My answer used to be wishy-washy. “Oh well, I’d probably pay off my credit cards or donate it to Greenpeace or maybe take a trip around the world.”
Now, when someone asks what I’d do if I won the lottery, there’s no hesitation. I simply smile and say, “I’d move to Santa Barbara.”
I always knew the city known as America’s Riviera had to be pretty. It’s on a beach, it’s rimmed with mountains and John and Jackie Kennedy chose to honeymoon there, for God’s sake. But even armed with all that knowledge, I was totally unprepared for how smitten I would become on a recent trip to Santa Barbara.
In fact, calling Santa Barbara pretty doesn’t begin to cover it. Perfect might be a better word. As for climate, well, weather forecasters could probably just make a recording—sunny with temperatures in the mid-70’s–and play it every day. The beaches, too, are about as perfect as you can get with southern exposure, swaying palm trees, a bike path, open-air cafes and cute guys in skimpy shorts playing volleyball.
If you follow State Street a few blocks up from Stearns Wharf, you find a perfect historic downtown with cobblestone streets, open air paseos, fountains, cobbled arcades covered in bougainvillea and practically every cool store known to mankind. Keep going for seven miles and you run into the foothills of the almost-purple San Ynez mountains which not only make for good scenery, but provide lots of camping, hiking and birding. More than a third of the county is protected as national forestland.
Following are six other arguments for forsaking Greenpeace and using my lottery money to finance my move to Santa Barbara:
1. Everything in Santa Barbara either has a garden or is a garden. Naturally, there’s a Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, an official 65-acre garden with five miles of trails. But there are also gardens at the zoo (in fact, this seaside home of 500-plus animals is not called a zoo, but Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens), gardens at the Santa Barbara Mission (it’s considered by many to be the prettiest of California’s 21 missions), gardens at the beach, gardens at the dozens of parks and even gardens at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, the second most photographed public building in the United States. The first most photographed public building is, of course, the White House.
2. I could have a second career as a paparazzi. Oprah, Steve Martin, Michael Douglas, Charlize Theron, Ellen Degeneres, Jeff Bridges, Rob Lowe and Kevin Costner are just a few Hollywood luminaries with homes in Santa Barbara. It’s not unusual to spot local Kenny Loggins and his son at Batty’s Baseball Cages or to attend a wine and cheese gathering at the Wine Cask with transplant John Cleese. Plus, the list of celebs who go there to marry could keep my camera clicking until death do us part. Jim Carey, Sondra Bullock, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Debra Messing, Will Farrell, Heather Locklear, Halle Berry and Rock Hudson are just a few of the stellar somebodies who pronounced, “I do” in Santa Barbara.
3. I’d look forward to paying taxes and going to court. Okay, so this argument leaks a bit of water, but at least going to the courthouse would be a delight. Not only could I enjoy its meticulously landscaped grounds and sunken gardens, but I could climb to the top of the 85-foot clock tower and gloat at the panoramic view of my new home. Tours of the courthouse with it carved doors, wrought-iron chandeliers and historic murals are given several times a week. Bet you can’t say that about your county courthouse?
4. The place is an entrepreneur’s dream. Or at least it spawned the success of Motel 6, the largest company-owned and operated lodging chain in the United States (started in Santa Barbara in 1962, the first Motel 6 rented rooms for $6), Zog’s Sex Wax (don’t worry, it’s a surfing accoutrement), Big Dog Sportswear, (this t-shirt shop was launched by a couple Santa Barbara college students on a raft trip) and Kinko’s which was started in a taco stand on the UC-Santa Barbara campus with a single copy machine.
The country’s first major film studio, Flying A Studios, once sat at the corner of State and Mission Street. Started by the American Film Company in 1909, Flying A produced more than 1200 films, mostly westerns and black and whites. Cecil B. Demille worked as a carpenter there and Charlie Chaplin, who liked the area so much, moved to Montecito and built the still-popular Montecito Inn.
5. I could become a gourmand.Julia Child was partial to La Super-Rica Taqueria, a casual local favorite for 20 years, but Santa Barbara has restaurants for every taste from uber posh Restaurant Miro to Joe’s Café, a laidback diner with the only neon sign in town. And remember that great climate I gushed about? Santa Barbara has lots of al fresco dining, both on the waterfront, downtown and in little-known hideaways. The Endless Summer Bar and Café, named after the cult classic surf movie, is a great place on the harbor to watch sailboats and luxury yachts.
Santa Barbara County also has a much-deserved reputation as one of the world’s premium wine-producing regions. Within the county are more than 100 wineries, known for their quaint settings, friendly vintners and starring role in the 2004 hit movie, Sideways. In fact, Paul Giamatti’s character Miles raved so profusely about the Santa Barbara pinot noir that, after the movie, sales of his beloved drink shot up 16 percent. A free, self-guided Sideways tour map spotlights 18 movie locations including Kalyra Winery where the bachelors meet Sandra Oh’s character and Fess Parker’s Winery where Miles guzzles the communal spit bucket.
6. There are lots of free things to do. Even after winning the lottery, I’m probably going to have to pinch pennies. I heard cemetery plots in Santa Barbara go for as much as $56,000. Luckily, Santa Barbara offers lots of freebies. Some of the ones in which I’ll undoubtedly partake are Sunday’s Arts and Craft Show (more than 250 local artists set up displays along the beach), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s free Thursdays, whale watching at Shoreline Park and the Red Tile Walking Tour, a 12-block walking tour of Santa Barbara’s unique Spanish-Moorish architecture.
Although I truly hope you come visit, I’m giving out the contact particulars with some reservation. After all, I don’t want my new home to get too crowded. Contact the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau at 1601 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101-1909, www.santabarbaraca.com.