Welcome to California cool
Take it easy on the American Riviera
THET LOTUS-EATERS I meet my docent, young architect Karl Kras, at 1 10am sharp at the gates of Lotusland. “Madame had zero horticultural experience but a great eye … and the means,” he begins, as we commence our leisurely tour of this wonderfully whimsical garden. “Madame” was the much-married opera singer Ganna Walska who, in the mid-20th century, brought a spirited sense of theatre to garden design as she scoured the globe for rare plants, in some instances acquiring seeds from Tibetan monks. Across 15ha, you’ll find a romantic lake crammed with lotus, cascading fountains of giant clam shells, an eerie forest of dragon trees and a stunning blue garden shaded by Atlas cedars. In the late 1970s Madame offloaded a cool million in jewels to amass a world-beating cycad collection. Tip: ask to use the loo so you can pop into her Italianate house, stage set for an astonishing forest of barrel cactus and otherworldly weeping euphorbia. Bookings mandatory. More: lotusland.org.
TASTET AND TOTTER Santa Barbara is home to plenty of celebrities, most famous of all being Oprah Winfrey. But the surrounding area is also grape-growing country and there are five wine trails in the region and more than 170 wineries. For those who wish to enjoy the fruits of the surrounding 8900ha of vineyards without driving, there’s an alternative, the Urban Wine Trail, which is a self-guided tour of 26 wineries located downtown, many in historic buildings, allowing you to taste and wander at leisure. And if you can’t quite manage the walk, Uber has just launched a local car service that will ferry you between tasting rooms and beyond. More: urbanwinetrailsb.com.
RETRO RARITIES Funk Zone used to be a manufacturing hub. Now itsi warehouses and old shops have been turned into an eclectic collection of art galleries, restaurants and wineries. It’s a compact area, just off State Street, and one highlight is a visit to Seth Kunin’s The Valley Project wine-tasting room, with its massive chalk map of the local industry. Don’t be surprised if you spot a pampered pooch accompanying visitors as they imbibe. A short walk away, The Blue Door offers three floors of quality vintage and repurposed clothes, furniture and homewares, from Danish platters and furniture to an old Asian food cart and even a Herb Ritts-designed Lucite salad bowl and servers. Best of all, there are plenty of options small enough to fit into hand luggage. More: thevalleyprojectwines.com; thebluedoorsb.com.
DREAMY DINING Santa Barbara has an abundance of outdoor restaurants and attractive buildings and these are combined at Cielito, a Latin American-inspired diner and tequila bar. Set in the middle of La Arcada Plaza, an old outdoor arcade lined with decorative tiles, you can dine inside or out, but best take a table in the sun beside the ornamental fountain, with its resident family of turtles, and fill up on tapas-sized serves of guacamole, ceviche and flan. More: cielitorestaurant.com.
MISSIONM STATEMENT There are 21 missions in California, centuriesold relics from the Spanish expansion into North America. But only Santa Barbara’s is revered as the Queen of the Missions. Founded in 1786, it still reeks of old-world Spain, with its terracotta-tiled floors and cactus-strewn courtyard. Continuously run by the Franciscans who founded it almost 230 years ago, the mission, with its adjoining rose garden, is the focal point of a variety of secular events year-round, from an Italian street painting festival to flamenco dancing. DIY and docentled tours available. More: santabarbaramission.org.
SUNSETS SAIL The best views of Santa Barbara are often looki ing out to sea. But there’s an equally impressive vista to be had from the water. On a private sunset cruise, the choice is yours — look out towards the tiny Channel Islands that sit just beyond Santa Barbara harbour, or set your sights on the palm tree-lined shore and back towards the dramatic Santa Ynez mountains. Whichever way you look at it, the view is gorgeous. Trips can be organised through the Santa Barbara Sailing Centre. More: sbsail.com.
THET TOP TABLE Open almost two years, this heaving restaurant in Funk Zone remains one of the hottest tickets in town, serving shared plates of local produce prepared by executive chef Jason Paluska and his talented team. Consider the likes of crispy Brussels sprouts with dates, sesame and lime; local asparagus topped with wild rocket and crispy Serrano ham; or Dungeness crab with gnocchi and jalapeno. Having taken over the city’s historic fish market building, The Lark is a master class in up-cycled chic; old bathtubs spill with flowers and a convivial crowd tucks into “craft’’ cocktails around a large table stacked on vintage radiators. Start with the addictive popcorn tossed through with orange zest, fresh herbs and Calabrian chilli oil, and perfectly partnered with a glass of Happy Canyon rose. Bookings recommended. More: thelarksb.com.