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Culture / Travel

A DJ’s Guide to Santa Barbara

The Unexpected (and Oft Hidden) Cool Spots of the Cali Wonderland

BY Steffi Burns

Nestled in between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is much like our very own American riviera — with its red-tiled roofs and Spanish architecture, aromas of salty air, rows of tall palm trees, and cool breezes that flow from the mountains.

With the recent addition of a nonstop flight on American Airlines from DFW to SBA, it is even easier to pop over to the city for a magical weekend. I fell in love with Santa Barbara as a student at UCSB and have lived there off and on since.  Visits to Santa Barbara are never often enough or long enough.

My home away from home is San Ysidro Ranch, the luxurious, idyllic resort located in the Montecito foothills only two miles from the ocean. The ranch is home to 40 cottages that make guests feel like they have a private residence in the picturesque neighborhood of Montecito, an enclave of Santa Barbara.

Each cottage is decorated with one-of-a-kind antiques, offers Bulgari bath products, and overflows with history. After all, Jackie O and John F. Kennedy honeymooned here.

The driveway off San Ysidro Road is flanked with rows of lavender and olive trees, a popular backdrop for engagement and bridal photos. Guest reception is located in the Hacienda, a freestanding cottage covered in Instagram-worthy bougainvillea. Guests are offered fresh baked cookies and refreshing lemonade from the property’s lemon trees. The gracious bellmen lead the way in a golf cart to your individual hideaway — a personal oasis, branded with your last name.

I’ve had the pleasure of staying in a handful of cottages, including Acacia, Rose, Lantana, Magnolia, and, most recently, Oak Grove. A thought-filled gift of ranch-made treats and a personal note from the manager always welcomed me. The ranch also ensures our four-legged pets are welcomed and cared for. My precious dog, Dolce, was a frequent guest.

The hacienda at the ranch
The hacienda at the ranch

Before dinner, enjoy sunset cocktails in the rose garden and meander through the immaculate chef’s garden while admiring the fragrant grounds and orange grove. The ranch houses two restaurants in the 19th-century citrus packing house — The Stonehouse and Plow & Angel, where executive chef Matthew Johnson oversees both menus. (The prestigious wine list won the Wine Spectator Grand Award.)

Santa Barbara nights are cool, but it is worth dining under the stars and loquat trees in the gardens, lingering over a memorable feast and sipping on lovely wine. A nightcap at Plow & Angel’s cavernous bar is a personal favorite.

Whether I am visiting for four days or six months, I always frequent the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Coast Village Road in Montecito for a vanilla ice blended with whip. Armed with my caffeine, I wander through the boutiques. There is something so addictively satisfying about being wrapped in warm California sunshine as I stroll along this road, lined with glorious palm trees. Insider tip: The local boutique Angel offers the most to-die-for basics.

Stop for lunch at Honor Bar and request one of the outdoor tables… it is worth the wait. Next door, browse the recently opened Honor Market for modern kitchen gifts and fresh-baked pastries. Other lunch favorites include Jeannine’s Bakery and Brophy Brothers. For dinner, I always enjoy Lucky’s Steakhouse, Cava, and Via Vai for delicious pizza and the best salad ever, the Insalata Cappuccino. Cold Spring Tavern offers an adventurous meal and will not only take you back in time, but also remind you of how wonderful the hidden gems are.

Wine country is a quick 45-minute drive over the mountains. In the small town of Los Olivos lies a popular tasting room called House and is home to Saarloos & Sons delicious reds. Downtown Santa Barbara has recently populated a sprouting number of tasting rooms devoted to local wines in an area called the Funk Zone.

The weather in Santa Barbara is simply spectacular year round, and the American riviera is magical during the winter. I typically fall back in love with Santa Barbara while visiting in December and January, which results in moving back there before spring has arrived. Come summer, SB Polo is a Sunday tradition and the Old Spanish Days Fiesta is a colorfully unique festival.

Santa Barbara lifts my spirits, feeds my soul, and inspires my dreams; it will always hold a very special place in my heart. The recent passing of my sweet Dolce, who also loved Santa Barbara and San Ysidro Ranch, forces me to find the courage to visit our home away from home without my little angel in tow. It brings back the joy-filled memories we shared and forever reminds me of our precious time together.

Steffi Burns is a DJ and Impatience Rosé Wine ambassador.  She is inspired by the secret gems, local flavors, and unique beats that make travel an adventure worthy of a postcard. Find her on Instagram @steffiiburns.

Home, chic home.

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