Visiting Santa Barbara

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Santa Barbara was hit this week with an awful oil spill.  It’s sad for the all the sea life affected as it is for the town.  It’s such a beautiful area and now I’m sure no one wants to go. We were just there over our Easter break and I had a great time with the girls.  Santa Barbara is a wonderful place to visit, specially with small kids because all the things to see and do are in close proximity to one another, it’s quaint, quiet, beautiful and full of fun for the kids and adults.  We actually never went to the beach!  There were too many other great things to explore.  Here’s a wrap up of where we went and the things we did.

We stayed at the Hotel Indigo. I chose it based on the good reviews online and it’s location.  I wanted something relatively close to the beach. What I didn’t know until we got there is that it’s also located in the Funk Zone, a hip, eclectic area of town where industrial building are filled with artists, great eateries, galleries and clubs. We loved the hotel. The room was small but the outdoor patio gave the girls space to play. The staff was super nice. I think the lack of extra space and a pool (I purposefully chose a hotel without a pool) is what kept us out and about and that was my plan. I wanted the girls to see all the great things in Santa Barbara!

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Every morning we took a 3 block stroll over to The Lucky Penny for breakfast. This became my dining table away from home. There was a day when we ate all three meals here.  Everything was fresh and made in their kitchen. Home made granola and pasteries, amazing coffee, fresh fruit, wood-fired pizza, delicious salads…it was better than home. Their outdoor patio is perfect for eating with kids.  The girls begged me to go back every day!

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IMG_4906 santabarbara 23589We didn’t go back there exactly,  but we did eat at the sister restaurants. In the same complex as The Lucky Penny you can find The Lark and Les Marchands, each more upscale than the next and all belonging to the same owner. I took it up a notch one evening at The Lark but didn’t dare take the kids any further.  I have to say the staff at each location was so kind and helpful and never gave me the “disgusted look” that I so often get at nicer restaurants when I take the kids.  I mean, I do my part. I work hard to make sure the girls know how to behave at these establishments and in turn I’d just like a chance to expose my children to great food.  The vibe here was all about getting little palettes to expand and I thank them for it!

The food was so amazingly good!  It was crazy good! And beautifully plated! I ordered risotto and i’ve never seen it plated like they did it!  Just looking at their menu again makes me want to drive up the coast for dinner tonight!  I was enchanted not just by their food but also by their architecture and decor. It was nice to see how they defined the space of each restaurant and yet they can move the outdoor walls with moving planters. The space still feels authentic to the Funk Town vibe and yet i has it’s upscale airs to.  I thought it was very well done.

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One of my favorite things about eating at the Lucky Penny in the morning was that we could peek in through The Lark’s kitchen window and watch the sous chefs prepping the day’s meals. Their kitchen is so beautiful! I wanted to take a section of it home. And I want to learn to chop like a chef!

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Even though Santa Barbara is at most a 2 hour drive from us and I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 13 years, before this I never really knew the town. It’s been a stopping point for trips to and from Big Sur or San Francisco and we always ate at the same restaurant. That’s all I knew of Santa Barbara.  It was time to become better acquainted. We started with a trolley ride. It was a 90minute ride that took us by all the major stopping points: the main stretch on State Street, The Mission, The Natural History Museum, The Zoo, Montecito, etc. It was a great way to get the lay of the land. My one mistake was doing it first thing in the morning. I should have done it in the afternoon when the girls would have been tired and sat still. Instead they were antsy 30 minutes into it! I highly recommend the trolley ride. They tell you a lot of great facts, information and history about Santa Barbara.

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We hit the Santa Barbara Mission of course. I’m on a mission of my own to infuse the girls with all of the 21 missions slowly but surely so when their school mission project comes along in 4th grade they will be well versed in the visuals of the project.  We’ve already hit up San Juan Capistrano and San Inés and now Santa Barbara!  The girl’s school did a new thing this year. They let the kids do the mission model in whatever form they chose, including Minecraft!  I thought it was brilliant and my girls don’t even play Minecraft! What a smart way to incorporate history, architecture and current interest all together!  P just finished a lesson on the Chumash Indians of our area. I saw the connection to this particular mission after the lesson. This is what I love about travel. When you can visually bring into their minds what they’ve learned in books and in the classroom it multiplies their connection to all of it. In this case it was the architecture and culture of people. And yes, it included a dialogue about how Catholicism wiped out an Indian tribe.  Yes, we are Catholic. Most interesting to me was to see how responsibility and empathy were the first emotions to come from my 7 year old.  The big lesson to come was that we read history to learn from our mistakes so we can do better in the future.  And the great fun showing them more architecture and the details of colors, fonts, stonework, etc!

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The Santa Barbara Zoo was not on my high points to see. However, after being there I highly recommend it. It’s small which is wonderful for little people. They don’t get overwhelmed. We parents don’t get overwhelmed. It took us 4 hours to see it in it’s entirety!  For the girls, the best part was a sliding hill! Yeah, not the animals, although they were entertaining of course just not as much fun as sliding down a slippery slope on recycled cardboard.

