Driving California's Central Coast
Down By the Riviera
Santa Barbara has recently begun to style itself "the Californian Riviera" -- and with its gold sand, distinctive Spanish Mission architecture and beautifully suntanned crowds, the new nickname fits. Stroll the shops at El Paseo, take the kids for clam chowder on Stearns Wharf, and rent a beach cruiser for the day.
Skip Montecito unless you're leaving the kids with a babysitter and going out for a romantic dinner. This town is nothing but multi-million dollar homes, designer boutiques and expensive restaurants. Instead, head a few minutes south and check out Carpinteria's unblemished beaches, popular with local surfers and beach combers. Stop by the quirky shopping attraction Santa Claus Lane for a candy cane at the toy store and a cup of coffee at the upscale deli.
Again, the inland wine country around Santa Ynez and Santa Maria is probably going to bore the kids senseless, so save that tour for another time. One inland town that's absolutely worth a detour, though, is Solvang -- the famous "Danish Capital of America." Stuff yourself on smorgasbord, take the Honen horse-drawn tour around town, and snap photos by the quaint windmills. Drive over to neighboring Buellton for a hearty, inexpensive mid-day meal at the legendary Pea Soup Andersen's.
If you're lucky enough to be near Santa Barbara during August's annual Old Spanish Days celebration, join in the fun as "todo" Santa Barbara comes out for five days of "mercados," parades, concerts, competitions and "fiestas."