48 Hours in Santa Barbara
Fall's grape harvest is the perfect excuse for a weekend away as industry locals share the new (and old) hot spots to hit.
With its mix of sophisticated lifestyle, natural beauty and rustic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, Santa Barbara, already a big draw for Hollywood, is luring more big-name residents than ever before. In December, George Lucas spent in the $20 million range for a beachfront retreat. A few weeks later, Drew Barrymore paid $5.7 million for a Mediterranean-style mansion in the tony enclave of Montecito (population 8,900), part-time home to Oprah Winfrey, writer-producer David Crane and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Even so, Santa Barbara and its nearby Santa Ynez wine country continue to have a relaxed vibe. Right now -- with the grape harvest in full swing -- is one of the best times to make the 90-mile drive up the coast.
Evening: Check in at one of Montecito's two five-star hotels, both owned by Ty Warner. The Beanie Baby billionaire's SAN YSIDRO RANCH (900 San Ysidro Lane, rooms from $650) and its lavender-filled gardens sit nestled at the foot of the Santa Ynez Mountains, while the posh FOUR SEASONS BILTMORE (1260 Channel Drive, rooms from $425), opened in 1927, lies inside the cres cent of picturesque Butterfly Beach. "You've got Santa Cruz Island in front of you, a great beach and a five-star hotel. It's the best of all together in one place," says director and resident Ivan Reitman.
Golfers who want convenience to the top-flight Sandpiper course -- a favorite of Twentieth Television chairman Gary Newman -- should book an ocean-view suite 15 miles up the coast at the secluded white-stucco BACARA RESORT (8301 Hollister Ave., Goleta, rooms from $475), which was just purchased by the investors behind the Montage.
In downtown Santa Barbara, the CANARY HOTEL (31 W. Carrillo St., rooms from $485), with an updated Mediterranean-inspired decor by star designer Michael Smith, is a winning option.
On a recent night, diners at LUCKY'S STEAKHOUSE (1270 Coast Village Road, Montecito) included Reitman, Robert Zemeckis, Rob Lowe and Dennis MIller at separate tables. "It's Montecito's version of the Palm," says ICM agent and part-timer Brian Bunnin. The chophouse -- located in a bungalow attached to the Montecito Inn (opened by Charlie Chaplin in 1928) -- has non-carnivore options. Says Kathy Freston, author of the new book Veganist, who has a house there with her husband, Tom: "After a little haggling, they put a tofu dish on the menu. It's sliced and braised over a bed of miso spinach. It's divine."
For those who want Lucky's food without the scene, head down the coast to SLY'S (686 Linden Ave.) in Carpinteria, opened by a former chef at Lucky's. Castle actress Susan Sullivan is a regular. Or grab a plate of fresh pasta at Montecito's TRATTORIA MOLLIE (1250 Coast Village Road), adored by Dick Wolf ("Everything is authentically Italian").
Morning: Make sure to book a reservation at Lotusland, a truly one-of-a-kind garden of succulents, palms and water lilies (tours $35, closed mid-November to mid-February, 695 Ashley Road). For a bite before the 90-minute tour, Reitman recommends downtown's D'ANGELO BAKERY (25 W. Gutierrez St.), known for its poached Eggs Rose on homemade olive bread with artichoke spread.
Afternoon: Dig into Italian at OLIO E LIMONE (17 W. Victoria St.), a favorite of Zemeckis' wife, documentarian Leslie Zemeckis (Behind the Burly Q), who loves the pear carpaccio salad with Gorgonzola. Next door is the newly opened, more casual OLIO PIZZERIA.
If you have kids, take them to the Santa Barbara Zoo ("It's intimate," says Bunnin), to the Sea Center on the pier and to enjoy the stunning views atop the Santa Barbara Courthouse's bell tower.
Adults, of course, come for the wine. A tasting scene has sprung up in downtown S.B. that starts with the Urban Wine Trail, with 12 stops centered around the scruffy Funk Zone neighborhood near the beach. It includes CARR VINEYARDS' low-key room (414 N. Salsipuedes St.). The must-sample is the Carr 2009 Sangiovese, pride of winemaker Ryan Carr (progeny of music producer Budd Carr).
Evening: Stay downtown and stroll State Street, where many stores stay open late and the dining options are plentiful. The current hot spot is recently opened Spanish-influenced CADIZ (509 State St.) for tapas and flatbreads. Further up the main drag are ARIGATO (1225 State St.) for inventive sushi loved by director Andrew Davis and the local outpost of L.A. seafood spot HUNGRY CAT (1134 Chapala St.).
Later, if you can stomach just one more glass of vino, one of the coolest places in town is new wine shop/bar LA TOUR (224 Helena St., open till 2 a.m. daily), whose owner, Graham Pressley, pours tasting flights of European wines.
Morning: Even some locals don't realize that top Italian restaurant TRE LUNE serves an equally commendable breakfast. Roll in late morning for the Italian Benedict on toasted rye with prosciutto. It's going to be a full day.
Afternoon: It's time to make the 35-mile jaunt northeast to the land of Sideways, the oak-tree-shaded mother lode of wineries and tasting rooms (more than 150 at last count) in the Santa Ynez Valley.
The big event now is the Santa Barbara Vintners' Association's Celebration of Harvest wine fest on Oct. 8 at Santa Maria's RANCHO SISQUOC WINERY (6600 Foxen Canyon Road).
Standouts for sipping in and near the quaint town of Los Olivos are BRANDER (2401 N. Refugio Road), CARINA and TENSLEY (2900 Grand Ave.), QUPE (2963 Grand Ave.), MELVILLE (5185 East Highway 246) and KALYRA (343 N. Refugio Road), one of Armageddon screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh's picks.
A rising star vintner is Mikael Sigouin of KAENA WINE COMPANY (2933 San Marcos Ave.). His Spanish-style 2008 Kaena Hapa is a sublime Priorat-inspired experiment, and he honed his chops at BECKMEN VINEYARDS (2670 Ontiveros Road), a scenic spot complete with duck pond.
Later, explore the antique stores of Los Alamos village. A new addition is gourmet shop and picnic-basket purveyor BELL STREET FARM (406 Bell St.), owned by former ad exec Jamie Gluck, whose husband, John Wentworth, is CBS Television Distribution's head of communications. Newman -- whose own JORIAN HILL VINEYARDS is just a few miles away (no tasting room) -- is a fan.
If you need to clear your head before heading home, tackle one of the area's many hiking trails. In Montecito, Freston likes the Romero Canyon and Hot Springs loops. "We've run into a bear who was happily eating berries from a bush," she says. "You really feel so far away from the city."