This is the first part of a new series which has been inspired by the two week road trip my Hubby and I undertook in California in September 2016.
Quite unconventionally, I have decided to start this mini-series with the final two destinations of our trip, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, purely because we both felt the end of our holiday was the most relaxing part. (‘Holidays’ in our dictionary are not synonymous with just putting our feet up and doing nothing! ) We arrived to Carpinteria and Santa Barbara at night, after a 10-hour drive in our trusty Mustang, coming from the cool foresty heights of Flagstaff in Arizona. Needless to say, we immediately fell in love with their laid-back vibe and Mediterranian charm. As a health conscious traveller with a passion for fitness, I can definitely recommend a couple of little gemstones for your visit in both places!
Santa Barbara is a popular destination for road trippers who follow the scenic coastal route by the Pacific Ocean, just after leaving Big Sur which is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast near Carmel and Monterey; it is also a secret escape for those living in stifling big cities in the 100 mile radius, such as Los Angeles. It is also often hailed as the ‘American Riviera’ due to its beautiful beaches and the cooler summers are an added bonus, thanks to the pleasant onshore breezes.
Take a stroll on the Waterfront and in the Shoreline Park
A great place for a leisurely stroll or people-watching, and simply embracing the chilled beach town atmosphere. You will see some interesting sand sculptures and penny throwing games on the beach near Stearns Wharf made by homeless people – they are not going to harrass you but will certainly thank you for a small contribution as you walk past!
Explore the local running scene by entering a race
Santa Barbara has a lively running scene, with plenty of running events for all abilities. This for example includes a Summer Sunset series (a bit of running/walking and swimming), a Thanksgiving 4-miler; and the Pier to Peak race which is nicknamed as ‘The World’s Toughest Half Marathon’ encompassing a route with 4000 foot elevation, taking place at the beginning of September each year. To find out more about these events, visit the Run Santa Barbara website.
Keep yourself cool with a delicious cup of healthy frozen yoghurt
Yogurtland on State Street (10 minute walk from Stearns Wharf) is THE place to be on a hot summer day, especially if you are after a (relatively) healthy treat to refresh yourself. Yogurtland prides itself on offering products made from natural, real ingredients and using milk that has no added antibiotics or hormones. As soon as you enter the shop, the fun begins! Select from different sized cups and fill them with some funky flavours of choice from the ‘taps’ by the wall. There are multiple swirl options with combos of two flavors. You can finish your creation by sprinkling some nuts, fruit or sweets on the top in the topping bar. Everything is D.I.Y. and you can add as much of everything as you like -the price you end up paying will of course be dependent on the size of your cup and the weight. I treated myself to four delicious flavours: Double Cookies and Cream, New York Cheesecake, Peanut Butter and Pistachio and sprinkled it with almonds, strawberries and walnut pieces. I am actually drooling over my keypad as I am writing this.
Have fresh seafood dinner on the pier at sunset, looking over the Pacific Ocean
Santa Barbara offers endless options for keen foodies; most of the bars and restaurants line the main shopping street, State Street, but you can also venture into the smaller side streets to explore the choices there. My Hubby and I fancied some fresh seafood, so after doing some research online, we decided to have dinner the Shellfish Company on Stearns Wharf, which even the locals wrote raving reviews about on Trip Advisor. And we were not disappointed! This little restaurant began as a shellfish shop before popular demand (and secret family recipes) transformed it into the bustling eatery it is today.
My key advice for you is to arrive early for dinner, around 5.30pm if you want to get a table at a reasonable time and be able to enjoy the sunset on the pier after dinner (yes, dinner time starts THAT early in Santa Barbara). This place is SMALL and EXTREMELY popular; they do not accept advance bookings and you are likely to end up on a waiting list as soon as you arrive anyways, so be warned! We ended up waiting for about 20 mins for a table (which is not too bad at all). The other option is to get a take-away from the order window and have your dinner on one of the public benches on the pier. We found the service to be relatively quick and the waitress who served us appeared to be on top of everything and was smiley, despite the apparent business of the place. The food we had was fresh and delightful. If you can get a seat close to the open kitchen, you will be able to observe all the food preparations like in a theatre. In fact, you cannot get any fresher food than this, as diners could literally pick their dinner out from the water tanks by the wall! As a starter, I ordered some seasonal bisque soup with oyster crackers, which I then followed up with the lobster tacos and Spanish rice. I had California Chardonnay and lemon water to drink. Our after-dinner treat was watching the sun go down on the pier which was a fantastic finish not only to the day but also our last day in California!
This charming little town is located only about 12 miles southeast from Santa Barbara. Carpinteria Avenue and Linden Avenue are the pulse of the town where many of the restaurants, bars, cafes, boutiques and shops are located. The good news is that there is plenty of parking on the main roads (free for up to 75 or 90 minutes, depending on where you park) and there is a good sized parking lot at the State Beach as well. Phew!
