Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Walk in Santa Barbara

California's Most Beautiful City

Two days after this visit one of the local architects I met while there passed away unexpectedly. He spent much of his professional life creating architecture in Santa Barbara. So I dedicate this to Jorge Machin.   

When you ask almost anyone to pick their favorite place in California, people tend to list a city like San Francisco or maybe San Diego. Some might select a general area like Lake Tahoe, The Redwoods, The Wine Country, or Yosemite.

When you change the question and ask them to name California's most beautiful city, then a whole different list emerges. It will usually include Coronado, Carmel, Monterey, Napa, Mendocino, and Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara - America's Riviera

For my money the loveliest of them all is Santa Barbara. It has a great beach, lovely harbor, a superb mediterranean climate, great restaurants, great shops, great cultural amenities, and wonderful examples of mission style and andalusian  architecture.

First inhabited by Chumash Indians and later visited twice by Padre Serra, (once in 1769 and again in 1782 to establish the Presidio and California's most beautiful mission - which was dedicated in 1786.) 

Less than 50 years later the large land tracts secured by Serra and held by the Franciscan Order were distributed to wealthy cattle ranching families commencing California's Rancho period. The rancho period ended about thirty years later when many of those cattle died during a severe drought.

With the construction of Stearn's wharf in 1872, and the development of rail service to Los Angeles and San Francisco around the turn of the century, Santa Barbara was very accessible and development boomed. The discovery of oil locally and a burgeoning motion picture industry furthered the local economy.

Nowadays the area is home to high tech companies, a University of California campus and some of the wealthiest people in North America.

I was lucky enough to spend a day in Santa Barbara this week for business. I was even luckier when my business ended early enough in the day for me to take a two hour walk. I had no agenda and just meandered. Everywhere I ventured was wonderful. 

The first stop was to see the magnificent Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Pronounced the best building in California by no less than architect Charles Moore, this 1929 masterpiece is amazing. Built as a tangible symbol of the rebirth of Santa Barbara from its devastating 1925 earthquake, much of the building blurs the line between indoors and outdoors. It is composed of essentially three parts, its focal point being the lovely understated bell tower (that the public may still visit to enjoy 360° views.)

The Santa Barbara County Courts Building

In a city where land is now sold by the square inch, this building has a huge magnificent open landscaped forecourt.

Looking From the Bell Tower Toward the Sheriff's Wing

Mermaids and Triton Adorn the Building

I stayed at Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort. This property is directly across the street from the beach and is lushly landscaped. It suffers from poor planning, slipshod construction, some very indifferent staff. And, despite room rates that start at $300 per night, its spacious, but very tired rooms, only rate "nice" in my book. I guess location is everything.

An Ocean View From My Room  

Hibiscus Blooming on My Balcony

The beach was wonderfully uncrowded, beautifully open, and very easily accessible. With staffed lifeguard stations, this is a great section of beach for families.  I ventured to the harbor and ate at Brophy's. This busy cafe offers excellent chowder and a (very) lively bar scene.

The Harbor

Uncrowded Beaches

I turned to head up State Street (Downtown's major thoroughfare.) State Street and the blocks extending both directions from it are home to galleries, restaurants, designer boutiques, jewelry stores, and theaters.

Santa Barbara's Shops Cater to Every Taste
From a Rolex to Skin Art

It is also a movable feast for people watching. People move in waves, students, tourists, backpackers, homeless, along with the very well heeled from around the world.

Santa Barbara is famous (or infamous) for its rigid architectural design and development. While the standards make it difficult and excruciatingly expensive to build anything at all, what finally emerges is assured to be lovely and in perfect harmony with Santa Barbara's mission style heritage.

A Detail From the Public Library

Ficus Trees Line Many Streets and
Bougainvillea Vines Adorn Many Buildings 

Much like other California beach communities, the contrast between rich and poor here is profound, panhandling and homelessness are the norm. And, judging by the amazing number of private jets stacked three deep at the airport, many residents here have more money than they will ever need.

Next trip here, I will rent a room in one of the impeccably maintained 1950's era motel's on upper State St. and use the savings to rent a bicycle. Then I'll go for a ride along the coast to the University.

Roadboy's Travels © 2011

PS For those that love the catalog clothing from Santa Barbara's own "The Territory Ahead", There is a retail store and an outlet store on State Street. I'm more of the "Outlet Store" kind of guy. I found a pair of silk and linen slacks, a pair of chinos, and a polo that I really loved. Retail would have been about $240. The Outlet price (including tax) rang out at $56. Roadboy is still smilin.....

Monday, July 4, 2011


A Milestone for Independence Day!

Sometime last night Roadboy's Travels recorded its 10,000th page view.

I know that this is actually a modest number relative to many blogs, but it is a heck of a lot more than I ever dreamed of when I started it!

So I wanted to offer my sincere thanks everyone that has ever visited!

All the best from Roadboy!

Roadboy's Travel's © 2011