Dramatic images of flames racing up coastal canyons and the unfortunate loss of some 80 homes fixated the nation following the outbreak of the Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara’s Cathedral Peak area on May 5. Courageous firefighters and a heaven-sent low pressure system finally contained the blazes over a week later on May 13.
The good news is that although thousands of acres were burned in foothills and canyons stretching from Goleta to Montecito, virtually all of the businesses and public spaces that visitors normally explore and enjoy here, such as the beaches, State Street shops, boutiques and restaurants, as well as the iconic Old Mission Santa Barbara, were left completely unscathed.
Even attractions that were temporarily closed, such as the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden which did sustain some damage, have reopened. Fortunately, much of the garden remains intact, including the Meadow, most of the Desert and Redwood Exhibits, the Discovery Garden, Teahouse and Manzanita Exhibit. Some Los Padres National Forest lands are currently closed for safety reasons, but outdoor adventurers will be happy to learn that the vast majority of back country trails are open to explore.
The news gets even better, as hotels and businesses eager to attract visitors are now rolling out the red-tiled carpet in this Spanish-style colonial town with specials, discounts and new activities. (Our current favorite, especially for Southern California residents, is the suspension of the two-to-three night minimum most hotels and inns usually impose for weekends and holidays).
The timing couldn’t be more perfect, because as summer gets underway, Santa Barbara blossoms with a sybaritic slate of activities that draws everyone from watersports junkies to foodies. Check-out the list below for just a snapshot of what’s on in Santa Barbara, one of our fave “summer cities.”
CAR FREE-DOM — The Santa Barbara Car Free Project offers four new “Celebrate Car Free-dom” vacation packages at eight hotels featuring multiple options to enjoy the area while contributing to cleaner air and a healthier planet by ditching the wheels. Sample packages include “Paradise Package with Wine Tour, Sunset Sail & More” at Santa Barbara Hotel Group properties, and “Farmer’s Market Package” at Inn of the Spanish Garden. Additionally, the project’s ongoing “Take a Vacation from the Gas Pump” promotion offers savings up to 50 percent at 42 hotels, activities and restaurants just by showing a current Amtrak ticket.
NEW TOURS FOR THE ACTIVE TRAVELER — Local outfitters offer a full slate of activities to enjoy Santa Barbara’s wild side: BlueLine Paddle Surf is the area expert in Stand Up Paddle Surfing, and now provides instruction and rentals. In addition to high-end bike equipment rentals with delivery service, Santa Barbara Bikes To-Go offers personalized bike tours for cyclists of every level and interest. Vino Vaqueros blends gourmet food and local wine with horseback riding on a variety of exclusive guided treks.
Signature Summer Events:
June 20: The Summer Solstice Parade features a colorful moving street carnival complete with extravagant floats, whimsical costumes and creatively choreographed dancing ensembles.
June 27: More than 60 Central Coast wineries pour tastes of the vine at the annual Santa Barbara Wine Festival under the trees on the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s grounds.
July 11: Lotusfest presents a special opportunity to experience Lotusland’s magnificent grounds and highlights the sacred Lotus in full bloom along with wine-tasting, hors d’oeuvres and live jazz.
August 5-9: Since 1924, Old Spanish Days Fiesta has been Santa Barbara’s signature event and draws tens of thousands of visitors to the area for the five-day, city-wide celebration featuring food, drink, music, dance rodeo and more.
September 18-20: The West Beach Music & Arts Festival takes over the sands of West Beach for the 3rd year, with three days of live music and entertainment.