The American Riviera

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Ken Brooks photo

Avoid freeway traffic and take the train for some California travel.

Located on the Pacific Ocean, just 90 miles north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is a perfect beach community. It offers dazzling beauty, a fine climate, spectacular fine-sand beaches, and a casual yet sophisticated lifestyle and a multitude of activities to suit any taste. Santa Barbara is situated in the only portion of the Pacific coast that runs from east to west. This coastal orientation creates unique Mediterranean-style light and weather. The city faces the sun all day long, and is protected by the magnificent Santa Ynez Mountains on one side, and the Channel Islands on the other. Santa Barbara is truly a paradise.

The city is home to 95,000 residents that enjoy the laidback style of living while also taking part in the many social activities that are available. The city abounds in fine hotels and resorts, wonderful dining opportunities, golfing, tennis, water sports, and more. Artists and their creations are found in studios in many locations as well as in galleries and museums.

Many clubs feature musical groups from all over the world. The Santa Barbara Symphony is outstanding with local and studio musicians from Los Angeles. The city also has its own Opera Company performing some of the world’s most popular titles.

There is much to see beginning with the Santa Barbara Harbor. Here are small rental craft to large yachts. Wave runners and jet boats are also available for rent. You can walk out on Sterns Wharf to view abundant marine mammals and sea life. You may even see dolphins or a whale. Climb aboard an original amphibious vehicle for a narrated 90 minute land and sea adventure. From the wharf you will cruise the inner harbor watching for sea life as well as fisherman unloading their boats, then, the “boat” rolls up on the beach and becomes a bus to sightsee the city. Amazing! Back at the wharf you can have lunch or dinner at the famous Moby Dick Restaurant. Here you dine at a window while watching the harbor activities, while you enjoy shrimp, cracked crab, baked fish or steak.

There is a trolley bus that offers tours around town plus you can purchase an all-day pass for $19, allowing you to get on and off at various points of interest. You can get off at the Historical Museum, Botanic Gardens, a whale watching point, the Maritime Museum, the Natural History Museum, Santa Barbara Zoo plus many shopping locations. It also stops in front of five varied menu restaurants. This saves finding parking places as you stop at the various locations. The bus starts of Sterns Wharf.

There are also tours to the Channel Islands National Park which will give you a brief channel crossing to Santa Cruz Island, which is California’s largest. This makes a great day trip. Here you can dive, hike, go kayaking and explore the almost unpopulated island.

Golfing is plentiful with fine 18-hole courses all over the are.

When you arrive in Santa Barbara be sure to stop in at the visitor center and they will be happy to give you several pamphlets and flyers you will find helpful. It’s located near the beach and wharf. Call (805) 965-3021.

Nearby Santa Barbara is the Santa Ynez Valley which offers rolling caramel-colored hills dotted with dark green valley oaks, grazing cattle, horse ranches, and vineyards. Wine tasting and vineyard touring is also available.

A trip to close-by Solvang is always interesting. It resembles a typical Scandinavian village and is loaded with shops, bakeries and hotels. Have lunch Swedish style.

While in this area visit Buelton and have bowl of Anderson’s pea soup. This is where it all started. It has been taken over by a large corporation but the soup recipe remains.

We were in Santa Barbara the week between Christmas and New Year’s and had a great time exploring the sights and attractions of the area. We had breakfast at Henry’s beach — a great place known mostly by the locals. Another morning we had breakfast at the Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel.

It is now a Four Seasons property and one of the most luxurious in the region. Views of the beach can’t be beat.

I am a train fan and took one day to roll on the rails. California Surfliner service provides trains from Santa Barbara to San Louis Obispo, about 100 miles north. About 80 percent of the trip is along the rugged Pacific coast. The train departed Santa Barbara at 10:15 a.m. and arrived San Louise Obispo at 12:45 p.m.

Just outside the depot was Café Roma, one of the best Italian restaurants I have had the pleasure to dine in recently. It was a lunch not to be forgotten. The train returning to Santa Barbara departed at 2 p.m. and arrived back in town at 4:30 p.m. It was a very scenic, enjoyable trip.

There are many hotels, motels and resorts to bed down in and you won’t have any trouble finding a property that suits your taste and pocketbook.

We drove out by automobile and broke the trip up with an overnight stay in Palm Springs. It is still a good town with much to do. We stayed at the Palm Springs Hilton which was recently refurbished and is a fine resort located in the center of town. Across the street is Sherman’s Kosher Deli — it was grade A!

I think you will enjoy the pleasures offered by this trip, and it’s warm!

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