Thursday, July 31, 2014


Santa Barbara is called "The American Riviera."

It has a Mediterranean climate, a beautiful coastline with mountains as a backdrop. There are hotels facing the beach, some of them quite elegant. The Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the downtown "Red Tile" historic district makes it not only feel like the French or Italian Riviera, it gives it an added dimension. Santa Barbara has an annual International Film Festival. Ronald Reagan's Santa Barbara Ranch is here, right near the beach and downtown. It was the Western White House during Reagan's presidency and its Exhibit Galleries are open to the public. Julia Child lived her retirement years in Santa Barbara.  In nearby Montecito, such luminaries at Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe, and Ellen DeGeneres have/or had homes.

We took a day off from our "Sideways" tour of the Santa Inez Valley and drove south to Santa Barbara, about 35 miles from Solvang.

We started our day at the Santa Barbara Visitor Center which is across from the beach, at the foot of Garden Street.

The helpful people at the Visitor Center gave us maps and tips on what to see during our short visit. I've only been in Santa Barbara once, for a meeting, about a dozen years ago.  Each morning I'd walk along East Beach from my hotel  to Stearns Walk.  I wanted to share this with Jim and, from the Visitor Center, we headed out along the beach on the paved walking/bicycling path that follows the beach. 

For the morning, we parked the car in the lot behind the Visitor Center. Parking is plentiful all over Santa Barbara. The first 75 minutes are free in the City parking lots and $1.50 an hour after that. There is a parking lot on almost every block in the main downtown area, on and off State Street.

We turned around to head back at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center where there was a restaurant that was serving breakfast and lunch. Had I not had other plans for lunch, we would have gotten a bite to eat here.

Before getting our car and heading to my lunch destination, we ended our walk with a walk out on Stearns Wharf, California's oldest working wharf, dating back to 1872. It is the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Today, you can walk or drive down the Wharf which has restaurants, wineries, shops, and the Ty Warner Sea Center

By now, it was time for lunch and my destination was Super-Rica Taqueria, the hole-in-the-wall home-cooking Mexican restaurant that Julia Child made famous by declaring it the best place in the area for authentic Mexican cooking.

It was just about noon and, to my surprise, I found parking right out front.  Even more surprising, there was no line out the door.  

I know that Super-Rica is closed on Wednesdays. But this was Tuesday! There was a sign out front saying that for the time being, it is also going to be closed on Tuesdays.  Even worse, there was a "Help Wanted" sign on the door.

So here we were, in the heart of a neighborhood we don't know, wondering where we were going to eat lunch.

After I calmed down, I remembered that the helpful woman at the Visitor Center had asked if I needed restaurant recommendations. I had confidently told her that as a Julia Child fan forever, we were going to Super-Rica.  She mentioned that another restaurant in that neighborhood was giving Super-Rica a run for its money.  I assured her that I would remain faithful to Julia forever and that Super-Rica was my place to eat.
With this in mind, I sheepishly phoned the Visitor Center and got the name of the new restaurant, Los Agaves, which is just down the block from Super-Rica.

Los Agaves is a lot nicer looking than Super-Rica and has a much more varied menu. It was packed at lunchtime, with a line of people waiting to place their orders.  The format is to place your order at the counter and find a table. Your food is brought to you.

Having spent the entire morning thinking of a taco lunch, my choice was for the Fish Tacos. The fish choices are fresh halibut or shrimp.  I went for the halibut and enjoyed a delightful meal.

Jim's choice was one of the day's specials: A shrimp dish in a delicious sauce. 

After lunch, we headed to downtown Santa Barbara's historic district which is on and off State Street, bordered by Anapamu Street, Santa Barbara Street, and Ortaga Street. It is called the "Red Tile" District for all it's historic red-tile-roofed buildings.

Today, this area is a mix of upscale restaurants and retail stores with city government buildings. It's very pretty and we even found an Apple retail store along State Street, with its keeping-with-the-community subtle sign.

We passed a few hours just walking around the Red Tile district, enjoying the beauty of Santa Barbara.  

This is not a real window washer, but a very realist sculpture of a window washer. It certainly fooled me.!

Before driving back to Solvang, we stopped for a cold drink at Cielito, a delightful Latin restaurant whose patio in a secluded courtyard at the back of the historic La Arcada complex overlooks a turtle pond.