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Five years after a torrential storm walloped Santa Barbara County that resulted in deadly mudslides, evacuations were ordered Jan. 9 for the enclave of Montecito and some neighboring areas as downpours once again sparked threatening conditions.
Trees toppled, highways were closed and flash floods — as seen in a startling video shared by Montecito resident Ellen DeGeneres and in images of a man kayaking in downtown Santa Barbara — hit the region, which is also home to such names as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.
“Scenery, weather, lifestyle, there is nowhere like it and real estate prices have gone through the roof,” Lowe, the star of Dog Gone and 9-1-1: Lone Star, tells THR by email. “But,” he adds, “there’s no free lunch! When you live this close to mother nature, sometimes you’re going to feel it.”
Damages in the county, where Governor Gavin Newsom had declared a state of emergency, are estimated at $150 million, with the Calvary Chapel and Santa Barbara Yacht Club among spots in need of repairs. More than three dozen homes, many in lower-income areas, were rendered uninhabitable. But there were no reports of casualties or missing persons thanks to advance preparations and planning following the 2018 storm. “The evacuation warnings were heeded by the community,” says Janis Clapoff, general manager of Hollywood-loved hideaway El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel.
Now, with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival running through Feb. 18, the town is bustling. “It’s such a remarkably resilient and close community,” says Bonnie Star, a part-time resident and jewelry designer whose gold butterfly pieces can be spotted on Emily in Paris. “Businesses are all busy and back to normal.”
Industry-frequented hotels are rolling out new offerings. The El Encanto, whose al fresco Terrace restaurant offers soothing views of the Pacific, is introducing the Literary Club, a series of luncheons bringing noted writers on property for intimate gatherings as well as sketching workshops with local artist Sandra Vlock. The property also recently introduced their soul-enriching “Indulge with Intention” programming featuring a challah making class with Dr. Beth Ricanati, author of Braided; a tea ceremony with Zhena Muzyka of Magic Hour Tea; floating meditation with wellness pioneer Jobi Manson of Sēfari, and Chakra Reflexology with celebrity skin care guru Linda Ross. Additional dates are currently being scheduled with Ross’s decadent Coowata (meaning “walk in beauty”) Body Regeneration Treatment available now.
The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, which hosted SBIFF’s Kirk Douglas Award ceremony in December honoring Michelle Yeoh, has opened a wine tasting room, complete with wine flights, bites and by-the-glass options.
San Ysidro Ranch debuted The Secret Cellar, a private room with a barrel-vaulted ceiling where advanced sommelier Tristan Pitre has curated a selection of 2,000 bottles and guests may choose from three individual wine-pairing menus. Or pop into Fess Parker’s wine tasting room in the Funk Zone which is about a mile away from the Arlington Theater where many festival events take place.
The Rosewood Miramar Beach — which recently garnered its first Michelin star and a Michelin Green star for sustainability for its restaurant Caruso’s — has unveiled a collection of cocktails at The Manor Bar in honor of female authors. The Like Water for Chocolate, paying tribute to the 1992 novel by Laura Esquivel, is crafted with Don Julio Reposado Tequila, grapefruit, and Poblano Ancho Reyes. The Rosewood Miramar Beach also launched an edomae-style sushi spot, AMA, last summer.
Downtown’s Kimpton Canary has completed a top-to-bottom renovation and recently appointed executive chef Nathan Lingle at their popular on-site restaurant, Finch & Fork.
New restaurant options around town abound as well.
L’antica Pizzeria da Michele — the beloved Naples, Italy, outpost that Julia Roberts visited in Eat Pray Love — opened its first U.S. location in Hollywood several years ago and is now serving up their obsess-worthy pizzas on downtown State Street.
Rascals Vegan is expected to open a restaurant this month, and in the meantime, you can visit their pop-ups at Muni Wine in the Funk Zone for dishes like Spicy Elote (corn on the cob with crushed Takis and almond parmesan) and its Asada Crunchwrap.
For Mediterranean inspired cocktails and cuisine head to Saint Remy on State Street spearheaded by Andrew Firestone of The Bachelor fame.
And the owner of industry-frequented Tre Lune in Montecito recently debuted Montesano Market & Deli across the street, where you can feast on piadinas, griddled rustic Italian flatbreads filled with a variety of meats, vegetables and cheeses.
In a city where art abounds, Santa Barbara is home to a host of cultural gems. After suffering from financial losses exacerbated by COVID, The Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara has finally reopened.
The sweeping Bellosguardo, a French-style chateau overlooking the ocean and brimming with captivating history — it was owned by the late reclusive heiress Huguette Clark — will soon be offering tours. Docent-led visits are reportedly available now for early supporters. (Clark’s life is the inspiration for a new series in development at HBO called Empty Mansions.)
And the Santa Barbara Library’s Michael Towbes Plaza, the city’s most anticipated new centerpiece for community, arts and entertainment is slated to open later this year.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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