April 30, 2013 | By Collette Peck
1. Discover Lotusland
The garden created by Polish opera singer Ganna Walska is a truly extraordinary realm. Her labor of love over 43 years, it is a succession of contrasting “green rooms” and clusters of unusual plants. Topiary, dramatic displays of cycads and cacti, a Japanese pool, an open-air theater a beach set with giant shells…wonderful surprises appear at every turn. Private guided tours (visitor numbers are strictly limited) are available, reservations required.
2. Hit the Urban Wine Trail
Downtown Santa Barbara is best explored as part of the Urban Wine Trail. Start off with a tasting at centrally located Grassini Family Vineyard, and add in cultural sights, shops and cafes nearby. Then head towards the Funk Zone where warehouses such as Santa Barbara and Carr Wineries gather. Raise your glass to vintages from vineyards just out of town.
3. Take a grey whale and dolphin cruise
Sail along the California coast, past the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, spotting the playful seals that cling to buoys. You’ll also likely see dolphins leaping in formation, rising from the waves in graceful curves. The humpback and minke whales are more elusive, more numerous on early morning trips. But evening voyages bring a gorgeous sunset that lights up the sea and hills. Which to choose?
4. Explore Wine Country
Take an organized excursion out into the surrounding valleys and discover what are some of the world’s top wine regions, planted with both red and white grapes. There’s interest year-round from pruning in the winter to the harvest every fall. Not to mention the restaurants, galleries and country inns you’ll discover as you go.
5. Grow your Knowledge
Cherimoyas, cardoons, chile-lemon corn nuts… Discover the rich produce of the Santa Barbara region at the daily farmers’ markets. The two biggest are downtown, on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.
6. Come up Roses
Surprise your loved one with a bouquet of roses with a difference – they have selected from the fields where some 18,000 bushes are grown. Take a tour of Rose Story Farm and discover an abundance of fragrant flowers including the 1000-plus blooms that fill the White Tranquility Garden. Complete your experience with a cup of rose petal tea.
7. Meet the Animals
It may be small in size, but it packs a powerful punch. Ask any Santa Barbarian what’s their one “must visit” place and chances are they’ll say the zoo. The exceptionally beautiful beachside site charms everyone, with or without the children. Behind-the-scenes tours are a fascinating way to discover more about the giraffes, elephants, penguins and other animals.
8. Follow the Scent
Drive around the Santa Barbara region and you’ll find fragrant flowers everywhere. Check out the lavender fields of Solvang: not only are they a gorgeous sight but just breathe in The Lavender Farm’s aromatic air.
9. Catch the Culture
Head to State Street for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, with excellent 19th-century French, American and Asian collections. Among the city’s many theaters the Moorish-style Granada provides a striking setting for world-class music, opera and dance.