What do you do when you have roughly 48 hours to spend in Santa Barbara?
It’s a city of palm trees, sandy beaches, luxury oceanfront and hillside homes, a glitzy shopping district, trendy restaurants, college students and international tourists – all brought together by the lure of the Pacific Ocean and gorgeous Spanish architecture.
Clearly, there are many options in a city with an international reputation for fun and sun — and a nickname of “The American Riviera.”
Well, if you know you’ll be at a wedding from late afternoon into the late evening Saturday, you squeeze in what you can around it, taking care not to overdo. After all, quality trumps quantity, right?
Which explains why we started out at Goodwill.
I forgot to pack my newest, most comfortable shoes, so rather than hit the streets in dress loafers, we made a quick pit stop and I bought some casual lace-up shoes that I knew would be up to the task of a single Friday evening.
They were. And here’s how things went down.
Our starting point: A studio apartment, with a balcony, that we rented for two nights through airbnb, the San Francisco-based online rental service that’s planning to open a Portland office later this year to serve as its North American headquarters.
The studio was located about four blocks from State Street, a pristine boulevard teeming with high-end retail shops and local restaurants that made me think of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and similar shopping districts in places like Pasadena, Los Gatos and Santa Cruz.
We walked from one end to another, partly dazzled and partly dazed, at the sheer volume of merchandise available in clothing stores, department stores and boutiques. We were charmed by the placement of brightly colored pianos set up on several street corners for passersby and locals to play a song or two. Turns out it’s an annual event, Music on State, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Education Foundation and other groups.
We had a refreshing margarita at Carlitos, walked for a long while, then circled back to Arigato Sushi, which had been touted by a friend as “the best sushi ever.” I can’t disagree. Sitting at the bar and watching the sushi chefs work their magic made the experience even better.
Saturday morning, we slept in. Lori fixed us breakfast and we ate at a table for two on the balcony, thinking back to when we did the same during our fabulous Italian vacation two years earlier.
We hit the shops again so Lori could buy some clothes, then we hopped into the rental car and drove to the harbor to spend some time getting our feet wet and sandy and taking in the ocean view. We strolled along the pier, watching fishermen cast their lines, and catching bits of conversation in various languages around us.
We paused to admire a brown pelican that found itself surrounded by camera-toting tourists. Poor guy. He waddled to the edge of the pier, gazing longingly at a local who was gutting a fish and then peering into the water for possible prey.
We hopped back in the car, picked up a lunch to go and headed back to the apartment to get ready for the wedding of Nicole and Andrew (described at length in an earlier post).
Sunday morning, I went out for a run past State Street and into the nearby residential neighborhoods. On my way back, an Indian couple who were on the sidewalk poring over a map looked up to ask me – an obvious local – for directions. It just so happened I knew the street they were talking about. Go figure.
An hour later, we were on the road. First, a pit stop at Goodwill so I could donate the shoes I’d just bought. Then, a short drive to the south end of town, where we joined a group of family and friends invited to a post-wedding brunch hosted by the parents of the bride, our dear friends, Al and Elizabeth.
Mimosas, Bloody Marys, Eggs Benedict. Who doesn’t like that?
Especially when they’re served up at a quaint bistro and you’ve got an opportunity to reconnect with folks from the night before.
We said our goodbyes, went back to the apartment to pack up, then took a scenic drive in the hills above the city, marveling at the circumstances that draw people to one place versus another. I understand the appeal of southern California in general – and of Santa Barbara in particular – but I would never trade what we have in Portland for either.
Finally, we drove out a few miles north of the city to see the UC Santa Barbara campus. It’s a huge place, built so close to the water that waves crash on the shore beneath a campus parking lot. Several of the dorms face the water and I wondered if GPAs suffer as a result.
Our time was well spent, I think. Santa Barbara is one of those places I’m happy to visit but difficult to imagine myself. It’s got a lot to offer, obviously, and the Spanish influence is everywhere. But there’s nothing like looking out the plane window and seeing those familiar lights of the Portland metro area. I was born and raised in California, but Oregon is definitely my home.