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We never made it to the Natural History Museum but we did make it to it’s Sea Center down on the pier.  What’s unique about Santa Barbara’s Natural History Museums is that all the things they have are pertinent to Santa Barbara. The animals they feature and all their information only pertains to their area so you don’t get the feeling that you’ve already seen all this in another history museum. Our hotel was in walking distance to the pier so we were able to make it to the Sea Center museum easily. I loved this place because their staff was so informative, patient and willing to answer a million questions as is the case with my girls. G who is not so adventurous and takes her time to warm up to strange creatures is often over looked at aquariums. But here, they waited patiently until she was willing to touch a starfish.  Huge accomplishment! P, asks a million questions and can overwhelm most people or annoy them when she asks a question they can’t answer. Not this staff!  Even when they were stumped they turned it into a inquisitive research project. Brilliant! This is a place that may be affected by the oil spill but given their thinking process I’m guessing they’ll turn it into a learning experience. I’d still go check it out!

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On our strolls over to The Lucky Penny we found a place called The Blue Door. It had a fantastic collection of vintage furniture, jewelry and just different unique pieces. It was an unexpected wonderful experience with the girls.  I forget how much of my normal daily life as a child is now absent from theirs. The rotary telephone for example; a typewriter, a pay phone!  All these things are no where to be found in the lives of my seven and three years olds. I wish I could have captured the looks on the their faces when I was explaining that once upon a time when you left the house you had no way of getting in touch with people unless you used a pay phone. You left the house and that was that. No one contacted you and you contacted no one. That was a priceless revelation. P used a typewriter for the first time and was mesmerized. Now she wants one. G saw an old, old sewing machine and was in awe. I had never seen one that old! I was also in awe!  They had some great pieces of Mid Century Modern furniture. I wanted to bring half the store home! I settled for a candle and a great bracelet.

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IMG_4770When you walk around The Funk Zone there’s art everywhere. I can’t help but photograph people in front of murals or graffiti. I simply love it!  I love these backdrops created by other artists. The girls know this about me and will pose just to make the process go faster because they know I’ll hound them.  P in particular loves to pull the drama out!

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The other great place where we ate was the Santa Barbara Public Market. By now you might be wondering if our travels revolve around food and yes they do!  After watching Netflix’s first episode of “Chef’s Table” I’m seriously considering a trip to Modena, Italy to eat at Osteria Francescana! I am food crazy!

The Public Market was wonderful! I find eating markets great for kids because the food is out on display. Most places offer little samples to kids so they might just be enticed by something new.  The girls chose to eat at Empty Bowl, a Thai noodle bar.  We sat at the counter for the first time. It was a great meal and a new experience for them to be up on stools dining like little adults. I would have loved to go back again to try more of their menu. As we walked out i
t was hard to leave without dessert. How could we pass up Enjoy Cupcake with such beautiful displays and delicious treats.

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So we did all these great fun adventures all over Santa Barbara but if you ask the girls what their favorite thing was about the trip they’ll tell you it was a playground called Kid’s World. This massive play structure is like 4 playgrounds in one. There’s fun nooks and crannies and activities in the structure itself. For example, theres a marble run in one entrance which you’ll miss if you’re not looking. For me it was a little intimidating and I worried about losing my girls but every parent there was pretty vigilant about all the kids. When you play for a bit you know who belongs to who and everyone keeps an eye out. I kept wondering what this structure would have been like when we were kids, back when “free range parenting” was not a style but just a way of life. The girls loved loved loved it and it wore them out so I loved it to.

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You can’t go to Santa Barbara and not think about Oprah. How cool would it be to run into Oprah? I’m a fan but not a crazy nut so I thought we’d do a stop or two in Montecito for lunch and dinner. The woman must eat right?  For lunch we stopped at Pierre Lafond Market. The food was pretty good but what was amazing was the shopping up stairs. Oh good God please let me die and go to Montecito with money! Every single thing in that store was ME! It’s like they shopped for ME! The kid’s clothes, table linens, clothes, bed linens were so simple yet so perfectly designed with the most beautiful of details!  So I obviously must have the same taste as women who have 10x the amount of money I do! Sometimes I wish I had bad taste. For dinner we went back to Montecito because I have this theory that wealth can be acquired through osmosis. If you’re around money it’ll begin to stick! HA! Anyway, I like being around money because the ambiance is always stimulating to all the five senses, not just one or two.

On our way out of the area we ate at Honor Bar on Coast Village Road. It was so good. P had been craving a “Media Noche” since we watched the movie “Chef” and they happened to have a special version of the sandwich that night. P devoured it like I’ve never seen her eat a meal before or since. The sandwich was spicy and kind of pickled and sour and for whatever reason she loved it.  Her Latin roots are beginning to show!  The Honor Bar was another restaurant that stood out to me for their service and accommodation with kids. The wait staff was so kind. I wanted to order a side of toast so G could finish her meal. This is not the kind of restaurant with sides of toast but I thought I’d ask.  They accommodated us without any hesitation.  They were quick on getting refills and the check.  I felt taken care of.  Even when I ordered a glass of wine (my first on the trip) and I was unsure of what to get they were so kind to bring out tasting glasses. It was the perfect ending to the perfect trip.

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This wrap up was much longer than I expected but the trip was really fantastic and I feel I didn’t get to share all of the fun.  The girls want to go back and I do to.  I don’t know what it was about the place but it was relaxing and lovely and amazing!  If you were thinking of going to Santa Barbara don’t let the oil spill stop you. It’s a beautiful, kind place
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