|Given its relatively conservative, quietly affluent reputation,
surprising that Santa Barbara has a sizeable gay community. Best known in the UK
because of the 80's daytime tv series, this is actually a blissful place to live or visit no
matter what your sexual orientation. The integrity of the architecture and landscaping is a
Andrew Collins has been to take a look.
Gracious sandy beaches fringe the city's southerly
coastline, and rugged mountains form a northerly backdrop. Year-round,
the extraordinary climate is conducive to happiness - 320 days of
sunshine, low humidity, and cool breezes.
What's best of all is that you can fly from the UK with just one stop at Los Angeles or
if you prefer San Francisco.
Mediterranean style of Santa Barbara
Photo: Damien VERRIER
The overall gay presence in Santa Barbara has boomed, particularly in
years and as is often the case in
lands, the old guard here claims that Santa Barbara has become
"discovered" and less appealing. While this may be true to a
the city still looks green, clean, and quite striking without feeling
tourist-ridden or over-developed.
No visitor to Santa Barbara passes through without spending time along
waterfront, particularly around Stearns Wharf, which has numerous shops
restaurants. A paved bike trail (also good for blading) runs along the
shoreline, passing close by the Andree Clark Bird Refuge - a lagoon
popular ground for more than 220 varieties of bird - and the Santa
State Street is the city's main commercial drag. It's narrow,
bicycle-friendly, and lined with a great variety of shops and
Take note of the city's small but reasonably impressive Santa Barbara
of Art, whose highlights include French Impressionist, German
and regional American works, plus numerous antiquities.
Nestled just at the base of the Santa Ynez Foothills, the Santa Barbara
Old Mission has one of the most dramatic exteriors of any in California.
walk through the church and amid the lush grounds, which include a
It's a five-minute drive north to the fine Santa Barbara
of Natural History, and still a couple miles north to the jewel of the
plethora of gardens and parks, the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.
miles of trails traverse this 60-acre tract of exquisite landscaping
and one of only 30 gardens accredited by the American Alliance of Museums as a living museum.
The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden
|Everybody who visits Santa Barbara seems to talk about the glorious
and dining. Santa Barbarans, on the other hand, talk more about the
There is much to see and do in the omnipresent mountains and rivers.
surfing, and kayaking are extremely popular pastimes, and the region
famously picturesque and tidy beaches. Just about any stretch of sand
area is lively and fun, but the most popular spot for gays is Padaro
Alternatively, More Mesa Beach is somewhere to enjoy solitude on a beach. Some rocks, some nude sun bathers which is all part of a rugged experience that is
coastal California. Spectacular views, a nice place for a jog, walk, or fun on the beach below. It tends to attract older naked men.
People often think that California's better wines are produced only in
and Napa counties; in fact, Santa Barbara County's considerable wine
is growing in volume and respect every year. Top vintners include
Sanford, and Santa Barbara's own Santa Barbara Winery. The majority of
(there are more than 30) are northwest of Santa Barbara, around the
Santa Ynez and Solvang. For a map and information on specific wineries
their hours, contact the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association.
And after all that wine-tasting, it's entirely appropriate to sample
Santa Barbara's exceptional cuisine. Consider starting off with a visit
the Wine Cask, a rarefied dining room set across a shaded courtyard
esteemed Wine Cask Store. Inside, diners sample fine pinot noirs and
alongside stellar regional American fare like roasted Iowa pork chop
succotash and a crispy apple-risotto croquette. Nearby,
Arigato Sushi serves super-fresh and creative sushi. The restaurant
an airy and attractive space on State Street.
In the back of the shopping center inland in ritzy Montecito, Pane e
a great little Northern Italian trattoria, either for a meal or a snack
out sightseeing. An immensely popular spot for breakfast, lunch, or
with a light menu and a cheerful arboured terrace, La Paloma Cafe serves
local fish and seafood specials, some wonderful salads and creative vegetable dishes. The simply named Roy
of the city's great bargains, offering an inexpensive three-course
of modern Californian and Italian dishes.
The gay nightlife scene in Santa Barbara has waxed and waned over the
years, with many bars coming and going. The best known gay establishment currently in
Santa Barbara is the Wildcat Bar. It's a lively bar serving specialty cocktails along with DJs
spinning theme-night tunes for dancing. Wildcat is a place that welcomes people from all walks of life - the Young to the Young at heart.
