Santa Barbara | California

Here, the fluid fingers of the ocean gently brush against the feet of mountains. Here, two beloved worlds merge into one, and cradle me between their folds. Here, a sigh of relief escapes, as a gentle breath whispers peace into desperate, wanting hearts.

Santa Barbara first implanted itself into my life during that oh-so-wonderful time of college applications. Two schools drew my attention there: one along the coast, and the other in a forest atop a mountain. Since then, it has remained a “place” closest to the feeling of home that I have yet known. I say “place,” which seems an inadequate word to describe something where everything somehow aligns into a perfect fit–where I can without reservation say, “I belong.”

Sadly, neither of those schools made it into the Grand Plan for my life, but I still nurture an inexplicable love for the city they introduced me to. Michael and I have made a trip up to this place every year since we first began dating, and he too has cultivated a loving relationship with it. It has now woven its way seamlessly into our family traditions as though it had always reserved a space for itself there.

Our Lodgings:

  • Best Western Plus: South Coast Inn: Close to downtown Santa Barbara, but far enough to be a quiet place to return to at the end of the day. The beautiful garden gracing its grounds, and complementary full breakfast [read: bacon] make this our go-to place to stay while we’re here.

Recommended Stops:

  • Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens: For $12 admission, you can explore this gorgeous, huge garden for as long as you want. Spring is the best time to visit, as more flowers will be in bloom. This is one of my favorite places..ever.
  • Circle Bar B Horseback Riding: We did the 1.5 hour ride [$65/person], which led us up the mountain trail to a breathtaking view of the sun setting over the valley. This is rather a difficult ride, since it goes up and down quite a lot, so..plan to be stiff and sore afterwards [it’s worth it]. Reservations required.
  • Red Tile Walking Tour: This self-guided tour is great if you are visiting for the first time. It takes you through some notable stops in downtown Santa Barbara. Take your time. There are many adorable shops along the way.
  • Paper Source: Is it just me, or does everybody else find it hard to resist adorable stationary stores? As a person severely lacking in the creativity department, this place has an odd way of bringing out that nonexistent side of me.
  • Chaucer’s Bookstore: I just love bookstores..While you’re in this plaza, you can also savor French pastries at Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro [the almond croissants are divine].

Good Eats:

  • Tupelo Junction Cafe: We came here on a whim during our first day trip [yes, we were crazy to drive eight hours round-trip], and can’t seem to bring ourselves to try any other brunch place.
  • Bouchon: All you need for a posh, fine dining experience.
  • Handlebar Coffee Roasters: Leave it to Santa Barbara to have such a unique mesh of two completely different things. Coffee and bikes–who’d’ve thunk?

Downtown Santa Barbara fully decked out during Christmas-time

Stearns Wharf

A ranch in the middle of nowhere. Besides horseback riding, it also offers lodgings, making it a perfect getaway.