most famous horse trainers with a close connection to the Royal Family. Monty Roberts is the inspiration behind “The Horse Whisperer” and is known for his non-violent horse training method called “The Join Up”. Experienced horse people, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, have called Monty Roberts’ method incredible and enlisted his training talents. Since 1989 Monty has made annual trips to the Queen’s Royal Stables to work with her horses as a trusted friend. Here in Santa Barbara County, Monty and his artist, equestrienne wife Pat, welcome groups to Flag Is Up Farms for interactive horse training demonstrations followed by delicious meals in Monty’s Cantina Room or on the lawn overlooking the beautiful Santa Ynez horse country. Monty’s message of trust, cooperation, and working together towards common goals will remain with all who spend time with him.
The Channel Islands National Park & Marine Sanctuary located 25 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara has 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. Spending a day at the islands is a unique experience for groups with a full free day for offsite excursions.