Santa Barbara & Solvang - America's Hidden Gems

If you are trooping towards western USA for a holiday, squeeze in some time for the tiny Santa Barbara and Solvang. Their natural beauty coupled with glamour has us enchanted for life...

By: Soumya Jain

Posted on: May 16, 2014

If you are trooping towards western USA for a holiday, squeeze in some time for the tiny Santa Barbara and Solvang. Their natural beauty coupled with glamour has us enchanted for life…

It was one of my rare jaw-dropping moments when I stepped out of the tiny, dollhouse-esque Santa Barbara airport. It was a sunny afternoon in mid-November with an ever-so-slight breeze playing around. Rows of disciplined palm trees gave way to a magnificent view of Santa Ynez Mountains. Drive out of the airport, wind down a few roads, and you’ll hit the Pacific Ocean soon. That’s how I’ll always remember Santa Barbara - a city with mountains on one side and an ocean on the other…

A true picture postcard kind of scene, you’ll never get enough of California’s Santa Barbara. Much like its geographical location, there is diversity in the vibe of this city too. Being the location of a university, and retirement home of many, there is a quiet tone to Santa Barbara and an underlying vibrancy owing to its young crowd. And to add some glamour, it’s not unusual to find a Hollywood celeb staying here or walking around, escaping their grueling work! For my part, I enjoyed the calmness of Santa Barbara more.

Under the Californian sun
A tiny little town, you could explore it in two days, but it’s not easy to rip yourself away from its enchanting views… Santa Barbara, owing to its history, has a strong Spanish influence in its architecture. That adds to the beauty of this place along with the natural splendour. Laid-back and charming is how you'll define this destination.

Walk down the upclass State Street – the downtown of Santa Barbara - where you’ll find many shopping outlets, high-end boutiques, quaint eateries and fine dining restaurants. It is, actually, the people and their dogs that fascinated me to no end. If you want to see an exotic variety of dogs, Santa Barbara is the place to be! The cross-breeding is sometimes so weird, that I ended up thinking how could the creator have envisioned such a result? The more unusual they are, the wealthier the owner is we hear! And then if you spot a house somewhere on a cliff or up on the mountain, you know it belongs to a lucky, rich man again.

Paseo Nuevo, a white complex with Spanish architecture, comprising brands, boutiques, restaurants and chocolatiers will appeal to you. You’ll find most of the American brands here. Walk around, shop, or just sit in the middle of the complex and observe all the vibrancy around you. You’ll be up in no time to become a part of the mingling crowd.

It is absolutely imperative to enjoy the ocean up and close if you are in Santa Barbara. Just a short drive away from State Street, get down at Stearns Wharf, and walk leisurely as you observe souvenir shops, multitude of seafood eateries and boat tour vendors. Reach the tip and simply bask in the sun as you look out at the vast expanse of purest blue you have ever seen!

South of the Stearns Wharf – from the State Street side – is the East Beach. Having spent a quiet evening, just watching the waves rush through, we went back the next early morning to see the sunrise. And was it magical? As the sun rose, we discerned a mist near the mountains rising. The rays swept up the mountain range slowly and illuminated the whole city with a warm glow. The ocean waves blushed in the orange light. No words can do justice to that moment… And to add something even more incredible, we saw a tiny group of seals bobbing near the shore!

About half an hour drive leads you to Montecito, a city settled on the mountains, where the rich and the famous live in privacy we hear. Sprawling mansions, cascading gardens, high technology – they have it all there… Wind around the mountain road and you could get lost in this lush green maze!

There are not many luxury staying options in Santa Barbara, but just enough to help you make a quick and satisfactory decision. Our especial favourite is the sprawling Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore. You simply can’t get enough of it. Otherwise, take your pick from El Encanto by Orient-Express, Canary (a Kimpton hotel), San Ysidro Ranch (a Ty Warner Property), Harbor View Inn and The Fess Parker (a Doubletree by Hilton resort).

Going back in time

Once you have had your fill of the plush Santa Barbara, you could head an hour away from the city to reach Solvang. But not before you have driven through the enchanting highway 101 as you drive alongside the Pacific Ocean glimmering in the sunlight! If you have time to save, stop midway at Refugio State Beach. The many trailer vans parked there will inspire you to own one in the future. The yellow sand beach will make for a nice camera clicking spot; splash in the ice-cold water of the ocean; and finally, sit down to bask in the sun and think about nothing.

Back on the road, notice as the mountains rise in front of you. Your eyes will be glued on the window we assure you. And then watch as towering tress, very different from what you might have observed in Santa Barbara till now, signal your entrance into Solvang. It’s a separate world out there with windmills, church bells tolling hard, horse driven carriages, and occasionally, women dressed like dairy maids!

You’ll find myriad place serving you authentic Danish cookies and pastries. To say it in slang, dig into them! Combine it with some wine tastings. Many wineries, not surprisingly located in California, have set up small shops to offer wine to tourists. And to tell you the truth, you might just find a gem of a hidden wine you might not have heard of till now! I discovered the taste of warm, mulled spice wine in Solvang, and haven’t left it since!

Shopping in Solvang means finding unique and rare products. Enter Edelweiss and you’ll find yourself in a dream land! Tiny ceramic fairies, old British tea pots, Victorian broad-brimmed hats, ornate mirrors, tiny coin purses and much more will abound their shelves. A more high-scale boutique, Solvang Antiques housed real antique jewellery, which has been worn and passed down through generations. I was spellbound by the fine diamond rings, earrings and brooches sporting sapphires and emeralds amounting to many carats. Find musical boxes and antique clocks. Immerse into impressionist paintings. Try on antique pocket and wrist watches by Tiffany & Co, Rolex, Patek Philippe and other heritage brands. Much like a museum, I assure you something in that humungous store will certainly catch and sparkle your eye…

Santa Barbara and Solvang have that laid back feeling which most of us crave for after toiling hard in cities. But this is not to say that the cities lack any activity. A fine blend of nature, aristocracy, uniqueness and ample F&B, we recommend you to visit them once in your life at least. You’ll thank us!

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