Savor Santa Barbara

Our to-do list was long. We wanted to hike, rent kayaks, take a sunset cruise, see the botanical gardens, walk Stearns Wharf, eat about a million great meals, shop, check out the Funk Zone, and do a little wine tasting in nearby Santa Ynez. The fact that my husband and I only had 48 hours in Santa Barbara, or that we arrived as bleary-eyed parents on our first kid-free weekend in two years, did not diminish our ambition.

Despite the siren’s call of the enormous canopied bed in our room at the newly renovated Canary Hotel, we managed to check in and head out—easy as that, with no diaper bags or Snack Traps to worry about.

The Canary is right downtown. In another city this might mean honking horns and endless bustle. In Santa Barbara it means blocks of classic California-Spanish architecture, bougainvillea on steroids, and strolls down State Street spent window-shopping (me: clothes, husband: pastries).

Once we had gotten the lay of the land, we set out for the water. Before dinner that night at the Four Seasons Biltmore, we took a walk on Butterfly Beach, hoping to catch a sunset and possibly a celebrity sighting (word is, this is the place). Sunset? Check. But Oprah was a no-show.

We made it to the patio at the Bella Vista with just a minute of daylight left and discovered two more great things about Santa Barbara: 1) you can show up for dinner at one of the most gorgeous and venerable resorts in town still brushing the sand off your feet and no one looks twice, and 2) your waiter might give you a tip about a taco shack that will totally rearrange your to-do list. On Saturday we slept until nine, which is the parental equivalent of noon. After breakfast at Tupelo Junction we ambled over to the farmers’ market for what we thought would be a quick look-see but turned out to be an epic shopping trip. It is nearly impossible to walk among such bounty—fragrant basil, avocado honey, beets the color of mai tais—and not buy.

Once our loot was stashed in the minibar, it was time to do something non-food-oriented before, um, lunch. The Upper Hot Springs Trail led us into the hills of Montecito and so close to the palatial mansions there that we felt like trespassers.  Once we’d passed the manicured grounds and gigantic houses, it was up into the hills for spectacular panoramic views.

All of which is to say that we earned our trip to La Super Rica, a deservedly beloved taco shack recognizable by the line out the door, the smell of roasted pork in the air, and the aqua paint job. Two words: homemade tortillas.

The afternoon was devoted to Santa Barbara’s answer to urban renewal. We decided to walk (please see day’s caloric intake so far) to the Funk Zone, where red tile roofs give way to warehouses filled with galleries, cafes, and surfboard shapers. But let’s be honest, we’d come for the wine. We stopped at Cellar 205, a wine-making cooperative and tasting room in a former tire shop, where you can sip boutique wines made from the county’s famous grapes. When we shut the place down (OK, it was only 5 p.m.) it was back under 101 to our hotel to get ready for yet another meal.

The fish-focused Seagrass, on an unassuming corner a few blocks from busy State Street, has an innovative seafood menu developed with local pinot noir in mind. Our Russian River sturgeon and the Alma Rosa pinot from the nearby Santa Rita Hills made an absolutely perfect couple.

We meant to stop at Eos Lounge (we’d heard rumors of organic “culinary” cocktails). Alas, we were done in by too much good food, too much good wine and the temptation of another really good night’s sleep in that extraordinary Canary bed, which is not such a bad thing for a weekend away.

The only problem? We had barely made a dent in our to-do list. We missed seeing the newly renovated ’20s-era Granada Theater; we never made that sunset sail or managed to rent kayaks for a harbor paddle. We failed to take in wine country or brunch overlooking the bird refuge at Stella Mare’s. We totally neglected the botanical gardens. In fact, we let a whole weekend’s worth of fun pass us by. Which just means we’ll have to come back soon.

Where to Eat

This downtown fish-focused restaurant is elegant without being stiff. The Russian River sturgeon and the Alma Rosa pinot from the nearby Santa Rita Hills made an absolutely perfect couple. 30 East Ortega St., 805.963.1012 or

Tupelo Junction
Super popular, so make a reservation, especially if you plan to sleep in. It’s worth it for the new takes on classic breakfast dishes, like a pumpkin oatmeal waffle with caramelized bananas or the chicken, andouille sausage and sweet corn hash with poached eggs and homemade barbecue sauce. You’re on vacation, so just do yourself a favor and get the cinnamon apple beignets to start. 1218 State St., 805.899.3100,

La Super Rica
You’ll know you’ve arrived at this deservedly beloved taco shack by the line awaiting patrons, the smell of roasted pork, and the aqua paint job. We were tipped off by our waiter at the Four Seasons, who told us about the handmade tortillas and encouraged us to order the special—a concoction of roasted pasilla chiles, melted cheese and spicy pork adobada. Yum! 622 N. Milpas St., 805.963.4940