Santa Barbara was an area I was excited to visit even before we began full timing. I heard great things about it from my parents and several traveling friends, so I knew it was a must-do. I quickly learned why it is a hotspot for so many travelers; SB and all its unique neighboring towns are charming and idyllic. Join me on a little photo tour of some of our favorite areas (and a couple we may skip next time)!
After spending several weeks in the Bay area and a few nights in Morgan Hill, CA (outside of San Jose) following our big travel fail, it was time to head to Santa Barbara for a couple weeks. It was a four hour drive down from Morgan Hill, and Brandon felt miserable the whole. His sinuses were stuffed up, he had a bad cough, he was achy — he was not a happy camper (pun definitely intended). We arrived after dark, and he had just enough in him to set up the trailer and collapse into bed, where he stayed for the next 4-5 days. We watched movie after movie, ate lots of soup and rested. This was a tall order for us; we are “doers” and have a hard time sitting still for more than 5 minutes.
Having a few days of laying low had its benefits; we met our next-door neighbors on both sides of us, both of whom lived at Rancho Oso year-round. Martin and his spirited chihuahua Roo were on one side, and Christian and Josh and their sweet 2-year-old on the other. A couple days in to our stay, Christian invited us over for a potluck with some of the Rancho Oso residents. We weren’t about to pass up an invitation for good food and great company, so Brandon dragged himself out of bed for the occasion. Josh, a lobster fisherman, fried up some fresh caught Rockfish (uh, yummy) and we feasted on spinach puffs, salads, roasted chickpeas, cheese, crackers and mocha chocolate cheese cake. Double, triple, quadruple tastebud dance yum.
‘RV resort’ only describes a bit of what Rancho Oso actually is. Aside from camping, it offers some really unique lodging options—you can rent a teepee, covered wagon, log cabin or “Western village” tiny home. They offer horse back rides and horse boarding, a weekend mini rodeo, wine tastings, movie nights and plenty more. The ranch is set on over 300 acres in the San Ynez Mountains, which is a quick 20 minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara. As Brandon gained his strength back, we began to explore the ranch more. We discovered that the ranch has a few pet goats, chickens, and a 900 lb pig named Bob that live on the property; they were the sweetest! Bob filled my porcine void, and we took carrots and cheerios down to them almost every day. I took advantage of the rural location and went trail running every day. The only complaint we had about the park was the lack of cell service and WiFi. Of course, that just comes with the territory when you RV in a remote location. The adult lodge does offer free WiFi but it’s slower than tar, so consider yourself warned. Luckily, they have a cell signal booster in the lodge, and the boost was enough for me to tether WiFi from my phone. Hallelujah for Verizon!
Santa Barbara’s state street is about as cute as they come. While we were there we ate a great healthy lunch from Natural Cafe, devoured some not-so-healthy ice cream from McConnell’s, and much to Brandon’s dismay, did a bit of shopping. At the top of state street is the Courthouse, which oddly, is a lot of fun to visit. You wouldn’t typically tour a courthouse in any given city, but the Santa Barbara one is an exception. The incredible mission-style architecture and interior have been preserved, and the view from the lookout is fantastic. Best of all, it’s free!
Let me just hold the phone right there and mention that one day, we discovered Los Agaves Mexican restaurant…and it was life changing. They had the best Mexican food I had ever eaten. The salsa bar was on point, the guacamole was incredible and the flavors were just superb. My mouth is watering just typing this (and watered again as I edited)! If you are in SB, don’t mis Los Agaves!
Another highlight was catching a sunset at Arroyo Burro, or Hendry’s, beach. It is also a dog beach, and overall just a nice local spot with a relaxed vibe away from the main tourist-ridden boardwalk areas.
If art, history or architecture appeal to you, the Santa Barbara Mission is another unique landmark to check out. By the time we got there we were too tired from a day of exploring to pay admission and take the self guided tour, so we just walked the exterior and snapped a few pictures.
Goleta is just 15 minutes north of SB, and frankly I can’t speak much for the city itself as we really didn’t spend much time there. However, I can speak for the Goleta Butterfly Preserve! We parked and took a mile or two walk to find the clumps of thousands of monarch butterflies. WOW! They were so gorgeous! Without the occasional shuttering or flapping of wings, you might mistake the clumps for a bunch of leaves. If you go, make sure you have a telescoping camera lens or a pair of binoculars to really appreciate how incredible it is.
Oh, Solvang. I so badly wanted to love this little european copycat town, but I just didn’t. I was expecting the Danish-modeled shops to feature imported european art and collectables, but most of them were filled with cheap toys, “I Went To Solvang” tees or other dinky tourist trap memorabilia. The food and pastries were also a big disappointment. I know what you’re thinking — how on earth to you ruin a Danish pastry?! Those were my thoughts, also. My advice? Drive through Solvang on the way to explore the neighboring wine countries, snap a few pictures…and don’t get out of your car.
Enter Los Olivos: now, that’s a small town I can get behind! It’s a one stop sign town, made up almost exclusively of wine tasting rooms and art galleries, with a few eclectic boutiques scattered here and there. It is BEYOND cute (even Brandon used the word ‘cute’ to describe it) and I would highly suggest this for anyone. Anyone who enjoys wine, that is.
Do not, I repeat do not leave without doing a wine tasting at the Carhartt tasting room. It advertises itself as “the smallest tasting room in the world,” which I don’t doubt, as it’s a teeny little log cabin with only enough room for a bartender and two or three chairs. Behind it, however, is a beautiful tasting room deck. It has plenty of seating with handcrafted wooden lounge chairs and tables, planters spilling over with greenery and trees everywhere. A water features trickled in the back corner and Danny’s Song by Loggins&Messina crooned in the background — it was truly relaxation at its finest! A five wine flight was only $10 per person, which was well worth it considering the quality of the wine. The bartenders were friendly and talkative. We will be making a special trip back to Los Olivos just to visit this place!
Following our wine tasting straight from heaven, we walked around J. Woeste succulent garden and the labyrinth at St. Marks church. We couldn’t leave without checking out Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch — or, at least the gates that lead to it. We’re both MJ fan and had fun checking out the gates to his property.
We had a peaceful and wonderful two weeks in the Santa Barbara area. I’m pretty excited for our return trip in a couple months! Have you visited before? What is your favorite thing to do?