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I use every resource I can think of when I travel to a place I have never been to before, or a place I have not been to in a long time. I used to go to Santa Barbara much more often, but it’s been years since I’ve stayed there overnight and with that much time between visits, I knew that my old standbys would need updating. (Sorry the photos in this post are a bit blurry and dark, but in deference to the other patrons, I took pictures without flash at the restaurants where I ate.)

My first “new” stopover was the Wine Cask which has the reputation for a fine dining spot where the food was paired perfectly with the stellar local wine selection. The ambiance is welcoming and upscale, with excellent service and beautiful decor.

I was very hopeful when I ordered the whitefish, supposedly done “medium”, with fingerling potatoes, sauteed mustard greens, and anise grilled caviar for $28. My first bites of the fish were good, but as I ate more than one bite, I realized the fish was woefully overcooked, to the point of being dry and tasteless. The snap peas were wonderful and the carrots were done al dente, but since the main course was the fish, I can not say that this was a good dish and after three bites I stopped eating it. The busyboy came by to see if I wanted it removed, but I told him I wished to speak to the waiter and instead the hostess came back to ask what was wrong. I told her the fish was overcooked and she promptly offered me something else on the menu.

I chose the salad Lyonnnaise, made with proscuitto, smoked egg white, spinach, and a warm mushroom-bacon vinaigrette for $12. This was wonderful, with a glass of Pinot Noir which my waiter said would compliment this dish. I left with smiling with the level of service and delight in finding a dish I enjoyed here. I would definitely go back, but order a dish that did not require a light hand (like fish).

Wine Cask Restaurant on Urbanspoon

During my stay I wanted to try Pierre LaFond’s Wine Bistro since it is one of the Santa Barbara places I used to love when I came here regularly. I was glad to “rediscover” it since it was easily the best meal of my stay.

Pierre LaFond’s bakery was an institution on State Street for decades, but he has now branched out to a wine bistro and a clothing store and although I miss the old place, the new ones are very nice replacements.

One of my friends ordered the seafood stew for $23 . The seafood was slightly overcooked, but the liquid was rich and hearty and the bread was wonderful, so if you are looking for a hearty seafood dish, you will like this, made with mussels, scallops, wild rice, and salmon in a spicy broth.

My other friend ordered the roasted flatbread with summer squash, goat ricotta, flowering herbs, and roasted heirloom tomatoes with a hint of truffle oil. This was a tasty “pizza” with a chewy crust and superb toppings for $13. 

I chose a spinach salad with roasted red pepper, red onion, blue cheese, spiced pepitas, toasted sunflower seeds and a sherry vinaigrette with a grilled bistro steak for $22. I devoured this plate, savoring every bite of both the freshly dressed salad and the delectable grass fed steak done “bleu” as I requested!

I was the only one to order dessert, a chocolate chip cookie, but instead we were served an oatmeal cookie, which we all enjoyed, with just enough chewiness and cinnamon to cap our meal.

We drank a bottle of a local Santa Rita Pinto Noir with our meal and toasted revisiting old friends in new places:)

Pierre Lafond on Urbanspoon

No journey is complete without a chocolate ending, and Chocolats du CaliBressan were the perfect place to end my Santa Barbara visit. Who could resist chocolate “lips” of  dark and milk chocolate ganache flavored with tangerine and covered in white chocolate? If you want other flavors or designs, there are little “buddhas” of salted soft caramel covered in dark chocolate, or “fish” filled with dark chocolate ganache and peanut butter. For purists (like moi) they also have 67% pure Madagascar dark chocolate, and for those who don’t want to eat chocolate, they even sell cute t shirts with “chocolat” designs in all sizes in the back of the store!

These “French kisses” are a very delicious way to tell someone you’d like to add some romance to your relationship;)

Chocolats Du Calibressan on Urbanspoon

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One of the best reasons to travel is to find new places to eat 🙂 Even though I’ve been to Santa Barbara numerous times, there are always new places to try and I was very happy to find Renaud’s Patisserie and Bistro within walking distance of my rental, just  behind busy State Street.

I was impressed that this small bakery serves breakfast made with organic cage free, grain fed eggs, and all their salad greens and coffee are also organic. Their breakfast pastries start at only $2.25 and if you want a light breakfast, you can have a bowl of yogurt with homemade jam and granola for only $4.50.

I chose the Renaud breakfast with a pastry, side of fruit (or you may chose juice) and coffee or tea for $6.95). I chose a pain au raisin for my pastry and was delighted to find it was done with real butter, light flaky pastry, and a few sprinkles of salt for a surprisingly nice boost of flavor.

The fresh fruit was a pretty assortment of peach, apricot, cantaloupe, strawberry, and pineapple.The peach could have been riper, but the rest of the fruit was ripe and tasty.

Renaud's Patisserie & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Even with coffee at Renaud’s, I needed an espresso and went to French Press on State Street for my fix. Unfortunately the hype about this place far outweighed both the service and the coffee. The coffee here was much like the vibe….looked good, but tasted terrible. It was actually sour! Service and pastries both fell short of good, making this a place a “do not return” with good options elsewhere.

