Transformative Travel

Inspired by our keynote speaker, accomplished author Cheryl Strayed, we curated a collection of anecdotes about how local businesses have played a role in creating a transformative journey for our Santa Barbara visitors. Please read on to learn more about some of those special encounters.


The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara

Natalie Reardon, Communications Manager

“Early one Sunday morning Maryam Kaissi from our guest relations department received an email from a guest who had been evacuated by the Woolsey Fire in our neighboring community in Thousand Oaks and Malibu. He was to be married that Friday, but the church where his ceremony was supposed to have taken place was destroyed in the fires. The reception site had been reduced to rubble. He and his fiancée had been evacuated from their home, and they were retreating to the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara. He emailed to inquire if there was any way they could exchange their vows at the resort. The fires may have taken the chapel and reception location, but their love could not be wavered by this disaster.

Maryam quickly reached out to Tony Lytle, Banquet Director, to see what we could arrange with such short notice. Tony contacted the groom and assured him every detail would be taken care of by the ladies and gentlemen of the resort. Tony happened to be ordained and was even available to officiate the wedding. Tony enlisted the assistance of Soraida Castaneda and Allison Kirsten in the Spa and Salon and set up an appointment for hair and makeup for the bride. Jonothon Pereira and Evangelina Taho in Pastry quickly created a wedding cake. Maryam, Nox Ncube, and Marie Donahue from guest relations arranged for a wedding bouquet and wedding ceremony arch from a local florist. Omar Torres and German Macedo from banquets set the space and built the arch on the bluff overlooking the ocean for their ceremony. At sunset that same day, the couple was married. Evangelina from pastry even served as a DJ and played the brides favorite song for the wedding procession and the couple danced to their first song after the ceremony concluded. Tony served as best man and gave a speech, and Nox caught the bouquet. After the couple cut the cake the groom declared: “I wish I could take a snapshot of your kindness and share it with the world. If the world was more like you, it would be a better place.” Chef Alex from the resort’s signature restaurant, Angel Oak, prepared a special dinner for the bride and groom after the ceremony.

The ladies and gentlemen who all assisted with this miracle wedding had an enlarged photo from the ceremony framed, and they all signed it and gave it to the couple at turn-down as their registry book. To add a final touch, Michele Ly, banquet concierge put together a video with the songs played at the wedding and photos from the special day that she captured throughout the ceremony.”

Santa Barbara Adventure Company

Pablo Challot, Surf Instructor

“Working my first year at the Santa Barbara Adventure Company I was scheduled to do a very special surf lesson. Before my departure to the beach my office managers had mentioned that this couple who had booked the surf lesson was a blind couple. Feeling comfortable with my experience as a surf instructor with many forms of people, I saw this as another opportunity to grow and learn from. I was excited to do this lesson, a blind surf lesson. When the day came, I walked over to introduce myself and the woman eagerly expressed, “I’ve always wanted to do this, this is my first time surfing.” I helped them cross the rail road tracks to get to the beach and kept them close by so they could recognize and memorize my voice. First, I had to suit them up and get them ready for their lesson. I explained how to put on a wetsuit and gave them their fitted suits. Next, we got together to do a surfing safety talk. As soon as I started, I took a step back and realized they were not going to be able to see what I was doing or what I was talking about. I took it slow and had to conceptualize a new way to teach someone how to surf when their vision was fully impaired. I closed my eyes so I too could hear and feel what I was doing. I got them to feel the parts of the surfboard, made them realized where the sweet spot on the surfboard is, and did my best to explain all the mechanics of surfing with my eyes closed.

We talked about the ocean, what it is going to feel like, and what we are going to do if we fall. Not being able to see, I expressed to them that we must cover our head whenever we fall off our surfboard. Excited to hit the water, we started to walk towards the shore. I kept a close eye on them and helped them get cozy on their tummies in waist deep water. Luckily, it was a very small day with not much swell and they were able to get out past the break without any issues. I told them that small waves were coming and that they would boogie down to the beach so the could get a feel for the momentum of surfing. They had the biggest smiles on their faces because they knew they would be doing something they have never done before, surf.

They rode most of their waves on their tummies for the majority of the lesson and were so delighted from the speed they would get when the waves would push them to shore. To keep them safe I would body surf in towards the beach to make sure they made it back out safe to the break. It was the most exciting thing to witness when they would want to do it over and over again. We surfed for four hours straight. The couple would surf in different variations. On their knees, tummy, one leg up, a solid pop-up here and there all with a big smile on their faces. The day was warm, the day was beautiful, and this couple was having the time of their lives. I could not have asked for happier and positive students in the water. The wife had expressed to me that wiping out was her favorite part. This surf lesson will forever be ingrained in my memory. Every now and then I think of this couple whenever someone poses the question of the ‘coolest’ or ‘hardest’ surf lesson I have ever done. People forget how easy some of us have it to be fully competent with our senses. To be able to wake up and see, taste, hear, feel, smell, talk and walk is a blessing. I thank this couple for teaching and reminding me that surfing is about having fun, wiping out, and going far out.”

Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Emilie Plouchart, Director of Public Relations

“During the destination’s rainy season, we had some very influential guests and their children stay with us at the resort. The kids wanted to play outside and were sad about all the rain. Our team decided to turn it around by offering the kids umbrellas and a magical day around the property. The kids were asked to sight see, do their best cannonball in the pool, go behind the scenes with our Executive Chef and make cupcakes – rain and all. We turned a dark rainy trip into an exciting adventure and our little guests were thrilled. They’ve since asked to come back, but only when it rains.”

Ganna Walska Lotusland

Bob Craig, Director of Marketing

“An elderly gentleman was visiting Lotusland and he told us as a child he traveled with his mother in their pick up truck through the desert in the 1950s collecting cactus that she would sell to Ganna Walska, the creator of Lotusland. The story was a gem. The archives had records of these transactions, but the first hand account was wonderful. He was brought to tears when we took him to the cactus garden to show him the specimens that had been acquired more than 60 years prior.”

Santa Barbara Sailing Center

Santa Barbara Sailing Center Staff

“Skip Abed and his team at the Santa Barbara Sailing Center are extremely committed to getting people on the water. There are no limits to who can learn how to sail and the dedication Skip has to ensuring access to the water and the freedom of sailing which is a commitment he holds very dear to his heart. From finding a place on the boat to strap down a wheelchair, to providing specialty rigging for a quadriplegic in order to steer the boat with their chin, these are just a few examples of the commitment that Skip has to sailing. One particular story that Skip likes to tell is about a family that came down to the Sailing Center to take sailing classes. Skip watched the family come down and go out while the mother sat on the bench overlooking the Sailing Center while her family enjoyed their time on the water. After a couple of days of Skip observing the mother sitting by herself patiently, Skip went up to her to speak with her and noticed that she was blind. He said to her, “Would you like to go sailing?” She declined thinking it was not something in which she could participate. Skip gently encouraged her and said, “Come on, let’s go for sail.” As he guided her through the waters of the harbor, the mother said, “I can hear the waves lapping up against the hull of the boat we are approaching.” Skip said, “That’s right, it’s time to tack.”  As they came about, Skip could see the mother’s family coming toward them. As they were sailing along and approaching her family’s boat, Skip said, “Hear the boat coming toward us? Wave to your family!” The smile on the mother’s face and the surprise her family experienced when they saw their Mom at the helm was a moment of joy. This is the ultimate example that confirms Skip’s passion for getting people on the water and experiencing that sense of freedom.”

Santa Barbara Historical Museum

Dacia Harwood, Deputy Director

“We love to tell our visitors how special Santa Barbara’s history is. From our glamorous film era in the early 1900s, the beginnings of Old Spanish Days Fiesta, to conversations about the adoption of our Spanish Revival architecture in the 1920s, and all the way to today. Our city’s passionate, generous residents have always cared deeply …and it shows! One of the comments that Museum guests use most to describe our tour docents is “excited.” Our visitors are given a glimpse into what we hold dear — our stunning waterfront, the exquisite details of our downtown buildings, our immense cultural offerings… our history.”

Santa Barbara Adventure Company

John Bridley, Channel Islands Lead Kayak Guide

“I had a group of clients that included a dad and his nine year-old son. As we enter Seal Beach Cave I always challenge my clients to see if they can paddle through the side cave pinnacle without touching their kayak, paddle or hands on the walls of the cave… If they do I always offer a gold star which I of course don’t carry or have with me or expect to have to hand out….. Well all of the group enters and does not succeed except Ben and his dad. At least that’s what he said. He paddles straight over and states, “John we did it,” beaming with pride…. I congratulate them and tell him to check with me after the tour about the gold star, assuming that he will most likely forget. Well the tour is complete, we are all changing clothes and Ben finds me at the guide site and tugs on my sleeve and asks where is his gold star??? Now in full panic I search out for the prize… which of course I don’t have. Reaching for my business card I quickly draw a “star” on the yellow kayak depicted and Ben’s name, with arrows indicating his reward for successfully going through the side cave. Ben is elated and I am relieved and now thinking about ordering gold stars for my next trip….. Later that same evening I helped load items on the return ferry and see Ben standing on the bow of the boat. I shout out to him thanks for coming and paddling with us today and to come back again….. He quickly reaches into his front shirt pocket and pulls out his “gold star” card and waves it to me…. It brought tears to my eyes and I am thinking he will never forget his sea cave experience and likely have that gold star for a long time. I know I won’t forget the experience and the look on Ben’s face. There you have it, still brings a smile to my face.”