Swim and surf
We loved the local beach for its soft sandy slopes and calm waves, but there are also some good surfing spots in some of the rockier areas. And once you are there, why not have a picnic or a BBQ – as we saw some local people leading the way 🙂
Run to the Sea Lion Sanctuary on the Beach
Even in September, we found the temperature to be too high during the day for any strenuous activity, so on our last day, we decided to bite the bullet and got up at the crack of dawn to get down to the beach in time for sunrise to do a run before breakfast. Even though we were both very sleepy, it was all worth in the end, because the air was refreshingly cool with a gentle breeze coming from the ocean. It was low tide and by going nearer the water, we were able to run on smooth and relatively firm sandy surfaces without sinking. The day we chose for our run happened to be a drizzly, grey and rather foggy one, so we could not see too far, however it was rather atmospheric and I felt like being part of an Arthur Conan-Doyle thriller. About 2.5 kms from the State Beach entrance, we found ourselves in the middle of the local Sea Lion Sanctuary which is home to about a 100 sea lions. They were relaxing at the edge of the water, near the rocks, when they noticed they had some company and started to make a quick exit towards the water. At that point, we decided to turn back so that we would not disturb them. Running so close to these magnificent and playful animals has been of my best running experiences to date!
Do a Scenic Cycle Ride
Carpinteria is a great starting point for longer cycle rides, either alongside the Pacific Coast or up into the Santa Barbara Mountains, depending on how hard-core you want to be. We regret that we did not have enough time to do any cycling there at this time, however, we did see lots of cyclists along the way which pretty much says it all! There are plenty of bike shops where you can rent a bike from, and they also offer area maps to help you pick a suitable route. Rincon Cycles on Carpinteria Avenue appeared to be a good one, based on the number of people coming in-and out of their shop!
Enter the Carpinteria Triathlon
You have missed it for this year as the event is taking place on the 25th September, but there is a local triathlon if you fancy doing all the above mentioned three things on the same day (swimming, running and cycling). You can choose from two challenges: the Sprint Distance (0.5km swim, 15km bike ride, 5km run) or if you are up for more, the Olympic Distance (1.5km swim, 40km bike ride, 10km run). I always find that doing a local race is a fantastic way to explore a new place without the risk of getting lost; it is also handy if you only have a couple of hours at your disposal – an express sightseeing tour, if you like!
Indulge Yourself at the Avocado Festival (7-9 October)
I am a self-confessed avocado-addict, so as you can imagine, I am very tempted to catch a plane back to California to the Avocado Festival as well! This event has featured on the local events list for the past 30 years, boasting over 100,000 visitors last year – based on some intel we received from our AirBnB hosts, it is promising again to be a great 3 days filled with some fabulous avocado-centered food, music and entertainment, every health foodie’s dream!
Have a Divine Breakfast
One of the things I loved the most about the USA is the ‘Breakfast Culture’, the fact that you can very easily find a quaint little cafe almost anywhere without looking too hard and start your day with a fantastic meal. Unlike in England, where all you have is the big chains which offer the same choices everywhere together with some rather unimaginative breakfast dishes. My two favourite places to have breakfast at were the Lucky Llama Cafe and The Worker Bee Cafe.
Lucky Llama Cafe
Located just behind Rincon Cycles Shop on Carpinteria Avenue, this cosy little cafe specialises in tastebud-tantalising acai bowls and hearty oatmeal bowls together with some inspirational hot drinks for those who like to kick start their day on a healthy note. For those with sweet-teeth, pastries and muffins also feature on the menu, including gluten-free options. Vegans and vegetarians will be especially spoilt for choice here. Also a great place to stop by after an early morning run or in the middle of a cycle trip to fuel up.
A sunny patio awaits those who like to add a bit of sunshine to their breakfast. Tea and coffee products as well as the cafe’s own branded T-shirts and Hoodies can be purchased. The service was friendly and relatively quick, so I’d 100% recommend this place.
Worker Bee Cafe
In this super friendly ‘small town’ cafe you can indulge your tastebuds with some home-made South Californian specialties – the owner’s passion about terrific tasting and hearty food is quite clear and the service is excellent! The owner Rick gave us a very warm welcome and made sure we were well attended to. The menu offers many different choices and a variety of seasonal specials which are listed on their notice board and which you can find out more about when you place your order so you know what you are signing up for!
As a fit foodie, I have found many of their dishes on the heavy and sugary side (for example, you can have steak or corned beef hash for breakfast!), however, fortunately, some lighter and healthier choices also feature on the menu such as eggs and oatmeal. This place is definitely for the more adventurous and for those who want to try something local – just make sure you go hungry! To give you an idea what to anticipate, my Hubby decided to try one of their autumn specials, which was Spicy Prawns with scrambled eggs and grits (in case you are not familiar with grits, it has a similar consistency to porridge when cooked and is made from corn). My Hubby has never been one to be defeated by a big plate of food, however, this one was a challenge even for him!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and I have managed to convince you to visit these awesome destinations!