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Santa Barbara

Lush, sun-drenched, relaxed and nestled seductively between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is also known as the American Riviera.
Written by Cathy Herholdt | Pictured above: Arroyo Burro Beach
Standing on Stearn’s Wharf looking back at the twinkling city lights at dusk, the silhouetted palm trees against the backdrop of an orange and pink streaked sunset almost took my breath away. The scenery and the warm evening air was so far removed from anything even remotely similar to Seattle, it sealed the deal for me that Santa Barbara was the perfect choice for a vacation spot.

We’d just finished an unforgettable fresh seafood dinner at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company and were strolling the pier when it dawned on me that the sunset was not over the water. Santa Barbara is one of those rare places on the Pacific Coast where the sun sets over land because when you’re standing on the beach, you’re actually facing south.

Located just 90 miles north of Los Angeles, but a world away, Santa Barbara offers the guaranteed sunshine (300 days a year) and warm water temperatures Southern California is famous for, but with only 95,000 residents it has the charm and personality of a north coast town. There’s more to do and experience here than you could ever squeeze into one trip, which is why so many first time visitors (like us) vow to return.

Miles of sandy beaches, lined with palm trees, draw people outdoors both day and night. While it’s not a noisy city, there’s no lack of activity going on at any time. Referred to as the “American Riviera,” Santa Barbara is bustling with tourists year ‘round, offering a variety of accommodations, from luxury resorts to family friendly inns, as well as an abundance of tantalizing restaurants.

State Street is the center of activity in town—a Mecca for shoppers and those in search of premiere dining spots, Santa Barbara-style. State Street ends at the waterfront, where crossing Cabrillo Blvd. will take you directly onto Stearns Wharf, a touristy, but authentic pier with shops and restaurants, flanked by beaches brimming with sunbathers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, from beach volleyball players to kite surfers.

Two other things define Santa Barbara: Wine and magnificent homes. Take a drive along the coast or look up to the hills and you’ll catch glimpses of some of California’s most spectacular homes. Many celebrities have called Santa Barbara and its surrounding areas home—or their home-away-from-home—over the years. Oprah Winfrey recently bought a $50 million estate in nearby Montecito for her West Coast headquarters.

Santa Barbara’s wine country boasts more than 80 wineries and 24,000 acres of vines and is the fastest-growing viticultural region in the nation. The Santa Ynez, Santa Maria and Santa Rita Hills are known for their cool-climate varietals. Many of the area’s tasting rooms welcome pets and their companions. Whether you stop for a taste, a picnic or a weekend stay, be sure to visit www.sbcountywines.com before you go.

Visiting Santa Barbara with Your Dog
Dogs are a huge part of the populace of this city on any given day. And if the many resorts and hotels that welcome pets are any indication of Santa Barbara’s heart for animals, this is a great spot to travel with your dog.

Beaches and Hikes
My first morning outing led me to Arroyo Burro Beach (referred to as Hendry’s by locals) where I was greeted by numerous wagging tails and sniffing noses as dogs enjoyed the sand and gentle waves and freedom of an early morning, off-leash outing. Arroyo Burro is one of a few beaches where dogs can run free, but there are plenty of others where pups can splash in the tepid waves or frolic in the sand on leash.

Santa Barbara County beaches begin at Carpinteria in the south and continue for 45 miles up to Gaviota. Carpinteria, El Capitan and Gaviota State beaches all allow dogs, as do Goleta Beach, Ocean Beach, Jalama State, Refugio State and Rincon Beach.

In town, dogs are welcome on the Cabrillo Bikeway, a paved path that runs parallel to the beach, but are prohibited on city beaches.

There are certainly plenty of parks, hiking trails and in-town activities to keep active dogs busy here. In fact, the popular Best Hikes With Dogs series, published by Mountaineers Books, offers a Southern California edition, which includes 10 hikes mentioned for dogs and their owners in and around Santa Barbara.

Don’t miss the Douglas Family Preserve, an off-leash natural stretch of park with spectacular coastline views from the bluffs.

Dining with Dogs
Although strict health codes mean dogs are not permitted at most restaurants, even on patios, there are still some options to grab a bite while you’re out and about with your dog. Our kids got a kick out of slipping off their flip-flops and digging their toes in the sand at the beach tables outside the Shoreline Café in West Beach. Dogs are not allowed at the tables, but are often tethered to a post outside. Our scrumptious fish and chips lunch under a sun umbrella was well worth the wait for a table in the sand.

Pet-friendly Places to Stay
Two dogs enjoying the elegant lobby of the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort were the first indication I discovered of Santa Barbara’s pet-welcoming attitude when we arrived at the posh hotel. Fess Parker offers 50 designated rooms for pets, each with a patio or balcony. Dogs receive treats upon arrival and pet menus are available for in-room dining. Massages are also available for the truly pampered pet. Dogs are welcome to explore the 22-acre, beautifully landscaped grounds with their owners. The resort is located just across from the beach on Cabrillo Boulevard.

The Four Seasons Biltmore is another upscale Santa Barbara hotel, offering play toys and oversized dog beds—just a few of the extras for four-legged guests.

For an exclusive, luxury experience, indulge in the San Ysidro Ranch, a tranquil retreat nestled in the Montecito foothills. Privileged pets stay in spacious cottages, some with fenced decks, and can enjoy 17 miles of adjacent hiking trails.

Moderately priced accommodations that welcome pets include Casa Del Mar, a Mediterranean-style inn near the beach, and Hotel Andalucia, a downtown boutique hotel.

For those traveling on a budget, affordable choices include the Old Yacht Club Inn, the Beach House Inn & Apartments and the Motel 6 near East Beach. All allow guests with dogs.

If a little sun, sand and serenity sound good right now, Santa Barbara is the perfect getaway. For more information on visiting this lovely seaside escape, check out the tourism bureau’s website at santabarbaraca.com.
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