Stunning Santa Barbara, California and the Endless Summer Cafe - yahoo!
SANTA BARBARA – Some folks call this the American Riviera.
I don’t think a region as glorious as this needs that kind of hyperbole, but it’s easy to see how some real estate/marketing person came up with the notion.
A mere 90 minutes or so northwest of busy (and then some) Los Angeles, this is a town with the Pacific Ocean on its front porch and a rare, east-west range of dramatic mountains that rise up nearly 4,000 feet to protect the city’s backside.
Due to a 1925 earthquake and some ensuing foresight from city planners, all buildings have Spanish revival-style tile roofs and none are allowed to rise more than three storeys, save the glorious, Moorish-influenced courthouse and maybe the old Spanish mission that sits high on a dusty hill.
The shopping is terrific, and there’s said to be some 600-plus restaurants for a mere 100,000 people, plus a couple hundred other thousand folks who cling to the coastline on either side of the city proper.
Just to make people truly crazy, the fabulous Santa Barbara wine region is only a half-hour away, up and over the rocky hills and scattered mostly in the Santa Ynez Valley. The Pinot Noir is to die for, as any fan of the movie Sideways would know, and they also make excellent Chardonnay and some decent Sauvignon Blanc, plus excellent Syrah that’s a perfect blend of old world French and new world Australian styles.
Then, of course, there’s the Pacific Ocean. Notwithstanding the water here is damned cold even in the heat of summer (California’s waters are fed by the Alaska Current), it’s a fabulous beach town, with acres of soft sand and row upon row of towering Phoenix Palm trees rising into the sky along the main road that fronts the beach. Stearns Wharf pokes its way several hundred meters into the green-blue Pacific, with a half-dozen small restaurants and some shops and even a wine-tasting spot. My favourite part was simply watching young kids tossing out a line into the water from the south end of the wharf. One of them wore a black t-shirt with the words “Shut Up And Fish” on it.
For $4 you can catch a small ferry boat called Little Toot that takes you out past a buoy that’s home to a half-dozen sea lions basking in the sun, and then over to a beautiful harbour just a little bit north.
I was scheduled to have lunch at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill, but was gobsmacked to find that the lower level, which is the only part open for lunch, actually is called The Endless Summer Bar-Café. For those unaware, The Endless Summer is easily the best surf movie ever made, although I have a fondness for the cheesy Ride The Wild Surf mostly because of the beautiful people and excellent Jan and Dean soundtrack. Anyway, it’s an awesome movie that also has THE BEST MOVIE POSTER in history, and they’re cleverly re-created the poster on napkins and on the menu, which caused me no end to delight as I have at least three t-shirts with the logo on them at home, plus the poster in my basement.
The food’s quite good; I tasted some excellent calamari with a jalapeno yogurt dipping sauce, some lovely fish tacos with killer-spicy fresh salsa and locally brewed Firestone Blonde Ale.
They have great views out over the glistening boats in the harbour, which is said to be one of the most expensive marine real estate spots in California. And there’s a great bar upstairs with surf memorabilia and such, plus killer views while you watch Sunday NFL football.
The town, as I said, is exquisite. Many folks take the elevator to the fourth floor of the courthouse and walk up a dozen steps for glorious views out towards the ocean and up to the mountains.
They had a big festival to celebrate The Day of the Dead on Sunday, with Mexican dancing and all. Saturday night and Monday night featured plenty of great costumes up and down State Street, the main drag.
Kudos to the folks at Wine Cask restaurant, where they have a great menu (fabulous diver scallops) and serve food in a lovely courtyard covered by white canvas to hold in the heat, and also at Olio e Limone, which has some of the best pasta you’ll ever find anywhere, including an amazingly rich duck ravioli with porcini mushroom crème sauce.
There are tons of small hotels with wonderful beach views. I was lucky enough to stay at the Four Seasons Biltmore just south of town, and more on that tomorrow.