SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA - This drop-dead-gorgeous city in southern California already has endless beaches, bountiful sunshine, urban wineries selling delicious local wines and killer restaurants featuring a huge array of local cuisine.
Now they’re working on a permanent, new market complex that should open next year, one that could rival Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market or the wild and wonderful Pike’s Place in Seattle.
It’s just not fair that an area that already has such natural beauty and can probably make almost everything except maple syrup is kicking it up a notch like that, but nobody ever said tourism was fair.
A visitor who grew up in California really shouldn’t slobber and drool when he visits Santa Barbara, but I honestly can’t help it. For my money, it’s one of the great destinations of North America.
There’s a main street, State, where they have everything from casual Mexican eateries with fine patios such as Carlito's to high-end men’s and women’s shops to fine coffee joints. The road rises from the city’s front door, which happens to be the Pacific Ocean, up into dry but beautiful hills with stately homes overlooking the deep blue sea, and they have an open air bus that takes you up and down the street for just 50 cents.
They also have a bus that runs along the coast and will take you to the zoo or the airport, not that you’d ever want to leave this place.
The town (I hate calling it a city as it in no way resembles one) pier is called Stearn’s Wharf and features a winery and several restaurants, plus the usual souvenir shops. The views up to the rugged mountains that flank the town’s backside are spectacular, as are the views up and down the southern Calfornia coast and out to the so-close-you-can-almost-touch-them Channel Islands.
The flowers of Santa Barbara are spectacular; bright, sunny bougainvillea and deep orange and blue birds of paradise and deep pink cyclamen and more. And, other than warehouse-like buildings in an area between the beach and downtown called the Funk Zone, it’s all topped by brilliant white buildings topped with mandatory red tile roofs; making the place a bit of a challenge to builders and restoration folks but giving it an undeniable, Spanish-style charm I find irresistible.
If I had to choose one place I could retire to, this would probably be it. They get plenty of sunshine; a ridiculous amount to be more accurate. But it seldom gets super hot. And it never gets really cold by Canadian standards, a cool day in these parts in January possibly meaning in the near freezing overnight but more than likely with winter daytime highs ranging from 16 to 20.
We tasted some fine Syrah and Chardonnay and other varieties at Santa Barbara winery in the Funk Zone (see photo), which also sells olive oils and such goodies as fine crackers and Chocolate Zinfandel sauce. A bit further away is Jaffurs, where they do some really luscious syrahs and other Rhone varietals. It’s a small spot where there are no frills; just a large garage-like room with tanks and some bottles on display, plus a few surfboards that belong to the owner and are displayed high on a wall.
We were treated to an utterly fabulous dinner at Bouchon on Victoria St., just off State and across from where that new market is going in. We had a great tasting of local wines to go with tasty mains of duck breast and duck confit (huge portions, by the way) on a base of corn, fava beans, applewood smoked bacon and squash, as well as sea bass with a lovely risotto. We also had perfectly ripe, local heirloom tomatoes and a forest mushroom ragout to start. Yum.
The wait staff is outstanding; friendly without being in-your-face. And Amy, one of the owners, couldn’t be more friendly and engaging.
Chuck’s Waterfront Grill, a 10 minute walk along the beach and coast from the wharf, has good fish tacos and great views of the city’s main marina. Not to mention an array of t-shirts celebrating the movie The Endless Summer, which I personally cannot get enough of each time I visit.
There’s plenty new down in the Funk Zone area (I hate the name but there you go), including The Lark guitar bar on Anacapa St. and the Lucky Penny, right next door with a wall coated in thousands of pennies and, they say, great pizza. I didn’t get a chance to try either but they both have a bit of an Ossington Ave. look to them; very chic and, well, funky.
We also had a great room at the Harbor View Inn, right on the main road that runs along the ocean. It's a pretty spot, very Spanish looking, and it's a 10-second walk to the beach. We had a wonderful room with a big balcony and large bathroom with a huge tub and shower and lots of space, plus an espresso machine and mini-bar and a nice TV and plenty of local artwork to brighten things up. A terrific location that's right across from the wharf and a block from great wineries and restaurants. Highly recommended.
I didn’t know this, but they have direct flights to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles (a 90-minute drive away), San Francisco (about six hours driving), Portland, Seattle, Denver and Phoenix.
I didn’t see it but the airport is apparently quite cute. Michelle Rodriguez of the tourism board told me over breakfast that she lives 10 minutes from the airport and recently woke up 15 minutes prior to her flight.
“I had time to drive down, park my car, go through security and even got a coffee before I got on board,” she told me with a laugh.
ALLEGIANT AIR SALE
Allegiant Air has released a preview of doorbuster fares for both U.S. Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. The company, known for its every day exceptional travel deals, is taking a cue from brick and mortar retailers, offering for the first time exclusive doorbusters on airfare, as well as great deals on hotels, rental cars and attractions.
"Our customers love a great deal, so we've decided to give them something special," said Rich Winiarski, Allegiant Travel Company Vice President of Marketing. "We are excited to offer travellers even more ways to save on flight, hotels and vacations with our exceptional U.S. Thanksgiving doorbuster sales and deep Cyber Monday discounts. This will be our biggest sale ever."
U.S. Thanksgiving Doorbusters - Beginning at 5 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013 Allegiant will offer $30* one way fares on select routes. Only 60 seats available for $30* one way on select routes. Only available at Allegiant.com.
Cyber Monday Sale - Beginning at 5 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, Allegiant will offer fares as low as $59* one way on select routes. Deep Cyber Monday discounts can save travellers up to 30 percent. Only available Allegiant.com.
Other Cyber Monday Deals
Allegiant's exclusive Cyber Monday deals will include dozens of vacation specials including free nights, free upgrades, and free meals at participating hotels in Hawaii, Florida, Las Vegas and Arizona. Allegiant customers can save with free double car class upgrades at Allegiant's Alamo locations nationwide.
Allegiant is the hometown airline of over 101 communities, providing low-cost, convenient air service to top vacation destinations such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Hawaii. They fly out of cities just south of the Canadian border including; Niagara Falls, Bellingham Washington, Plattsburgh New York and more.
FROM BLACK FRIDAY TO TANGERINE SATURDAY
Canadians are getting more and more into the U.S. Thanksgiving sale business. Aeroplan on Saturday will hold what it's calling Tangerine Saturday, with double the points for all CIBC Aeroplan card holders on retail purchases such as gasoline, groceries and more. A good deal, for sure.
Meanwhile, the new Toronto Premium Outlets in Halton Hills, Ontario will hold its first annual Black Friday sale this week, with "deep savings and festive touches" for shoppers. The centre is open Friday, November 29 from 10 a.m. to midnight, on Saturday Nov. 30 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.(yikes) and Sunday December 1 from 9am to 9pm.
RAISING THE WOOF: UPSCALE DOG SPAS IN CANADA
Man's best friend can now live in the lap of ultimate comfort in Canada.
Pawdicures, shampoos, specialty gourmet treats, open play and naptime are just some of the features of Dogtopia, a leading dog daycare and spa enterprise that is expanding to five provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.
More than one-third of Canadian households include a dog, according to Statistics Canada, and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada estimates pet lovers spent $6.5 billion on their animals in 2012.
"Canadians adore their dogs and want to give them the best care possible, which is why services such as those provided by Dogtopia are in high demand across the country," says Amy Nichols, Dogtopia's CEO and founder.
Nichols aims to add more than 400 franchises during the next seven years, with 35 of them planned for Canada. The company recorded sales of over $14 million (U.S.) in 2012.