During our holiday stay in Santa Barbara we were more interested in staying away from the usual tourist traps – the wineries and museums here seem to be very popular – and instead just spend our time enjoying the plentiful natural beauty.
Situated on an east-west section of coastline (the longest such section on the West Coast of the U.S.), Santa Barbara lies between the steeply-rising Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The climate is often described as Mediterranean, and the city is widely known as the "American Riviera”.
The spot that we visited most frequently during our stay wasn’t even listed on any of the “things to do” lists we researched. We found it by luck and curiosity. Arroyo Burro Beach was on the list and while visiting one day we saw people walking along the cliff and a hang glider circling like a bird high above us. Jim commented, “That looks like a good sunset spot”. And he was right! With some Bing map studying he found a road that lead us to the Douglas Family Preserve.
Douglas Family Preserve
Located on the mesa above Arroyo Burro Beach, this property spans 70 acres of undeveloped ocean-front land (can you imagine?!). From our perch high above the ocean we marveled at some of the most beautiful sunsets we’ve ever seen (and we’ve seen quite a few!).
When I learned the history of this site, it made it even more beautiful. This was the site of the Wilcox nursery from 1949 until 1972. Soon after the nursery business closed, not surprisingly several development proposals were put forward including plans for a luxury hotel, a residential subdivision, and a retirement community. In 1996, Santa Barbara residents raised more than $2 million to purchase the property and save it from development. The prospects of success were looking grim until at the last moment a very large donation came in from movie star Michael Douglas, who then named the park in honor of Kirk Douglas.
The view of the ocean when walking along the bluffs is gorgeous, and you can still find fire plugs, street curbs and drains that were once planned to support the development. A wonderful combination of waves crashing below, strong smell of eucalyptus, seagulls, pelicans, sea lions, and the prettiest sunsets! One night the show kept going about 45 minutes after the sun went down as the sky kept getting more and more fiery!
Stearns Wharf & Marina
We were fortunate to stay just a couple blocks from the waterfront, so a morning sunrise stroll became another favorite ritual. We split our time between Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor – both best enjoyed when they are absent of tourists. The mornings were chilly, but that made our stop at the coffee shop so much more delightful, standing in line with the commercial fishermen who had just returned and the tour boat operators getting ready to head out.
Amazing how we’re staying two blocks from the water and yet the mountains are so close! This trail, about a 15 minute drive from the city, was filled with people either walking off their large Thanksgiving meal or making room for it. This is a 3.5 mile loop, a pretty easy hike with a beautiful open vista at the top – wide sweeping view of Santa Barbara, the Pacific Ocean, the Channel Islands and the Santa Ynez Mountains. With an 800 foot elevation gain it was tame compared with Colorado.
This was another great trail 15 minutes from the city. At 3.5 miles round trip, this hike follows a river and had huge boulders so it felt like Colorado in many spots. Until we got to the top where it opened up in a large field and we had a view of the Pacific with the sun glistening on it. Spectacular!
Even with stops at the Mission and Montecito, we really just scratched the surface of this area. A future trip will certainly include exploration of the Channel Island National Park, which we enjoyed this time only as a terrific backdrop to our sunrises and sunsets.
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