The French Press on Urbanspoon

A place I will definitely return is Tupelo Junction Cafe. Recommended by a local, and one of those places that made me do a second take when I looked at the menu, this is THE place for a hearty breakfast, lunch, happy hour, or dinner if you love Southern food. I chose the Wild Mushroom, asparagus, black truffle cheese scramble with baby greens and homemade bread and jam for $14. Somehow I managed to finish this gigantic plate!

The atmosphere was casual, the service was hospitable, and the food was exemplary, regardless of whether you preferred something as upscale as the omelette I ordered, or if you wanted just biscuits and sausage gravy (both made in house) for $6. For those who want a sweet breakfast, they have a Waffle Lady’s pumpkin oatmeal waffle with caramelized bananas, candied pecans and real maple syrup for $12 that will give you a sugar high for the day! Water is served in mason jars, and they make all their jams and preserves, so if you love something, you can take a jar home.

Tupelo Junction Cafe on Urbanspoon

Santa Barbara is only one and a half hours away, but spending a few days away makes it feel like it’s a world away from my “normal” life in Los Angeles (especially since I did not have to deal with jet lag:)

If you are looking for a luxurious beautiful secluded spot, Bacara is the place to stay. Even finding it (with both GPS and a friend who had been here before) is a challenge. But the views once you get here are worth it. We stopped for a drink on the patio by the lobby and we were treated to this as we sat in an alcove.

Considering this is a five star resort, the drinks and snacks are very reasonable ($15-$30). We had plans for dinner, but we could have easily spent the entire afternoon here. They recently opened up a sushi bar adjacent to the lobby with a menu which allows you to specify what flavors, kind of fish and type of presentation on your order, so instead of ordering the sushi bar standards, the chef will create sushi, sashimi or rolls based on your preferences.

The pool was full of kids, so if you are looking for a peaceful place to relax, do not go during school summer vacation, or opt for one of the private poolside cabanas. The pools are saline instead of chlorine, so it’s like swimming in the ocean!

If you are planning a romantic trip, consider going in May or September, if you are going with your kids, you will have plenty of company in the Summer months!

Having used Air BnB for my last stay in Paris, I decided to try using them for a more local stay in Santa Barbara and found a wonderful 1 Bedroom only 3 blocks from State Street for only $79 a night. My host, Jessica, was out of the country during my stay, so I had the entire apartment to myself! She arranged for a friend to answer any questions or concerns during my stay, so even without her I had someone local to contact.

The entire place was immaculate, and the bed was very comfortable! She had thoughtfully pinned the laundry key and parking pass to the bulletin board in the bedroom, along with wireless information, so everything was literally in one place.

The living room was large and comfortable (even though I never used it).

The dining area faced the kitchen and was where I set up my laptop to explore with the internet all the places I wanted to explore while in Santa Barbara.

Although the kitchen was available, the only thing I used was the tea kettle and the fridge, which were both handy at the end of a day exploring State Street.

The bathroom had two sets of fresh plush towels which were color coordinated with the decor.

This is easily one of the best places to stay if you want to live like a local and walk to the center of State Street. Jessica was a great hostess even in absentia, and I feel as if I now have a pied a terre in Santa Barbara. Hopefully on my next trip, I will actually get to meet Jessica:)

With the hot and humid weather in Los Angeles this week, the last thing I want to do over a long week-end is drive through 4.5 hours of hot desert to bake in 110 degree Las Vegas. One of my friends suggested Carmel by the Sea, and although I love the very quaint town and the beautiful beach, the six hour drive each way was daunting and too long for a quick getaway (there are flights to nearby Monterey, but it’s too late to book any fare running less than $300 roundtrip).

So with a look at a map, I realized that Santa Barbara was the easiest and nicest choice for a cool break. It’s a city small enough to navigate without too much traffic (compared to Los Angeles), and it’s been about three years since I’ve been, so I would have places to explore and to revisit. It’s only about 1.5 hours from Los Angeles, with plenty of walkable areas, great restaurants, and a long beautiful stretch of beach.

Although I love the Four Seasons Biltmore and they are offering a third night free special, I didn’t want to spend $575 a night ($350 after the discount). I decided that having an ocean view was the most important amenity so I looked for an oceanfront hotel nearby. To my surprise I found the Cliff House Inn in Ventura still had rooms available for only $120-$200. The rooms are not as luxurious as the Four Seasons’ rooms but they do offer floor to ceiling windows overlooking the surf, free wireless or wired internet service, complimentary continental breakfast, heated swimming pool and private beach access; some rooms even have fireplaces and jacuzzi bathtubs. The Cliff House is also known for the Shoals restaurant, serving seafood with an ocean view, so if you want to stay in one night instead of sampling the restaurants in town, there is a good option within the hotel.

Is it beach time yet?

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