Santa Stunningly Beautiful Barbara

I didn’t know what to expect this year. No long airplane ride, no changing currency and time zones. No cell phone plan, no long cab ride from the airport to my new home and then figuring out how to work the lock in the dark. No pondering how to get a metro card on the first day. Nope, I just lock my front door and hop in my car.

I finish the 5 hour drive by cutting over on Route 154 and passing the most beautiful lake, forest and wineries. And suddenly I am here in my new home for 30 days.

Everywhere you look in Santa Barbara you find beauty. The sky is so blue, the palm trees line most streets and , well, the weather…..After getting settled in I walk down State Street which has been turned into a pedestrian zone.

Restaurants spill out onto the sidewalk. I meander until I reach the end of Stearns Wharf. This long wharf was built by a lumberman so that his ships could off load their lumber rather than throwing the lumber into the ocean and having it float to shore. It was a bustling business until the railroads came to California and took over the hauling of lumber. Now it is protected from becoming a Pier 39 or Santa Monica amusement area by the SB city council, but it does have a couple great places to grab dinner. So I did. At Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

The next day, I start by finding the best coffee place in town: Handlebar Coffee. Delicious coffee and a great crew working there. Shout out to Brianna.

Not far away is a historic neighborhood I want to see called Brinkerhoff Ave. I bike there and it is a well preserved architectural showcase. It is named after Mr Brinkerhoff, a medical doctor from the east coast who persuaded people that the fumes from the tar in the sand in Santa Barbara was good for their health. He bought the whole block for $20. That idea coupled with the advent of the railroads and Sunset magazine luring people to the easy living of SB caused a huge influx in SB in the late 19th century. Then I bike along the beach for a long ways, seeing the stunning coast line and biking along a flower filled path.

I return to the area called the Funk Zone. This was a run down industrial area until it was turned into a “funky” interesting artist/restaurant/urban tasting trail. I have scheduled a walking tour but before it starts, I get in line at Mony’s, a little walk up burrito/taco shack. Mony’s is said to have the best Mexican food outside of Mexico City. It was delicious!

The walking tour is given by John and happily my two new neighbors, Lynn and Lynda, join the tour. He does a great job of showing us the history behind the current buildings and is a wealth of knowledge. His favorite ( and mine) was a building called Plant 59 where in 1942 Lockheed secretly moved half their operations into in order to avoid an anticipated strike by the Japanese on Los Angeles ( which never happened). There are little artist studios everywhere.

This is one where after having her windows vandalized, the artist decided to put up big scale art work instead of new windows. This used to be the headquarters of Weber bread— the west coast equivalent of Wonder Bread. Those train tracks are where the flour was dumped off each week by the rail.

Speaking of flour, Helena Ave Bakery is really well know in SB. I stop by for a cup of coffee and a piece of their sourdough toast the next morning.

I am pretty sure that is an entire jar of blueberry lavender jam on that toast. Ok well I’m biking off to join a Harbor Tour with John.

Another great tour that helps me understand the history of this wonderful place. We end with the famous Moreton Bay fig tree, planted from a seed in 1876 given by an Australian seaman to a little local girl that now 10,000 people can stay in the shade of and the beautiful SB railway station.

After the tour, I explore the Ambassador neighborhood of SB. Small homes and apartments near the ocean.

As many my followers know, one of the best parts of Shirleyfest is meeting people at my local destination. This evening I meet Joan, introduced to me by my friend Lila ( who visited me on Berlin Shirleyfest). We had a bite and drinks at the venerable Joe’s Cafe and had a great time discussing our mutual love of travel.

Coincidentally the next morning I am meeting another of Lila’s introductions, Maggie, who lives in Ojai. We agree to meet at Field and Fort in Summerland. It is a beautiful day and I decide to bike the 7 miles there. Another terrific person! I learn so much from meeting locals— why they moved to my host city, their favorite spots, but most of all it fits into the Tao of Shirleyfest. The real point of my travel is not vacation but exploration and part of that is in connecting with others. As Teddy Roosevelt’s uncle Robert once said after Teddy Sr wrote home from Europe about the sites he’d seen, “ I’m afraid, Theodore, you have mistaken the object of travel. It is not to see scenery…it is to see men. To enlarge your mind you must converse with and see the bent of minds of other people.” And so it goes with my Shirleyfest.

Later that night I head to an art gallery exposition followed by wine tasting at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. Santa Barbara is one of the most interesting wine regions and famously is the longest East to West valley from Alaska to South America. This means the climate is perfect for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

The lovely Brooklyn pours me a flight of Santa Barbara whites and was nice enough to switch out one for a SB gruner veltliner that I was excited to try. For years this Austrian denominated wine has been my favorite white. I certainly drank a lot of it on Vienna Shirleyfest. I was excited to find a local winery making that wine. (Tatomer Winery). During the tasting I had a great conversation with Grace and Garret, there with their lovely baby Remi.

The next day is warm. I walk to the Saturday farmer’s market which is large and diverse. I see lots of chefs loading up their carts for their restaurants. I stop by the tiny but lovely Alice Keck Garden on my way home.

My brother John and sister-in-law Virginia ( the owners of this lovely home I’m inhabiting for SB Shirleyfest- I can’t say thank you enough times for that 🙏) took me to the Douglas Family Preserve when we visited together in August. I remember them telling me you could see great sunsets from there, so tonight I drive back and I am not disappointed.

So that is my first five days of Santa Barbara Shirleyfest. As I look out at the sunset, I am so happy I pivoted to SB for my 10th Shirleyfest and didn’t let the coronavirus cancel my exploration. I’ m looking forward to what comes next on this year’s Shirleyfest.

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