Santa Barbara

santa barbara.

[spotlight series. nic george | lindsey ross | andrew elialinnea villegas]

[santa barbara soundtrack. sugar man]

Santa Barbara. A place of perfect, idyllic beauty - nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean – and the place that became my home for a big chunk of 2013. The eternal sunlight, the endless blue sky, the starry nights, the beaches, the mountains…the seamless harmony and perfection. This is what draws people here…but it’s the people themselves, that keep them here, and keep them coming back. A friendly, welcoming and nurturing community – the energy here is one of love, creativity and encouragement.

A popular tourist and resort destination, playing home to many of Hollywood’s elite, Santa Barbara is also home to university students (University of California Santa Barbara is nearby), artists, surfers, yogis, families and retirees alike. There is something very special about living in a small community where every barista knows you by name, where you can walk or cycle everywhere, where you bump into friends at the weekly farmers market, and where each morning you wake deciding which hike, or which beach you should walk that day.

Ninety miles north of LA, Santa Barbara is a leisurely (and scenic) drive up the PCH, beside the ocean, which makes for a perfect day trip or weekend away. You will be completely hooked after your first visit, so be prepared to get used to that drive…

We have had endless happy moments here in Santa Barbara. Long, sun-drenched, beach-filled, jam-packed-full-of friends, wonderful moments. This is a special place.

To caffeinate.

French Press: a Santa Barbara staple, and our daily coffee or chai fix. Grab a seat outside in the sun, a coffee, a pastry…and set up shop for a couple of hours. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, grab a loaf of bread from the friendly boys at the Genuine Bread Co. who sell their seriously luxe sourdough loaves out the front of the cafe. Two locations. We favor the bigger one, on the corner of Anacapa and Cota Streets.

Handlebar Coffee: our other go-to. This daily coffee stop (where all coffee is roasted in-house, and served with all organic milk from Straus Family Creamery), offers super friendly service, great coffee, delicious pastries (and vegan muffins) and seating in the sun.

Lucky Penny: a new and wonderful addition to the Funk Zone scene. This cute copper coin-covered shack is next to the Lark, and dishes out tasty La Colombe coffee. A small menu, and only a few outdoor tables, but the perfect spot for a coffee to-go, or a quick bite (their wood-fire pizzas are the business - if you are drinking at the neighboring Figueroa Mountain Brewery, Lucky Penny can also deliver food to you there at no extra charge).

To eat.

Via Maestra: we love nothing more than a weekly Saturday morning breakfast here, after the Farmers Market. A cute and cozy, authentic Italian resto – run by the most lovely of Italians, Renato – tucked away near Loreto Plaza on Upper State Street. Come here for brunch, lunch, dinner, gelato, or coffee. By far the best Italian food you will find in these parts (amazing homemade pasta), plus the most entertaining and wonderful service you will find in Santa Barbara (courtesy of one Mr Andy). Get ready to be wowed!

Sama Sama: for the best Indonesian food in California. Sama Sama is a MUST on any vissie to Santa Barbs. Delicious Indonesian (order the Gado Gado salad to start), great cocktails, super cute setting. Nab a seat in the outdoor courtyard.

D’Angelos: great breads (we love their olive loaf, or the Rudolph Steiner bread)… great for weekend breakfast or lunch.

Backyard Bowls: our go-to spot for a healthy breakfast to-go. Think big bowls of acai, fruit, granola, yoghurt etc. Also delicious smoothies on offer, and friendly service. Just around the corner from Yoga Soup. 

Kotuku Elixir Bar & Superfood Store: go and visit Olly, an expert in Chinese Tonic Herbalism, for a superfood hit. We are huge fans of his fresh juices, cold brew coffee smoothies, spicy hot chocolate, chia puddings for breakfast, and his awesome salads for lunch. Not only that, Olly is always up for some deep and insightful chat, and would love to meet you.

Mesa Verde: for incredible organic, plant-based vegetarian food. Every dish on the menu is perfect. One of our favorites: the grilled polenta with braised garbanzo, beet greens, grilled kale, asparagus, harissa, romesco and muhammara.

Santa Barbara Public Market: another exciting new addition to the Santa Barbara food scene in 2014, the Public Market is a one-stop shop for all things groceries, wine, ice cream, bread etc…plus an impressive selection of quality purveyors, from who you can grab a quick and easy lunch or dinner (we love The Pasta Shoppe, and the Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar).

To drink.

We find it hard to go past the bar at Sama Sama for a delicious wine or cocktail, but other good options include:

Paradise Café: our favorite bar in town. Serving locals for over 30 years! This cute corner spot – housed in a 1915 brick and stucco building – has an art deco feel and is reminiscent of a 50s diner. Choose a booth or prop yourself up at the bar, nurse a cocktail or two, enjoy the tunes. We love it here.

Municipal Winemakers: “handmade, honest wines”. One of our other go-to’s. Great local wines and a fun atmosphere. Often host fun events, like October’s Kinfolk gathering- to release the new Kinfolk Cookbook; the holiday season’s “Pies for the people”: the vision of private chef Lori Stern – three classic Thanksgiving pie flavors (old-fashioned apple, pecan, and pumpkin), all made to order and available for pickup on Thanksgiving Eve – with 10% of proceeds going back to the Santa Barbara Foodbank; and the Chinese New Year dinner – celebrating all things pork!

Elsie's Tavern: this neighborhood hangout is low-key, divey and always a good time. Cash only.

