Welcome to Cal­i­for­nia cool

Take it easy on the Amer­i­can Riviera

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - FIONA HARARI

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.

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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.

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