Santa Barbara Beach Guide: Insider Tips, Where to Go and What to Avoid

Santa Barbara Beach Guide-Lana Turner -Coral Casino pool 1950s-Publicity-H 2016
Courtesy of Four Seasons

Gwyneth Paltrow recently spent $4.9 million on a 2.4-acre teardown in the area Oprah Winfrey that calls home and the view of Butterfly Beach is "like walking into a painting."

"Montecito and Santa Barbara definitely have a Hollywood element, but it's not in your face," says investor and resident Michael Braverman. "Over the years, the Hollywood element has come up to get out of Dodge or for more space." Oprah Winfrey (whose gated 42 acres sit high on East Valley Road) is perhaps the most famous resident of the pristine enclave 95 miles northwest of L.A. Gwyneth Paltrow recently spent $4.9 million on a 2.4-acre compound with two 1980s teardowns, making her neighbors with James Cameron, Ivan Reitman, Kevin Costner, Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt and musicians Jack Johnson, David Crosby and Beach Boy Mike Love.

HISTORY From 1910 to 1922, Santa Barbara was the "Hollywood of the North" thanks to Flying A Studios, the epicenter of the silent-film industry where many Westerns were produced. Since then, native sons and daughters have included Katy Perry, Edie Sedgwick and Joely Richardson, while the Reagans, Julia Child, Charlie Chaplin, Kirk Douglas, Jane Fonda, Ellen DeGeneres and Jennifer Lopez are illustrious past residents. Battles over the beach at Hollister Ranch — 8½ miles of beachfront where the 100-acre plots are impossible to snag — involve surfer Kelly Slater and The Endless Summer's Bruce Brown fighting a 1976 state law mandating public access and suing to block a trail and public road into dunes, lagoons and tide pools. The Grove's Rick Caruso is set to transform the Miramar, purchased in 2007 for $50 million from Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel owner Ty Warner (hotelier Ian Schrager was the previous short-lived owner who closed the hotel in 2000). Slated to open in 2018, the soon-to-be Rosewood resort will have seen a decade of conflict with commissions and neighbors. "We are building the only five-star beach resort in Southern California where you can open the door and step onto the sand," says Caruso, who grew up visiting Miramar as a kid. Expect bungalows and a members-only club among the five-star amenities.

DO CHECK OUT The new Coral Reef Bar at Tydes restaurant in Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore (it "supports 300 species of colorful fish and live coral," says hotel GM Karen Earp) is the most sought-after table in town, open to members and guests (1260 Channel Drive). Also part of the Biltmore is the Coral Casino, of which designer Heidi Merrick (who dresses Drew Barrymore and Jessica Alba, and whose dad, Al Merrick, is a legendary surfboard shaper from the area), says: "If you can find a way into the Coral Casino, you must. It's the best cross between Old Hollywood and Santa Barbara glamour. When I was a little girl, all the fancy grandmas would take us for lunch by the pool." The posh members-only club is steps from Butterfly Beach, also a part of the Biltmore. In the '50s, Lana Turner lounged at the Coral Casino pool; now it's where Sotheby's Lisa Loiacono and fiance, actor Christopher Lloyd, admire the view: "We love to sit at the edge facing the Pacific and watch dolphins, sea lions, paddleboarders, surfers and sailboats go by." Butterfly Beach itself, a sunny cove protected by the Channel Islands, is perhaps one of the most idyllic bits of coastline in Southern California. "It's like walking into a painting," says Merrick. Adds Earp: "There is no place more magical than Butterfly Beach during the annual spring whale migration, which passes close to shore."

INSIDER TIPS Merrick likes the lobster tacos at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company (230 Stearns Wharf), and Savoy Cafe & Deli is the go-to salad spot for locals like Braverman, who sees Reitman there "all the time" (24 W. Figueroa St.). Emily Blunt's makeup artist Jenn Streicher is a devotee of Metropulos Fine Foods Merchant for takeout (216 E. Yanonali St.): "You can pick up sandwiches, chips and a bottle of cold rosé and head to Chase Palm Park beach" (located by the train for an easy day trip from L.A.). For camping, "all of the Gaviota Coast is extraordinary," says Merrick. "Reserve now for October when it's perfectly beautiful, and you can dash up and go wine tasting, too."

AVOID In dry weather, Santa Barbara's dozen-plus beaches score A's and A+'s for water cleanliness (Leadbetter gets a B). When it rains, steer clear of East Beach, Hammonds and Hope Ranch Beach, where swimming is not safe for 72 hours. Another reason Butterfly Beach is so lauded: It scores high on cleanliness, no matter the season or weather.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.