Funk Zone bars…take your pick. New bars seem to be popping up in the funk zone on a regular basis these days. Start near the Lark and then cruise around from there.

To shop.

Make Smith Leather Co. : come here for the best handmade leather goods in town. Stevie is an incredible leather craftsman, and we love coming here anytime we need a gift of any sort. Leather bags, wallets, belts, key chains, home goods…you name it, Stevie can do it.

Whistle Club: we were so excited when this beautiful store popped up in Santa Barbara in 2014. Come here for a perfectly-curated mix of emerging designers and industry favorites. We especially love that we can find one of our Aussie favorites, Zimmerman, on their shelves. A coffee bar, serving Stumptown coffee, makes this cute stop even more appealing. It's beautiful here.

To sleep.

El Encanto: recently renovated and reopened, this luxe property provides magnificent views over Santa Barbara, offering hilly seclusion, and a lovely option if you are wanting somewhere fancy to rest your head. We love the Damien Hirst installations inside, and the 60-foot-long infinity pool.

Four Seasons Biltmore: see Montecito guide.

El Capitan: just 20 miles north of Santa Barbara, this simple, nature lodging experience is the perfect place to unwind.

Canary Hotel: a beautiful boutique hotel, perfectly located halfway along State Street (in walking distance to everything) – this spot offers a stunning rooftop bar and pool, with spectacular views across town to the ocean and the mountains.

Oceana: the hotel may be a little dated, but the beachside location is unbeatable. In easy walking distance to the beach and State Street, this is a good option.

To do.

Saturday Farmers Market: our favorite way to start any weekend. Swing by the Cota Street market for live music, fresh fruit (be sure to try the cherimoyas) and veg, flowers, delicious homemade breads, organic almonds, olive oils, etc. (also held on Tuesday afternoon, in lower State Street). Some of our go-to stops include: Roots Organic Farm, and Fairview: for all our greens and veggies (we love Roots’ heirloom cherry tomatoes as well). BD of Earthtrine Farm: for all our herbs. Baba Hummus: for homemade hummus in more flavors than you could possibly imagine. Fat Uncle Farms: for blistered almonds. Red Hen Cannery: for artisanal, small-batch jams using fruit and herbs from local Foley Farm and Bailard Ranch. We love their spicy orange marmalade.

Butterfly Beach: after grabbing some goods from the market, pack a picnic and head to Butterfly Beach for lunch in the sun and some swim time.

Funk Zone: artsy industrial district – swan around the galleries, vintage stores, city wineries and bars.

Surf…plenty of options if you feel like catching a few waves. Known as the “Queen of the Coast” – Rincon Point is a good option, while Hammonds Point offers a powerful right-breaking wave. Leadbetter Point is good for beginners. As are Butterfly, West Beach and East Beach – calm, and good for stand-up paddle boarding as well. Additional breaks can be found at El Capitan, Jalama Beach and Santa Claus Lane Beach. Treat yourself to a custom hand shaped surfboard - made with the most environmentally friendly materials available - from our dear friends at Free Range Surfboards.

Municipal Winemakers: as above.

Catch a show at the Santa Barbara Bowl. One of our ultimate favorite things to do in these parts. We were completely WOWED by Icelandic dreamboats - Sigur Ros - one of the most beautifully hauntingly beautiful shows we have ever seen. This historical, outdoor amphitheater, tucked amongst the trees, is an idyllic setting for any live show. Aussies Tame Impala supported the Flaming Lips back in November. Sting also appeared. Coming up – be sure to nab ticks to The National (with Portugal.The.Man) on 25 April; and Jack Johnson on 31 August. We will be.

See a band at SOHO – we recently saw local boys, Gardens & Villa, doing their thing.

Santa Barbara Fish Market: come here for the freshest of fresh fish, oysters, prawns, scallops, mussels, and very friendly, local Santa Barbara service with a smile.

Wander around the Santa Barbara Mission.

Yoga Soup: do what the locals do, and limber up at Yoga Soup.

La Playa Pilates: try one of Kristen's classes (it might just kill you! in the very best way!), or book a private session with our favorite Pilates trainer, Colleen Ferguson (

Linnea Villegas: after your Pilates workout, book in a massage with this divine massage therapist in downtown Santa Barbara. You will leave feeling light, and full of love. 

Rock climbing: Australian-turned Santa Barbara-local Josh Gold swears by this place. So get rock-ready and have fun hanging from the walls.

Drive-in: mix up your film-going experience, and enjoy some good ol’ fashioned drive-in action in nearby Goleta.

KCHEN Project: a recent culinary startup – thanks to a kickstarter campaign – the KCHEN Project is a supper club offering themed dinners – multiple-course meals of locally grown ingredients paired with complimentary cocktails – held at various locations around town.

Out of town…

Potter around the antique stores in nearby Summerland:

Cold Spring Tavern on a Sunday: Established in 1886, the Cold Spring Tavern is an essential Sunday afternoon experience. Only 30mins from Santa Barbara, hidden away in the mountains, come here for the best damn tri-tip sandwiches, mountain brews and a bikie crowd. Big slaps of meat of a bread roll with sauce. Bang! Nothing better. Grab a table under the trees, and enjoy the live music. We especially love it when the Rainbow Girls are playing.

Take a trip out to the Santa Ynez Valley. Remember one word - Demetria. Think blush-coloured bottles of Rose, shared under big shady trees overlooking incredible rolling hills and vineyards.