The Kimpton Canary

Ben Thiele, General Manager

“Santa Barbara has long protected their Spanish Colonial heritage as well as celebrated the history of this Californian central coast destination. The Kimpton Canary, through its design, decor and programming, brings to life the upscale experiences one desires when visiting the white stuccoed haven nestled up against the Santa Ynez Mountains. From day one it has been in Kimpton’s DNA to honor each city’s past/present story. We’re proud to be aligned with the Santa Barbara community while we continue to evolve our story as a premier destination for those looking to experience the American Riviera.”

Santa Barbara Adventure Company

Michael Cohen, President

“I started leading kayaking tours over 20 years ago out of my garage and it has been incredible to watch the company we have turned in to today – now the sole concessionaire at Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park and leading guests all over the state for captivating experiences. However, what most sticks out to me is the incredible wildlife interactions. Our guests get up-close, unparalleled viewing opportunities (and feelings) while kayaking in the Channel Islands and along the Santa Barbara coastline. A few years ago in the spring, while kayaking, we were admiring the incredible grey whale migration. All of the creatures came up to our kayaks very close, and it felt like they were looking into the eyes of each guest, creating memories that will last a lifetime. Right before departing, one breached right next to one guest so close they had to back-paddle away slowly – as if to say “see you next time.” Another time with a group of kids on an outdoor education trip, a family of migrating gray whales swam right underneath our kayaks, so close, and in such clear water we could see every marking on their body. As they swam peacefully away, I looked around to see a spark (and even some happy tears) in every child’s eyes.”

Santa Barbara MTD

Hillary Blackerby, Interim Planning & Marketing Manager

“For over 27 years we have provided an electric shuttle for visitors and residents to experience Santa Barbara’s waterfront and downtown. Enjoying our town car-free and care-free is a delightful way to unwind and soak up the magic of the American Riviera.”

Santa Barbara Sailing Center

Arianna Kamp, Business Development Specialist

“The sea air carries you away from it all… setting sail is the quintessential Santa Barbara activity and is like saltwater therapy! Our crew has the pleasure of hosting proposals, team-building events, birthdays, and celebrations at sea every day. For over 50 years we have been sharing the sailing love and lifestyle with locals and visitors from all over the world.”

Destination Vine

Melanie Castriotta-Pinske, Co-Founder

“We have been doing exclusive wine tours in Santa Barbara Wine Country for over 4 years and have had the most wonderful and interesting clients, each one unique and memorable! We take great pride in personally curating every tour based on our clients needs and desires and have been told on more than one occasion that “it was the best day of their lives”….The most unforgettable tour was several years ago on Thanksgiving weekend, we were asked by a young man from Texas to video tape his surprise marriage proposal to his girlfriend in the vineyards. I picked them up and whisked them up to Santa Ynez to create this life changing moment

for them! The wedding proposal took place at our second winery, I followed them out to the vineyards that were already harvested and golden in color and had started the video camera as I walked behind them. His girlfriend was in shock when he stopped, turned to her and got down on one knee, I myself teared up at the sight, it was so touching and romantic! Thankfully she said yes and the two of them were so happy and radiant, they told me all about how they met and their plans for their future together! They will never forget their trip to Santa Barbara and how it changed their lives and plan to come back often to celebrate many momentous occasions!”

Santa Barbara Adventure Company

Laird Riddell, Field Coordinator

“This was a memorable trip for me. It was an Adventure Tour but everyone in the group bailed at the halfway point except this guy. He was big, too; had a double rigged as a single. It was just the two of us so it was really relaxed and we were able to “bro down”. We did the east side and were able to check out a few of the caves, including Boat Wreck. This can be a challenging cave but he did it. I knew he enjoyed the trip but didn’t realize what it really meant to him until I read this review later. I often point to this as an example to teach new guides to take every trip seriously; even if it’s your hundredth, it’s probably their one and only. ‘I was part of a group of wounded warriors that utilized your company to take us surfing, paddle boarding, and sea kayaking. The guides were amazing! Patient, knowledgeable, friendly, and willing to earn our trust. These guys adapted to our given injuries and found a way to make it happen, without pressure or frustration. The special part for me was the kayaking. It was outside my comfort zone and I struggle with my confidence and fear since Iraq. Laird helped me regain that. He challenged me and took me into caves that I would have never imagined I could do. He was so knowledgeable about the ecosystem and really everything. I trusted what he was telling me to do in order to make it through the cave. I don’t really trust anyone, so that was HUGE! Truly an amazing week. For me, though, that day of kayaking was truly a day of growth and a step to healing. Thank you, truly.’ –Joe Qualls, US Army”