Ask any Santa Barbaran for a history lesson and he’ll probably rattle off how the Spanish settled here in the 1780s and brought with them a military (to protect the land) and their faith, Catholicism. It was a Spanish friar who ultimately bestowed a name on the town: His ship took shelter here on December 4, the day of the Feast of Santa Barbara.
On the third morning of our visit, Todd and I left our hotel, the recently renovated Canary Hotel, and walked one block over to State Street, the epicenter of downtown’s boutiques, cafés, and historical buildings. (The city is laid out in a user-friendly grid and is easily explored on foot.) We started at the 1929 county courthouse, where we climbed to the 80-foot-tall clock tower and peered over the roofscape of red tiles that stretched from mountains to ocean.
Then we wandered over to Perdido Street to explore the Presidio de Santa Barbara, the city’s original Spanish fort, built in 1782. We marveled at the construction (it was built with sun-dried adobe bricks stacked on a foundation of sandstone boulders) and at the ceilings adorned with “vigas”—heavy wooden rafters commonly seen in Spanish architecture. And looming just a mile away to the east was the Santa Barbara Mission, built in 1786. It was, as usual, packed with tourists while its double bells welcomed an active congregation.
By 4 p.m., we were thirsty after all that walking and exploring. We drove 10 miles northeast of town, up San Marcos Pass to Cold Spring Tavern, an 1860s-era log cabin nestled in a bend in the road. Inside, a rockabilly band played while we ordered pints of the tavern’s signature Stagecoach Blonde, which Paul Wright, owner of nearby Island Brewing Company, makes for the tavern. “Here it’s like you could be anywhere, in any time,” Wright said. A total escape. All of Santa Barbara felt like that to me, from the Spanish-influenced architecture to the Tuscany-inspired landscape leading to Montecito to the pristine coastline.
On our last night in town we could see all of these things from the Canary Hotel’s rooftop deck. We settled into a plush couch near the swimming pool, where the Alma Rosa Winery hosted a tasting for guests. Snuggling up with glasses of its 2006 pinot noir, we waited for the sun to make its exit and watched the orange light play off the surrounding roofs and the Santa Ynez foothills, fully appreciating what makes all the locals so proud.