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Santa Barbara

Updated: Nov 8, 2011 02:31 PM EST


By Matthew Poole, Harry Basch, Kristin Luna, Mark Hiss & Erika Lenkert 

It's been called the American Riviera, and Santa Barbara delivers the gracious good life amid sun-splashed stucco and red-tile roofs under swaying palms. A pitch-perfect climate doesn't hurt: This California gold-coast community is serendipitously tucked between Pacific beaches and the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Feel the cooling ocean breeze on sandy beaches or browse the boutiques lining downtown State Street. Say hello to the giraffes at Santa Barbara Zoo before relaxing over a meal at a waterfront restaurant.

Things to Do

Up at Mission Canyon explore miles of meandering trails past scented wildflowers, redwoods and California cacti at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Closer to town, the 18th-century hilltop Old Mission Santa Barbara overlooks Santa Barbara and beyond and is still home to a community of Franciscan friars. The rich collections of early-20th-century American and French paintings at Santa Barbara Museum of Art include major works by Matisse.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Downtown theaters stage Broadway musicals and the sumptuous Granada Theatre resonates with overtures and arias from the Santa Barbara Symphony and the Opera Santa Barbara. Head to Lower State Street to sip margaritas at a chic cocktail lounge or relax to the sounds of live jazz with a glass of chilled wine at a bistro tucked off a downtown alleyway.

Restaurants and Dining

Dine alfresco in the downtown and Santa Barbara Harbor districts on regionally inspired dishes like smoked Santa Barbara albacore carpaccio and local venison served with aromatic cumin and green peppercorns. Brophy Bros. Clam Bar and Restaurant packs 'em in with marina views as well as reliable cioppino and locally caught white seabass. You won't have to travel far for a first-rate bottle of wine: The Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County produces fine pinot noir, chardonnay and Syrah vintages.

Active Pursuits

Santa Barbara's California sun nurtures the outdoors life. Get a game going on one of several volleyball courts at the city's popular East Beach, or head to the white crescent of Arroyo Burro Beach County Park, to the west, for great waves for surfing and bodysurfing. See the sparkling ocean from two wheels as you roll along the beachside pathway on a rented bike. At Santa Barbara Harbor you can rent kayaks, take a sailing course or charter a boat.

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