You might be wondering why Hollywood heavyweights like Kevin Costner and Oprah Winfrey choose to live in Santa Barbara County rather than Los Angeles. And even the likes of Harry and Meghan have chosen to call Montecito home. Much like the French Riviera, the small-city, Mayberry coastal setting is an irresistible attraction. It is popular with surfing aficionados, culture vultures and wine enthusiasts. However, paparazzi are rarely spotted in the region. In this article, we examine why Santa Barbara is ready to blossom, not just for celebrities but for the international tourism scene.
Hollywood royalty adores discreet five-star hotels and it is no surprise you’ll see the likes of Jane Lynch and Michael Keaton falling in love with Hotel Californian. The ornate Spanish colonial revival architecture along with the Moorish interior from celebrity designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard is a magnet for celebrities. The Mirador Rooftop Deck, which offers panoramic 360-degree views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean is a crowning jewel of the hotel. All of the surrounding buildings are three storeys or lower due to changed building laws post-1925. The stunning Majorelle spa is equally popular with Majorelle blue tiles that are often found in Moroccan designs
The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara is the place for celebrity weddings. Hollywood couples who have celebrated their wedding there include Nick Carter and Lauren Kitt, Fergie and Josh Duhamel, and Travis Barker and Shanna Moakler. The hotel is just slightly outside of downtown Santa Barbara and tucked away on 78 acres of land overlooking the Pacific to offer that seclusion and privacy celebrities require. You can appreciate the beauty of the surroundings by going on a nature hike along the Chumash Nature Trail. They have one of the finest steakhouses in the region with Angel Oak and their newest opening, Bacara Wine Tasting Room is attracting countless plaudits.
The area by the waterfront has risen like a phoenix from the ashes in recent years. Evolving from decrepit warehouses to the trendiest district of Santa Barbara, it is now home to countless wine-tasting rooms, gourmet restaurants and art galleries. Wine appreciation rather than mere wine consumption is the name of the game here. You are very likely to encounter one of the Baldwin brothers at The Society: State & Mason, the newest wine-tasting room in the zone. Exquisite wines are either paired with tapas-style dishes or innovative truffles from Jessica Foster. Madras curry-flavoured milk chocolate anyone?
The trendy restaurants are equally in demand in this part of town. Blackbird Restaurant pays homage to one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, Alfred Hitchcock, with subtle nods including a photo with Alfred Hitchcock and a seagull on one shoulder and a blackbird on the other. The menu passionately supports local produce from Santa Barbara spiny lobster to Hope Ranch mussels. The cocktails from renowned mixologist Devon Espinosa are not to be missed. On the border of the Funk Zone, you’ll find upscale Mexican cuisine at Santo Mezcal and a meat lover’s paradise at the retro-decorated, Rare Society.
Ganna Walska Lotusland
If Willy Wonka was in the botanical industry instead of confectionery, this is precisely what he might have created. 37 acres of the most fantastical gardens and stunning architecture. Ganna Walska, who used to own the estate until she died in 1984 (aged 96), used to call herself the ‘head gardener’ and ‘enemy of the average’. It is one of the top five gardens in the world in terms of comprehensiveness. The attractions range from the immaculately pruned Japanese Garden to the imposing cactus garden to the priceless cycad garden with plants that date back to the Jurassic period. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are known to be regular visitors and live close by.
Eclectic Museums and attractions
For a city of under 89,000 inhabitants, the museum-to-local population ratio is extremely high. One of their finest is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art . With around 25,000 pieces of distinguished artwork that span over 5,000 years of human creativity, it is no surprise over 150,000 visitors flock to the museum every year. They often have special pop-up exhibitions that highlight lesser-known, yet deserving artists such as Joan Tanner. Her outlandish sculptures made of plastic corrugated roofing sheets, re-bar, cast concrete etc. were displayed earlier in the year. The museum even has Oscar links, thanks to Christopher Plummer who famously won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in “Beginners”. In the film, he played Paul Chadbourne Mills who was the director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and came out as gay later in life at the age of 75.
For family-orientated experiences, there is MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. The ultra-immersive installations will get your scientific brain motivated whether you are 8 or 80 and is popular with celebrities like Julie Bowen. A visit to historic Stearns Wharf is a must where you’ll find the equally interactive Sea Center. There you can touch an exotic array of marine life from sharks to rays to sea stars. To explore the rich history of the city, there is the Old Mission dating back to 1786, when the Church was building its presence in the area through these settlements. The graceful charm of the Mission has earned it the nickname “Queen of the Missions”. There is also a historic cemetery and mausoleum, a nine-room museum of classical artwork and artefacts, and numerous lush gardens.
With the philanthropic nature of the locals, you will be unsurprised to find a cat therapy cafe in the city centre. You can visit for an hour and play with 15-20 free-roaming rescue cats. They also sell apparel as well as help their resident cats find a forever, loving home. Not far away, you’ll find Salt cave Santa Barbara, the largest in North America. There are numerous therapeutic benefits to resting in their crystal cave rooms lined with pink Himalayan salt.