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Travel Local options or International adventures

Michael Hepworth | 6/1/2011, 5 p.m.

Santa Barbara: the perfect weekend getaway

The rather idyllic beach town of Santa Barbara is an ideal getaway spot, an easy drive from Los Angeles, offering a wide variety of activities to choose from.

Finding a place to stay should also be easy, as I have rarely seen so many small inns or motels or bed-and-breakfasts to choose from. For my trip I went for location.

The Villa Rosa is a small, rustic 18-room inn located a literal stone's throw from the Stearns Wharf area, and just two blocks from State Street--the main thoroughfare in Santa Barbara.

All 18 rooms are different, and each has a small balcony. The inn provides most of the amenities you will need for a stay in Santa Barbara and also features a complimentary continental breakfast, as well as a wine and hors d'oeuvres happy hour in the early evening.

There is also a small pool and Jacuzzi, and I have to say for a small inn, it manages to utilize the space very well. There is parking for about six cars in the lot, but permits are offered for street parking, which seemed to be quite plentiful. If you do decide to stay there, go on their website first and select the room to suit your particular desires.

I was told that there are more restaurants and bars per capita in Santa Barbara than virtually everywhere else. That certainly seemed true, so choosing a restaurant is a tough choice, but we struck gold when we chose Elements, located across from the world-famous Santa Barbara Court House.

Now open for six years, this is an exceptional restaurant by any standards, and the former bakery features California infusion-style cuisine prepared exquisitely by chef Carver Malloy. Soft lighting and unobtrusive music make for a great ambiance.

Seating is both inside and outside on the patio, service is extremely professional and the food is superb. Examples would be an appetizer of seared scallops with a risotto comprised of bacon and corn, all topped with a pepper sauce.

The house-made charcuterie ($34) is also a must, served with potted hough, bresaola (air cured, aged beef), chicken liver mousse, pancetta w/quail egg and sausage. Even the baby pickle was delicious.

The main course was a 16-oz. grilled double cut pork chop ($32.50), a masterpiece of gargantuan proportions that will almost certainly cry out for a doggie bag. Cooked for almost 25 minutes and served with wild mushrooms, sweet onion mash potatoes, and house-made apple sauce, this is a meal worth seeking out. My companion had the equally impressive seafood special of the night, a panko crusted swordfish cooked perfectly and served with a creative side dish of saffron rice, bell peppers and other vegetables. The regular menu includes seabass, Arctic char, ahi tuna, duck and chicken breast, filet mignon and short ribs.

The Land Shark tour is a unique way to see a lot of Santa Barbara from a different angle. This is an amphibious boat with wheels that is equally comfortable on land or sea. Following a tour of the downtown area, the Shark enters the ocean from a special landing and cruises around the harbor. Tours last about 90 minutes, and you can sign up at Stearns Wharf. Tour guides must be out of work actors, because they make the whole thing pretty enjoyable and provide all kind of snippets of information.