Mellowing Out

In Santa Barbara

By Don Mankin

From the Wharf we headed up State Street, which runs through the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. State Street is lined with bars, restaurants, an axe-throwing emporium (!), and a couple of spas. We passed on the axe-throwing but treated our weary feet to an excellent massage at the Little Rainbow Foot Spa.

The next morning, I borrowed a bike from the inn and headed out on an hour-long, mostly flat bike ride along the Cabrillo Bike Path to Butterfly Beach in Montecito. I didn’t see any butterflies, but I did pass

a bird refuge on the way. It was a relaxing way to start the day, as if I needed anything else to mellow me out.

My mellow meter went through the roof on our last morning. My favorite activity of the trip was a two-hour kayak paddle off the Goleta coast, just north of Santa Barbara, run by the Santa Barbara Adventure Company. This section of the coast is relatively undeveloped, so the views were epic, including many pelicans and cormorants.

Eating, drinking and shopping

Food options abound in Santa Barbara from funky taco stands to elegant fine dining. The two cuisines that dominate the culinary scene are Mexican and seafood, not surprising given the Southern California city’s location on the ocean. We indulged in both.

Our first meal — a pound of mussels, a pound of clams and a large crab — was at Moby Dick’s on Stearns Wharf, with views of the harbor as we chowed down. Our last meal featured outstanding local fare with a Mexican twist at La Paloma Café, located downtown.

The culinary highlight of our visit was a wine tasting in the historic Presidio section of the city, near State Street. The Santa Ynez Valley, just a short, scenic drive over the mountains, is home to excellent wineries and vineyards.

One can drive from one to another in the Valley or walk a few yards from one tasting room to another in the city. The wines rival those of Europe, particularly when sipped amid beautiful outdoor patios, cobblestone pathways, and historic Spanish Colonial and Mission-style buildings.

We visited two tasting rooms: Jamie Slone, which included a chocolate pairing, is in the historic El Paseo, one of California’s oldest shopping centers, and Grassini’s which serves its wines in a quiet, secluded outdoor patio. The vibe, as well as many of the wines, was very chill.

After the tastings, we were able to walk (stagger, weave?) just three blocks to the La Paloma Café for dinner. If so inclined, we could have walked another block or two to State Street, but we declined the opportunity to hurl an axe at a wall.

History and culture

Besides the beach, the Wharf and the Presidio, we also checked out a few of the other sites that make Santa Barbara a great place to visit. Among our favorite historic places was the Santa Barbara Courthouse, built in 1929 in Spanish Colonial style with a distinctive clock tower, red-tile roof and lush grounds. The clock tower offers a 360-degree view of the city, ocean, and mountains.

We also visited the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden with many trails winding through 76 acres of native plants, including a grove of redwoods; and the historic Santa Barbara Mission, established in 1786, which includes a museum, historic gardens, cemetery and mausoleum.

Much more to see and do

If we had more time, we would have explored other nearby destinations. Montecito, a ritzy town just outside Santa Barbara, is home to lavish estates and celebrities so famous that only a first name need suffice (Oprah, Ellen, Meghan and Harry).

The Santa Ynez Valley, as noted earlier, is home to several wineries as well as quaint, small towns and a former stagecoach stop, now restaurant and rowdy, rock ‘n’ roll ranch house. The Valley is also home to many celebrities, past and present, including Ronald Reagan’s ranch and Michael Jackson’s Neverland.

The views of Santa Barbara, the ocean and the Channel Islands in the distance are spectacular from Highway 154 as it passes over the San Marcos Pass and descends back into Santa Barbara.

The Channel Islands are one of the newest additions to the U.S. National Park system. Two of those islands, Anacapa and Santa Cruz, are only a one-hour boat ride away from Santa Barbara.

Dolphins are often spotted from the boats, and (very) occasionally you might even catch a glimpse of a whale. You can hike on Santa Cruz as well as take a sea cave kayak tour run by the Santa Barbara Adventure Company.

So, find out for yourself why this city and the region surrounding it is the most desired place to live for millions of travelers. A short trip here is guaranteed to mellow you out.


Don and Katherine were hosted on this trip by Visit Santa Barbara. To read more stories by Don, go to and click on Articles.

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