Sunday, February 22, 2015

How You Can Enjoy The Santa Barbara Experience

By Olivia Cross

For more than a century this city has been a getaway for residents of Los Angeles. Prior to the time when Hollywood and the film industry became synonymous, most silent movies were produced here. Native American settlements could be found here as early as ten thousand years ago, and the town has survived at least two major earthquakes in the past two hundred years. Santa Barbara, CA today is a thriving city that has become a popular destination.

After the devastation of the 1925 temblor, the town was rebuilt in a style that has a distinctive Spanish flair, epitomized by the County Courthouse building. Although linked by the ubiquitous freeways of Southern California to the Los Angeles metropolis, that prevailing architectural culture has not completely overtaken the city, which still has a distinctive character that is immediately recognizable.

This destination is the perfect place to spend a few days before traveling up the coast towards Hearst Castle, a opulent residence that has been preserved in its original splendor, or to use as a home base for experiencing the wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley. The region has been described as the American Riviera because its climate, and is a gateway to Channel Islands National Park.

One of the better-known landmarks in town is Stearns Wharf, which juts into the sea where State Street ends. Originally erected in the 1870s, the wharf has survived several disasters, and today is home to shops, restaurants, the Natural History Sea Center, and other attractions. Visitors come for the fine dining, but also enjoy seeing the churning surf on one side framed by mountains on the other.

Nature lovers will also enjoy the Botanic Garden, a peaceful oasis filled with a wide variety of both native plants and exotic specimens. Although tours are readily available, visitors are always encouraged to explore the well-maintained pathways featuring the constantly changing displays of vegetation on their own. The site has been named a County Historical Landmark.

History buffs will appreciate the Old Mission, founded in 1786 by a Franciscan Friar. Called the Queen of the Mission Stations, it was the tenth one begun by the Franciscans, and was originally completed by native American artisans. While there has been extensive restoration to repair earthquake damage, the newly reinforced facade is a good representation of its heyday.

Additional notable sights include the historical Casa de la Guerra, a kind of community center that was used for various purposes, and which is now a portion of the El Pasea, a neighborhood intentionally imitating a Spanish street. The original city Presidio, a military fortress, became tactically irrelevant after the arrival of Americans in 1846, but the original soldier quarters and a few rooms are still intact.

Within a relatively short driving distance is the Chumash Painted Cave Historic Park, the transplanted Danish community of Solvang, and the craggy central coastline. There are numerous award-winning restaurants, and a wide range of hotels and motels for nearly any taste. Whether visiting for a weekend or in town for an extended stay, there is always something to see.

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