Monday, March 13, 2017

Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara was our third stop on a Pacific Coast tour that started in San Francisco, detoured to Monterey, and wound up in Los Angeles. What makes the view different there from those of the other coastal towns we visited is the dominating Santa Ynez mountain range, which serves as a gorgeous backdrop against the palm tree-lined streets and views of the Pacific Ocean.

What to Do

We wanted to do some kayaking while we were in Santa Barbara, and we hired a great tour company called Santa Barbara Adventure Co. to take us around the harbor. (We'd originally wanted to go out to the open water, but a heavy storm the day before prevented us from doing so.) Our guides were very friendly, professional and flexible, accommodating our requests and tailoring the trip to fit our needs.

Cabrillo Boulevard is the main drag in Santa Barbara, and the best way to experience it is by renting bikes from Wheel Fun Rentals and riding along the shoreline bike path. The rental shop has all sorts of kid-friendly biking options, from tag-alongs to surreys.

We made stops with our bikes at Chase Palm Park for the shipwreck-themed playground, duck and turtle pond, and antique carousel; Stearns Wharf for pelican spotting and ice cream; and East Beach for some wave jumping.

Where to Eat

When one is visiting Santa Barbara, one must eat at Brophy Bros. at Santa Barbara Harbor. Not so much for the seafood as for the view. You simply can't beat sitting on that narrow outdoor deck overlooking the sailboats bobbing in the harbor as you enjoy your clam chowder. It's the quintessential SB experience.

For Cal-Mex, many of the locals recommend family-friendly Carlitos in the downtown area (pictured below), which features year-round alfresco dining (warmed by heat lamps in the winter). But our hotel concierge also told us about Romanti-Ezer, which offers Mexican food with an El Salvadorian twist, and it turned out to be a solid recommendation. The milo burrito (with chicken, beans and plantains) is out of this world, and the staff couldn't be nicer.

Our last meal in SB was lunch at Shoreline Beach Cafe, and it turned out to be our favorite. Snag a table right on the beach and let the kids play in the sand while you wait for your fish tacos and burgers to arrive. So relaxing.

What's Nearby

Before rolling into Santa Barbara, we stopped in Solvang, about 40 minutes north. The city was originally settled by Danes and still boasts a Danish flavor in its architecture and landmarks. Case in point: One of the city's major playgrounds, Sunny Fields, resembles a child-sized Danish village and is a wonderland for kids who like to play pretend.

Also in Solvang is a farm called Ostrich Land, which is dedicated to raising dozens of ostriches and emus on open fields. You can feed the big birds using special handled bowls, but tell the kids to hold on tight  the ostriches and emus have a forceful peck and look more than a little intimidating as they approach you (thankfully, you're separated by a wooden fence). The funky gift shop even sells ostrich and emu eggs for cooking up and enjoying at home ($25 each). Yum?

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