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.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is housed in a stately building that was built in 1914, and the minute you walk in you are confronted by a superb collection of Greek and Roman sculptures along with numerous priceless artifacts. It also features the only remaining intact mural by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, “Portrait of Mexico Today,” which is on display outside the museum.

Constantly changing displays are in contrast to the Impressionist and “Old Master” sections, where you will see original masterworks from the likes of Matisse, Van Gogh, Chagall and Monet.
The Botanical Gardens are a pleasant 20-minute drive from the ocean and feature five miles of walking trails through a meadow, forest and chaparral. The 78-acre retreat offers sweeping views of the Channel Islands and are open seven days a week for lovers of rare and indigenous plant life and trees. A truly semi-magical place that probably is never crowded, the gardens are little gems and excellent outlets for meditation and/or a light hike.

Membership at $50 seems like a good deal, with unlimited yearly admission and all kinds of discounts on plant sales plus a bunch more goodies.

Fact Sheet
Villa Rosa Inn, 15 Chapala St., (805) 966-0851, www.villarosainnsb.com
Elements Restaurant, 129 East Anapamu St., (805) 884-9218, www.elementsrestaurantandbar.com
Land Shark Tour, (805) 683-7600, www.out2seeSB.com
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St., (805) 963-4364, www.sbma.net
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, 1212 Mission Canyon Road, www.sbbg.org


Oooh la, la–Paris, London still wow first-time visitors
By Susan Cox
OW Contributor

To celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this year, my husband Tony and I decided to go all out and mark the milestone with an eight-day adventure to London and Paris.

London
It was a nine-hour, overnight flight from L.A. to London. We arrived mid-morning, checked into our hotel, unpacked and wasted no time exploring the city.

Central London is a pedestrian’s paradise, conveniently compact and crowded with narrow, winding streets populated with shops, restaurants and businesses.

With only four days to spend in London, we had some tough choices to make about what to see and do. We opted to walk rather than take the subways in London and Paris, although both have efficient easy-to-navigate transit systems.

Buckingham Palace is an obvious visitors’ choice, which we easily found after walking past Trafalgar Square, through the busy shopping area known as Covent Garden, and Leicester Square, London’s theatre district. The Queen Victoria Memorial directly faces Buckingham Palace. You can get pictures of the ubiquitous palace guards, but fences keep the public at a safe distance. Across the street is the idyllic St. James’s Park where you can share your love of nature with squirrels, ducks and other small creatures. Cozy deck chairs can even be rented by the hour for sitting and soaking in the scenery.

Our next stops included Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British prime minister.

A great way to see London in one breathtaking vista is aboard The London Eye. This iconic landmark, situated on the south bank of the Thames River, is a 443-foot-tall Ferris wheel with moving observation capsules you can sit or stand in. It offers sweeping panoramas of the city in all directions.

A guided tour boat ride down the Thames River is a must for seeing even more famous landmarks at one time. Count among them the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern Museum, and the Millennium Bridge. Sadly, the legendary London Bridge was a visual disappointment, because it lacked the expected grandeur compared to all the other sites.

Our hotel in Bloomsbury was literally down the street from the British Museum, one of many outstanding museums in the city that don’t charge admission. The famed Rosetta Stone is on permanent display there.

And no visit to London is complete without a stop at Harrods. This famous department store is its own tourist attraction. Go hungry and visit the sprawling food hall with its incredible collection of culinary offerings.

Paris
We took the Eurostar train from London to Paris. The ride was just more than two hours and included about 35-40 minutes beneath the English Channel. It also gave us a view of the French countryside we would have missed, if we’d flown to the City of Lights.

Arriving at the Gare du Nord (train station) thrust us into the bustling city atmosphere immediately. Paris is vibrant and active and full of people from all walks. English is spoken, but knowing even a little French helps.

We found the Batabus Riverboat on the Seine a fast and easy way to get to the major landmarks. Its hop-on, hop-off service lets you pick your stops–the Eiffel Tower, the d’Orsay Museum, St-Germain-des-Prés, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Jardin des Plantes, the Hôtel de Ville, the Louvre and the Champs-Elysées–while cruising along the Seine River.

Once off the boat, there are countless monuments, shops, parks, sidewalk cafes and businesses to explore on the Left Bank and the Right Bank. We especially liked the young and hip Latin Quarter, home to the Sorbonne University; the energy and vibe of St-Germain-des-Prés, a favorite area of the literati, and were struck spellbound by the stunning Luxembourg Gardens.