Crush Bar & Tap has a chilled and welcoming atmosphere which matches their delicious drinks and food options. Fantastic any day or time of the week.
The events are always lively and fun! The venue is airy, light-filled, high ceilinged space which offer both indoor and outdoor seating. They have daily
Happy Hour specials.
Elsie's Tavern is a little off the beaten path and tucked away but they offer an intimate and eclectic bar experience far from the Santa Barbara norm.
One of the only ungentrified gay gems left in the city that always has amazing records playing, good conversation, and an aesthetic that can't be beat
by the sterile bars downtown.
Pacific Pride Foundation is an all volunteer organisation who produce
the annual Pride celebration, and their website has up-to-the minute scene info. They are part of
a community center in Anacapa Street in Santa Barbara their festival is free to the public and attracts a
diverse crowd of nearly 4,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally supporters and their families from the Central and South Coast.
The all-day event in August features a line-up of live entertainment, exhibitors, local food, informative non-profits, activities,
and community member support.
Often a host of Gay Pride Festival attendees, and the Mar Monte Hotel Santa Barbara by Hyatt
is one of the most distinctive hotels you'll ever find.
typical of those in upscale chain hotels, but the public areas of this
imposing 1930s Spanish Mediterranean-inspired hotel are quite lavish.
all, the beach is right outside the door.
Santa Barbara Courthouse
Photo: Baiterek Media
Santa Barbara has some of the fanciest resorts and inns in Southern
California, but also a wide array of discount motels - while there are
gay-exclusive properties, a few have a strong "family" following.
a budget, consider the reasonably priced Eagle Inn
which is an attractive Spanish-style hostelry that's close to the beach. The
rooms are decorated individually with a range of antiques and
all have microwaves, refrigerators.
The city's world-class resort is the Four Seasons Biltmore is one of
America's top such establishments. You simply can't beat the setting,
on a green slope just steps away from Montecito's shoreline. It's quite
and the restaurant is first-rate. HOWEVER, THIS HOTEL IS TEMPORARILY CLOSED.
Finally, if you're wanting
ultimate splurge, look no further: After many years of building and
the ultra-posh Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort and Spa opened in September 2000 to
acclaim. This stunning $240 million facility occupies 78 acres that
2-mile beach, an acclaimed tennis center, a pair of 18-hole golf
a 42,000-square-foot spa. There are 360 rooms, all with DVD players,
high-speed Internet, robes and slippers, and Kiehl's bath amenities.
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Andree Clark Bird Refuge (1400 E. Cabrillo Blvd; Website)
Arigato Sushi (1225 State St; T:805-965-6074; Website)
Crush Bar & Tap (1129 A State St; T: 805-770-8077; Website)
Elsie's Tavern (117 W De La Guerra St; T: 805-963-4503)
Four Seasons Biltmore (1260 Channel Dr; T:805-969-2261 or 800-332-3442; Website) TEMPORARILY CLOSED
Pacific Pride Foundation (608 Anacapa St; T:805-963-3636; Website)
Pane e Vino (1482 E. Valley Rd, Montecito; T:805-969-9274; Website)
La Paloma Cafe (702 Anacapa St; T:805-966-7029; Website)
Mar Monte Hotel Santa Barbara by Hyatt (1111 E. Cabrillo Blvd; T:805-882-1234; Website)
Roy (7 W. Carillo St; T:805-966-5636; Website)
Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort and Spa (8301 Hollister Ave; T:805-968-0100 or 877-422-4245; Website)
Santa Barbara Botanical Garden (1212 Mission Canyon Rd; T:805-682-4726; Website)
Santa Barbara Convention and Visitors Bureau (113 Harbor Way; T:805-966-9222 or 800-549-5133; Website)
Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association (T:805-688-0881; Website)
Santa Barbara Old Mission (2201 Laguna St; T:805-682-4713; Website)
Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1130 State St; T:805-963-4364; Website)
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol Rd; T:805-682-4711; Website)
Santa Barbara Zoological Garden (500 Ninos Dr; T:805-962-5339; Website)
The Eagle Inn (232 Natoma Ave; T:805-965-3586; Website)
Wildcat Lounge (15 W Ortega St; T:805-962-7970, Website)
Wine Cask (813 Anacapa St; T:805-966-9463; Website)
Revised May 2023.
Andrew Collins authored Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA, the Connecticut
Handbook, and six regional gay guides for Fodor's.