Sometimes, when family life becomes super loud, romance has a way of shoving its fingers in its ears and hiding in a dark corner. Parents can coax it back out with a weekend getaway to a whimsical, coastal town like Santa Barbara. Here are some fun suggestions to make your trip unforgettable.
Go Bike Riding
Some hotels offer bikes to borrow. Instead of bikes, our hotel had an ocean-view balcony we’d never trade across from East Beach. The Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara had everything you’d need for any luxury business or family stay. Besides, Wheel Fun Rentals had a convenient booth by the hotel parking lot and offered a variety of pedal power options, including surreys. They can also deliver. You really get a feel of a town riding in its warm, ocean air. They offer a self-guided bike tour to get familiar with the city where you will try and invite romance to accompany you.
The self-guided tour takes you past Stearns Wharf, the West Coast’s oldest operating wharf, used in the Prohibition 1930s to anchor floating casinos. We stopped at the corner right before the wharf for a late lunch at the newly opened Bluewater Grill. There, romance finally looked up as we shared a platter of oysters in its half-shell and ponzu sashimi sea scallops. This may have been the culinary highlight of our trip.
Urban Wine Trail
Feeling a glow after our savory snacks, we walked right onto the wharf to begin the world-famous Urban Wine Trail at Deep Sea. Santa Barbara has more than 200 wineries and more than 170 tasting rooms.
While they’re not all on the “trail,” you can learn a lot from the tasting room servers. Many will share the history of the wines and tell you about the area in which the grapes are grown. It’s a chance to see the wizard behind the curtain only without the disappointment. With its 360-degree ocean views, Deep Sea had the most gorgeous location of any wine bar we visited. The Urban Wine Trail is divided into sections based on where in the city the tasting room is located. Summerland was a bit far for us and Midtown also sounds like a future trip, but we did visit the Presidio, located in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara and with some of the highest-end wineries. We enjoyed Au Bon Climate and the wine and chocolate truffle pairings at Cebada with Jessica Foster Confections.
The super hip Funk Zone was once “…a skid row, before the city built the underpass,” our taxi driver, Mickey told us. Today, it’s a draw for millennials and Gen Xers and stays open later than the rest of the trail rooms, though the last call is still at 9 p.m., so plan accordingly.
If you finish your Urban Wine Trail tour in the downtown outdoor plaza that hosts its La Arcada section, you can visit one of our favorites, Sanford Wines and stop by the close-by Santa Barbara Museum of Art, where we got to pose with a Monet. Besides creating customized wine tours, the Santa Barbara Trolley Company also offers a hop-on, hop-off tour that’ll take you by many of the same spots as the self-guided bike tour and includes the Museum of Art as well as the Maritime Museum, Museum of Natural History and the Old Mission. By this point, romance should be batting its eyelashes behind its program book.
A Beachy Breakfast
You can start your day with killer Bloody Marys and an ocean view that runs along the entire front of the Boathouse in Hendry’s Beach. There is usually a wait for tables but the hightops are first-come, first served, so we got one within minutes. They bring together fresh seafood with familiar breakfast items for an exquisite combination. After, we walked along the family-friendly beach framed by short cliffs and a gentle ocean. Dogs ran in and out of the surf and the squeal of happy children made us miss ours.
We decided a cleansing visit to SALT, the largest Himalayan salt cave in North America, was a good end to our weekend. For 45 minutes, we lay in a dim, salt-filled cave, breathing in the healing minerals and drifting in and out of sleep. It made me wish we could spend the night. Unique souvenirs are available in the gift shop for whomever is watching the kids.
There were things we didn’t do, which we must for our next trip if romance hides again, like the carriage ride at Happy Canyon that takes you through their vineyard and finishes with tastings and a charcuterie platter. The wonderful Sanford Winery has an ATV tour with wine pairings and Presqu’ile, just named Best Place to Go on a First Date by the Santa Maria Sun, has a coastline tour that sounds heavenly.
After a stop at the Sunday craft fair, we had our final lunch on the patio at Belmond El Encanto. With open ocean views, bobbing white sailboats on a wide, blue ocean, the scene sprang from the Mediterranean. We discovered, on the way home, romance holding our hand up front.