Long lines made it impossible to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower or to get inside the Louvre Museum to see the Mona Lisa. But we did stroll down the Champs-Elysées and to the Arc de Triomphe.

In St-Germain-des-Prés, we ate our favorite meal at the famous Les Deux Magots cafe. Famed authors James Baldwin and Richard Wright could often be found there.

Actually, the food in Paris is pretty fabulous just about anywhere you go. Sidewalk bistros and cafes litter the streets where locals not only dine and chat, but people-watch, smoke, and quite often engage in public displays of affection.

Shopping is Paris is unavoidable. If you’re on a budget, Monoprix, a local chain store, sells affordable fashions and food. But for a shopping experience you’ll never forget, visit the Galeries Lafayette, a colossal department store with a stunning Art Nouveau glass dome.

Inside, it looks more like an opera house, has a rooftop deck with a spectacular city view, and best of all, a champagne bar, the perfect stop to rest tired, touring feet. Mais oui.

Tips for traveling abroad:
* A good travel agent can be helpful planning your trip.
* Leave a copy of your travel itinerary with family members or friends.
* Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you. ATMS are conveniently located throughout London and Paris.
* Check the currency exchange rates, which can change daily. Also convert enough money to foreign currency before you leave the U.S. for cab fare, tips, or other incidentals.
* Notify your bank and credit card company that you are traveling abroad. Also look into an international cell phone travel plan.
* Ask about the Value Added Tax (VAT) when shopping. You can claim back VAT, if you spend over a certain amount of money in one place.
* In Paris, tips are included in the bills when dining.

Local travel
Vacation with your wallet in mind

By Juliana Norwood
OW Staff Writer

When considering a family vacation in California, many of the usual suggestions range from visiting the world’s most infamous prison, Alcatraz in San Francisco, to the zoo and Sea World in San Diego, to the happiest place on earth–Disneyland in Anaheim.

The problem is these trips can get pretty pricey, especially if you are footing the bill for the whole family. However, there are a number of attractions that the parents and their offspring can visit right at home in Los Angeles this summer that won’t break the bank just before it’s time for back-to-school shopping in the fall.

The Griffith Observatory is an icon in Los Angeles, a national leader in public astronomy, a beloved civic gathering place, and one of Southern California’s most popular attractions. The observatory is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, just above the Los Feliz neighborhood. Admission to the observatory is free. It’s perfect for star-and planet-gazing, and seeing the city from another viewpoint.

The Page Museum at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits is another great place to take the family that the children especially will love. Page is one of the world’s most famous fossil localities, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world. Visitors can learn about Los Angeles as it was 10,000 to 40,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, when animals such as saber-toothed cats and mammoths roamed Los Angeles. Tours are available where visitors can learn the inner workings of museum and see a number of life-sized replicas of prehistoric animals, and the experience is free of charge.

Another option for families trying to stay local this summer is taking a trip to the home of the Tournament of Roses Parade, Pasadena. Aside from the thousands of folk who flock to the city on New Year’s Day, and for games at the Rose Bowl, there are a number of other interesting things to see such as The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Garden, the Norton Simon Art Museum, Old Town Pasadena and the Gamble House.

Old Town Pasadena is the business district of Pasadena, a lively and diverse city located just 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles. This eclectic old town area features entertainment and activities for kids and adults alike: museums, galleries, and music events as well as movies, shopping, restaurants, and outdoor cafes.

The Gamble House is an outstanding example of American arts-and-crafts-style architecture. The house and furnishings were designed by Charles and Henry Greene in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Co. The house, which is now a national historic landmark, is open for public tours for only $10 dollars per person.

For families that are interested in escaping the cramped legs and traffic that come with road trips, there is a day trip (or longer if you prefer) to Catalina Island. The ferry ride to the small island in Avalon, Calif., only takes an hour and is less than $70 per person roundtrip for regular tickets. Senior citizens and children are discounted, and if you have a birthday coming up you are in luck: the Catalina Express offers a free ride for visitors’ special day.

On the island travelers can take in the sights while just walking or biking, or they can get more into the action with scuba tours, submarine and glass bottom boating. Additionally, as with any great tourist attraction, there are a number of shops and restaurants to serve you.

Visiting any of these locations would be ideal for a local family vacation on a budget and even more suggestions can be found at www.virtualtours.com.