Santa Barbara During the Holidays

Genie Davis December 27, 2011 No Comments

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Many people head to Santa Barbara’s charming coastal community for summer beach going. Or perhaps to take part in art shows or kite flying demonstrations in the spring or fall. We like heading to Santa Barbara in the winter time, when the white lights strung across the main shopping district of State Street and sparkling in the palm trees seem in keeping with the season, and you’ll have the beaches to yourself and your children.

Santa Santa Barbara Boat

Even the boats are decked with holly...in Santa Barbara

The Bellosguardo

We started our most recent Santa Barbara sojourn at the Bellosguardo – or Beautiful View property.
Poised on a cliff at the end of the East Beach, section of town, this enormous property was bequeathed by its recently deceased owner to become a museum open to the public. While this project is underway, families can enjoy the beautifully secluded Butterfly Beach which adjoins the Four Seasons Santa Barbara.

Our Lunch Choices

When your little ones have burnt off a little steam on the soft sand, head to La Super Rica Taqueria for quesadillas or tostadas. If the lines are too long here, just down the street you’ll find Taqueria La Colmena, not as lionized by foodies, but with excellent home made tortillas and fresh guacamole at bargain prices. Seasonal treats like sweet green corn tamales are delicious here, and either spot is budget-friendly.

Tis the Season to Shop

Thus sated, you’ll be more sanguine handling the shopping crowds at specialty stores and galleries around State Street. Kids of all ages will enjoy browsing the vintage records at Warbler Records and Goods, or enjoying the tasting room selection of olive oils and crackers at the C’est Cheese store just off State. Somehow we always enjoy shopping in small stores more than malls, and even better are small shops we only visit a few times a year. We seem to always find that special small gift or perfect stocking stuffer in this setting, and it seems like the children are more interested in the wares displayed, too, unlike a visit to a busy mall.

Other Santa Barbara Attractions

Done with shopping? Check out what’s new at the small but well curated Santa Barbara Museum of Art. A current exhibit at this thoughtfully designed museum allows tech savvy kids old enough to understand how a cursor moves to explore an interactive experience with Picasso and Braque. iPads are lent out at the exhibits entrance that thoroughly enliven the viewing process.

Speaking of viewing, another option when night falls, is to check out the classic West Wind Drive In. Recently refurbished, the drive-in operates year round after a long closure. It’s just up the highway from Santa Barbara – about a fifteen minute drive – in the small town of Goleta.

During daylight hours, check out the gentle hiking trails that encircle the city. The peaceful Douglas Family Preserve, is located atop a mesa, and is the kind of trail even the smallest tot can toddle along and enjoy. No fuss, no muss, just outdoor pleasures. Older kids or adults who can carry the smallest members of the family troop will enjoy taking the just under two mile loop trail off Mountain Drive known as the Cold Spring loop. Small streams run through this one, sometimes a bit too alluring for small feet – unless you’ve brought along boots.

Santa Barbara Christmas Lights

Christmas lights in Santa Barbara - the town is lit up and lovely!

Winter Season Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara’s Christmas lights and unique shopping options are not the only way the town marks the holidays. Early in December, there’s a community sponsored, song filled re-enactment of the Christmas story, with a costumed Mary and Joseph riding a donkey through the streets searching for shelter. This free event is coupled with another Santa Barbara tradition mid-month, the Christmas Revels. This unique celebration of a Bavarian Winter Solstice serves up jovial songs, dances, and stories set to music. It’s held at the Lobero Theater in downtown Santa Barbara.

Thoroughly decorated for the holidays is Jeannine’s, a cozy cafe right on State Street, with beautifully made Christmas cookies and other highly caloric fresh and delicious pasteries in the glass cases. The kids will love the banana and brown sugar French Toast.

Head on out to the Wharf to run off some of those sweets, and take a look back down the long pier at a town whose stylish adobes and Mediterranean style looks especially charming during the holidays. Don’t forget to check out the Sea Center on the wharf, where exhibits include touch tanks, models of a gray whale, and various aquarium creatures. Step off the wharf and enjoy a long stroll or rent a buggy for a ride along the cement pathway that parallels the beach front. In the winter, you won’t find yourself competing for pavement space with other tourists, and the ride or walk will be that much sweeter. We joined in some impromptu caroling with other walkers, under a low hanging full moon that looked like “an ornament in the sky,” according to my son.

If you’re spending the night, we recommend the Hotel Mar Monte. This historic hotel retains its 1931 Spanish Colonial feel, but the guest rooms are well sized, and the pool is open year round. But be sure to stop in the Four Seasons or the Montecito Inn for a look at their gorgeous holiday trees.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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