How do you take a car-free vacation?
In the United States it is hard to imagine a vacation without using an automobile. But you can do this, especially if you visit a part of the country that has a supportive public transportation system or an urban environment where everything is within walking distance. The journey is part of the experience, so hop in, hop on, or hop aboard.*
One of my favorite cities to visit without a car is Santa Barbara. Accessible from almost anywhere in the state, this beach side, laid back town is a fun trip either with your girlfriends, family or sweetie pie. Pack light since you will have to carry everything yourself. I always use a rolling luggage and a large backpack. Save room for a few souvenirs as well.
These are my recommendations:
For less then the price of a car rental, you can take the leisurely 2-½-train ride up and back. There is no better way to really relax then to let someone else get you from here to there. First stop – Amtrak station. The Pacific Surfliner travels between San Diego and San Luis Obispo so most everyone in the state can get to a train or bus station that runs to the beginning and end destination.
Santa Barbara is a car-less friendly town with access to bikes, trolleys, and walking trails. Once you get there you never have to look for parking, pay a toll or fill up for gasoline.
The downtown Waterfront Electric Shuttle provides a way to see most of the shops and restaurants and link you to the pleasant MTD Bus Line 22 that can take you to the Mission, Botanic Garden and Natural History Museum.
Where to stay
There are plenty of hotels to stay in around town. From budget to luxury, the selection is endless. Some hotels are more accommodating then others and these are two of my favorites whenever I travel to Santa Barbara.
The Cheshire Cat Inn – If you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat Inn is charming and colorful. One of the wonderful thing about The Cheshire Cat is the option to stay in a cottage adjacent to the Inn. You have the amenities of renting a home but includes a gracious innkeeper to prepare a Victorian breakfast and afternoon wine mixer, right next door. Just relax and unwind in your own private Jacuzzi.
Fess Parker Resort is across the street from the beach and around the corner from downtown. A family friendly property with on-site pool, restaurants and view it is ideal for a couple, a couple of friends or a large reunion.
Where to eat
When it comes to dining in Santa Barbara there are three things to keep in mind. Artichokes, fresh seafood and outdoor dining are staples in this community and there are many options.
Hob Nob – The flamed grilled Artichoke and the Ravioli Ricotta and Spinach are two dishes that fill you up without thinking that you are protein deprived. Walking distance from downtown, you can stroll the shops afterwards to walk off your dinner.
Enterprise Fish Company – Located walking distance from the Amtrak and waterfront shuttle, this is the ideal restaurant to start or end your vacation. A bowl of clam chowder and a slice of warm toast sourdough bread is the perfect pairing for this lively restaurant.
Aldo’s Italian Restaurant – Once the sun goes down, it can get a little chilly, but heat lamps keep the courtyard warm and intimate. The artichoke hearts and mushrooms sautéed with white wine, lemon and garlic is a nice place to start your meal. The fresh seafood and pasta options provide combinations from the Capellini Aglio e Olio with Scallops and Mussels to Sage and Shrimp Ravioli with Salmon.
Endless Summer bar-café – You can live vicariously through the surfers by enjoying a beach side lunch at this café named after the world famous vintage surfing film. Again, artichokes are on my bucket list and the grilled artichokes with herbs, lemon, slightly smoked does not disappoint.
What to do
My restless energy to do it all and see it all only allows me to lay on the beach one afternoon. You could spend a month here and still not cover everything. I enjoy a little mix of history, culture and retail therapy.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art – The museum shop off State Street gave me an excuse to indulge my art books and museum quality jewelry collections. The revolving and permanent art collection is visually attractive and a lovely way to spend the afternoon if the weather outside is too rainy or too hot.
Mission Santa Barbara – this “Queen of the Missions” has bountiful gardens and a walking tour that makes you appreciate the Spanish history of the area. Easy to get to on friendly public transit too.
Sterns Wharf & Santa Barbara Harbor – The West Coast’s oldest operating wharf is home to the Ty Warner Sea Center, Coastal Winery and many places to indulge your inner tourist with fish and chips and souvenir shops.
Downtown shopping – If you have any room left in your luggage, support one of the many local downtown businesses, and bring a little something from Santa Barbara home with you.
*Full disclosure – I had to take a taxi twice, but at least I wasn’t driving, and never had to pay for gas or parking.
Grace Anne Belangia was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Palo Alto, CA. She received her Political Science degree from UCLA and her Masters in Mass Communications from San Jose State University. She has over 20 years experience in writing, editing, event planning and marketing. Five years ago she combined her passion for writing and travel to discover the joy and success of travel writing. You can read more of her travel writing adventures at www.goGABgo.com