Seems it Never Rains in Southern California – NOT! Santa Barbara 2017!

Welcome to the first Practical Nomads post for 2017 which includes these highlights from our first few weeks in Santa Barbara:  Old Mission, our first visitors, our place, and initial observations. The song ‘It Never Rains in Southern California’ by Albert Hammond (old catchy tune from the early 70s that I probably remember from the dentist office, or in any Walgreen’s today!) has definitely been top of mind for Dave and me as we’ve had our fair share of rain over the last few weeks! Of course the state needs it, but it’s becoming an issue with flooding and mudslides.

We arrived on Sun, Jan 1 and spent most of the day getting settled in, unpacked, and buying some essentials. I was off from work on Mon, Jan 2 and we hiked up to the Old Mission, a living Franciscan mission owned and operated by Franciscan friars.

Living Old Mission of Santa Barbara (Mon, Jan 2)

  • Founded in 1786, the 10th CA mission established by the Spanish Franciscans, and the only mission that has continued operating since its founding.
  • The original purpose of the Mission was the Christianization of the Chumash Indians. After being confiscated and sold by the Mexican government, President Lincoln returned the mission to the Catholic Church in 1865 after CA became a state!
  • Its church is the 4th one built and dedicated in 1820 after the 3rd was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812.


Sacred Garden:

Cemetery Garden, laid out in 1789, more than 4,000 Chumash Indians laid to rest here:

Inside the Church:

Museum (originally used as living quarters for missionaries and guests):

Our first visitors!  Kate, Mike, and Elizabeth arrived on Sat, Jan 7.  We had a great time hanging out, taking in many sights, and eating a lots of great food!

State St turtles, Stearn’s Wharf and Sea Center (Sun, Jan 8)

We enjoyed some of the best Mexican I’ve had in some time around the corner at Carlitos.

Inspiration Point, Los Padres National Forest (Mon, Jan 9) – this is the most popular hike in Santa Barbara – relatively short but primarily all uphill, and at times quite challenging – about 4 mi round trip! Elizabeth really rocked this hike – she was in the lead most of the way with barely a huff or a puff!

Before the trailhead:

En route:

Nice to be on top!

The descent:

We were pretty exhausted after the hike – went straight to the South Coast Deli for yummy sandwiches and Mike got a massage across the street.  🙂 Dinner was from one of our favorites, Olio Pizzeria takeout.

Solvang (Tues, Jan 10)

A Danish community in the Santa Ynez Valley, whose name means ‘sunny field’ in Danish. It was established by Danes who traveled west to establish a colony far from the midwestern winters – smart!

En route to Solvang, pretty overlook in Los Padres National Forest!


Wine tasting at Andrew Murray, syrah expert!

Following some white knuckle driving through the mountains to return home, we had a great dinner at Chase Bar and Grill, great Italian in an old-school casual Chicago bar style setting!

Santa Barbara Zoo (Wed, Jan 11 – Dave’s birthday!)

Montecito – we drove around close to the zoo, ended up in Montecito (super cute town with good shops & restaurants), drove the shoreline, and stumbled across and into the Four Seasons for great views, light nibbles, and make your own gin cocktails – the feeling was pure vacation and relaxation!

Dinner at Brophy Brothers – fabulous!

Santa Barbara Courthouse Tower & Presidio (Thurs, Jan 12) –

The courthouse is a Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style and was completed in 1929. The building replaced a smaller Greek Revival courthouse in the same location that was severely damaged in the 1925 earthquake. Occupying an entire city block, the grounds contain a collection of palms and specimen trees from more than 25 countries

Courthouse is a must do – beautiful building and even more beautiful views from the ‘El Mirador’ clock tower!

The Presidio – former 5.5 acre Spanish military fortress, founded in 1782, and includes Santa Barbara’s first church.  It protected the missions and settlers against attack, provided a seat of government (covering from San Luis Obispo to the Pueblo of LA), and guarded the country against foreign invasion. The buildings formed a quadrangle enclosing a large central parade round, the whole surrounded by an outer defense wall with cannons.

Likely a ‘can skip’ on your visit to Santa Barbara, not very active or lively (though they do offer a tour that we didn’t take), and there are homeless hanging out right on the grounds.

Our place: we live in a 2 bed 1 bath apartment just a few blocks away from State St and all the action. The place is very comfortable and actually looks better than phots on VRBO listing (below.) The kitchen is newly remodeled and spacious, fairly well stocked, though light on the pots and pans (what we have looks like junkyard rejects.)  Furniture is nice, beds are comfortable, and there is a nice porch to relax on (when it’s not raining 🙂 The heating is archaic – can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it – there’s a large register on the floor in the living room, and nowhere else – making the bedrooms a little chilly at night. I think many places in Santa Barbara don’t really have heat or A/C given the year round mild temps!  We have had some major plumbing issues too – thankfully they happened after Kate and family departed – and they were quickly addressed! The TV is top notch and we get every cable channel imaginable – nice to be able to catch up on Shameless and Homeland!


Some initial observations of Santa Barbara include:  people seem genuinely nice and happy (reminds me of how the people were in Vancouver), the drivers are pretty courteous – they go out of their way to stop for pedestrians, weather forecast is completely unreliable and changes every day (though most days the weather is pretty nice!), and food has been unexpectedly and consistently great. The downside is the number of homeless that are on every street corner here and that the city doesn’t seem to mind or contain them. I think it is kind of encouraged actually – as the city also includes many rehab, ‘sanctuary’, and flophouse-looking businesses. Not uncommon to see a bum face down lying across the sidewalk, definitely not like Chicago. I’m surprised there aren’t tent cities like we saw in Honolulu and Victoria, Vancouver Island.

Some favorite dining spots include:

  • Toma – Italian – Dave and I went here last March too – excellent Italian, great service, very personalized attention from the owner who used to wait tables at the previous restaurant at the same site
  • Brophy Brothers – Seafood – Delicious food in a casual setting looking out over the Santa Barbara Harbor
  • Opal – Italian and Mediterranean – nice wine list and creative unexpected pasta dishes
  • Carlito’s – quality Mexican with traditional and more healthy options – large outside dining area (which is actually unique for downtown Santa Barbara)

Our next post will include: More Santa Barbara sights, Carpenteria and Bluff Walk, and our weekend trip to Paso Robles at the end of the month!

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