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California: Santa Barbara

Less than 100 miles from Los Angles, nestled in between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is a perfect day trip for those wanting to take advantage of its beaches, highly rated wineries, and variety of shopping and dining venues.  Its mild Mediterranean-like climate has earned the city its nickname as the “Riviera of the West.” With only 90,000 residents, Santa Barbara differs vastly from its metropolitan neighbor to the south, Los Angeles. Yet, visitors and residents of this popular tourist destination can enjoy a variety of cultural and social amenities which are often reserved only for much larger metropolises.

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The city is renowned for its Spanish Colonial style architecture and a long standing local ordinance ensures that all future commercial construction follows this theme.

The grandest building in Santa Barbara is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, located at 1100 Anacapa Street. Built in 1929, the working courthouse is a magnificent example of Spanish Colonial Revival style architecture. The current building replaced a smaller Greek Revival style courthouse which was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1925. The courthouse occupies 150,000 square feet and consists of four buildings. It includes a Jail Wing, which is no longer used to hold prisoners. Visitors may take elevators to the summit of the 85 foot El Mirador clock tower, where labeled photographs show what the viewer is looking at in all directions. The courthouse hosts many events, particularly in its Sunken Garden, the site of the 1872 Greek Revival courthouse. When we visited, there was a wedding taking place there.

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The Santa Barbara Mission located at 2201 Laguna Street is a wonderful example of California’s Franciscan Spanish architecture. Constructed in 1786, the mission is often referred to as “The Queen of the Missions. ” Santa Barbara Mission was the tenth California mission to be constructed and is the only mission to remain under the leadership of the Franciscan Friars since its founding.  The original mission was destroyed by an earthquake in 1925 but restored in 1927 and 1953. Today it serves as both a parish church and a fine anthropological study of original native culture in the surrounding area.

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Images from the chalk art festival at the Mission

Images from the chalk art festival at the Mission

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Santa Barbara Zoo, located at 500 Ninos Drive is a small but well-represented zoo with over 600 animals. Resting on 30 acres, the zoo was founded in 1963 and was formerly known as the Child’s Estate Zoo.  Today it is the largest zoo between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden located at 1212 Mission Canyon Road features 1,000 species of rare and indigenous plants.  Situated on 65 acres in the foothills just above the city, the garden offers sweeping views of the Channel Islands. Established in 1926 as an educational and scientific institution, it is the oldest botanic garden in California dedicated to the study, conservation, and display of native flora.

Opened to the public in 1993, Madame Ganna Walska’s Lotusland is 43 year labor of love created by the well-known Polish opera singer and socialite. The estate was purchased by the diva in 1941 turned into a nonprofit botanical garden after her death in 1984.

Born in 1887, Walska was married six times, where four of those marriages were to very wealthy husbands. The lavish promotion of her lackluster opera career by her fourth husband, Harold Fowler McCormick, inspired aspects of the screenplay for Citizen Kane. Walska pursued a career as an opera singer despite her apparent lack of talent. McCormick spent thousands of dollars on voice lessons for her and even arranged for Walska to take the lead in a production of Zaza by Ruggero Leoncavallo at the Chicago Opera in 1920. Reportedly, Walska got into an argument with director Pietro Cimini during dress rehearsal and stormed out of the production before she appeared.

Because Lotusland is a public garden operating in a private, residential neighborhood, reservations are required. To schedule a visit, please call their Visitor Services office at 805-969-9990.

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Ronald Reagan once said of ranch in Santa Barbara, “No place before or since has ever given Nancy and me the joy and serenity it does.” Rancho del Cielo, was President Reagan’s home for nearly twenty-five years and the Western White House for eight of those years.  The Reagan Ranch Center Exhibit Gallery located at 217 State Street features original Reagan Ranch artifacts along with state-of-the-art, interactive, multimedia exhibits that highlight the history of Ronald Reagan’s life at Rancho del Cielo and the accomplishments of his presidency.

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Just 23 miles away from the city of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley you will find Lake Cachuma.  Lake Cachuma is an artificial lake created by the construction of the Bradbury Dam in 1953. Its name derives from a Chumash village which the Spanish spelled  “Aquitsumu.” There is a large campsite on the south shore of Lake Cachuma, administered by the Santa Barbara County Parks department. The County Parks department offers group camping and fishing, boating, hiking, lake cruises, and nature programs.

The University of California, Santa Barbara rowing team regularly practices and races at the lake and constructed a permanent boathouse there just prior to the 1982-1983 school year.

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Although Santa Barbara is an atypical coastal town, it offers the typical Southern California variety of outdoor activities, everything from surfing to whale-watching. Santa Barbara is definitely not just the playground of the rich and famous and worth visiting at least once in a lifetime.

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