Work & Play in Santa Barbara, The American Riviera
The stunning coastal city of Santa Barbara, California truly exudes a serene, other-worldly ambiance. Because of its access to boating and the beach, its proximity to stunning vineyards in the San Ynez Mountains, and the fact that it boasts an average of 300 days of sunshine per year, Santa Barbara has earned the nickname of the “American Riviera.”
Much like the French Riviera, it appeals to luxury travelers, artists, and celebrities alike. That said, the city has a small-town feel, with Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, made up of thick plaster walls and clay tile roofs that are often accented with intricately carved wood and crafted iron details. Santa Barbara is rich in history and replete with opportunities for outdoor adventures as well as educational experiences, making it the perfect location to enjoy time away with the family. Consider this gem of a destination when planning a work- and schoolcation.
Although Santa Barbara has its own airport, it is also easily accessible from Los Angeles (approximately 1.5hrs) and a day’s drive from San Francisco (approximately 5hrs) or Las Vegas (approximately 5.5hrs).
Places to Learn & Play
As a homeschooling mom of three, I truly enjoyed adding some excitement to my children’s daily curriculum by including one of the many family-friendly educational activities in the Santa Barbara area. For instance, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has a nature play area and sensory garden, where little ones can learn about plants, insects and other aspects of natural science. Have an aspiring botanist in the family? Enjoy open-air exploration at the 78-acre Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, a beautiful destination with over a thousand species of both indigenous and rare plants. Visit the Santa Barbara Zoo to see one of its 500 different species of animals, all living in open, natural habitats. And no visit to Santa Barbara would be complete without a visit to the Old Mission Santa Barbara, which was founded in the 1786 by Spanish Franciscan friars. Known as the “Queen of the Missions,” this church has survived two major earthquakes and lives to tell the tale.
If you are fond of the ocean, then there’s no better maritime experience than a whale watching tour with Condor Express. Santa Barbara is home to a variety of marine life including sea lions, pods of dolphins, sharks and migrating whales.My family had an absolute blast on the Condor Express, where we were lucky enough to experience the largest mammal to have ever lived, the majestic blue whale. Due to the pandemic, tours are running at 40 percent capacity (although ours was more like 10 percent), masks are required at all times unless you are eating or drinking, and seating is clearly marked so as to allow for social distancing. It’s safe to say this was one school lesson that our children will not soon forget.
Adventures in Dining
When visiting Santa Barbara, deciding where to dine may in fact be your biggest challenge. Home to over 450 restaurants, from fine dining to off-the-beaten-path eateries, there is a myriad of choices with many options being family-friendly. For a striking oceanfront location in the downtown area, head to the locally owned and operated Santa Barbara FisHouse. Their fresh-shucked oysters and crab cakes are mouthwatering, and don’t miss their macadamia-encrusted sea bass and lobster mac and cheese. They also offer a variety of unique cocktails and an extensive wine list to complete your dinner.
If you’re in the mood for a low-key local favorite, visit La Super Rica. Take note that they only accept cash, and you’ll want to avoid prime lunch or dinner hours or be prepared for a line out the door! This hole in the wall Mexican taqueria was a favorite of the late Julia Child, and it has even appeared in Forbes magazine. The dishes here are simple but bursting with flavor, especially the Super Rica Especial—chunks of al pastor meat tossed with roasted chiles pasilla that have been stuffed with mozzarella cheese.
Where to Stay
The list of family- and work-friendly accommodations in Santa Barbara is varied and lengthy. Here are a few different options that my family has enjoyed and found to be particularly suitable for working while traveling and that are taking enhanced COVID-19 precautions to ensure safety:
Ramada by Wyndham Santa Barbara: For a comfortable stay with a convenient location the green-certified Ramada by Wyndham boasts recently renovated guestrooms set around lush tropical gardens with a lovely lagoon that is home to resident ducks. The little ones will squeal with excitement at the sight of the “ducks with hair,” the crested ducks Abbott and Costello. There is a duck food dispenser on the property as well, which makes for a fun mini-break from Zoom sessions. All stays at the Ramada include a complimentary continental breakfast each morning and roundtrip transportation from the Santa Barbara airport or train station. For more information on the hotel, click here.
Belmond El Encanto: For ultra-luxury accommodations with some of the best views of the city and the coastline, a stay at the Belmond El Encanto is sure to delight even the most discerning of travelers. The El Encanto is an iconic landmark from the 1920s, offering timeless California elegance with modern-day comforts. It features 92 luxuriously appointed bungalows and suites, seven acres of meticulously manicured gardens, and an exquisite zero-edge pool with panoramic views of the city and coastline. I recommend large families book one of the property’s interconnecting bungalows. For more information on the hotel, click here.
The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara: The grand Ritz-Carlton Bacara welcomes guests with more of a resort feel, scenic ocean views and beach access. Its 358 guestrooms, suites, and residences are brimming with Mediterranean charm. Set on 78 acres, the resort offers easy access to miles of natural beach, three saline, heated pools with private cabana rentals, and activities galore. Its Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment program makes for the perfect educational experience for the entire family. I highly recommend one of the expert naturalists on property guide you on an eco-hike, where you’ll be introduced to the wonders and history of the area and its natural surroundings. For more information on the hotel, click here.
Santa Barbara’s laid-back coastal vibe is palpable and charming, and a work- and schoolcation to the enticing “American Riviera” is sure to check off all the necessary boxes for education, adventure, and relaxation.
For more information on Santa Barbara, visit santabarbaraca.com.