After experiencing 2020, a year I never imagined and will never forget, I am happily reflecting on my pleasant and vivid memories of my last Christmas on California’s Central Coast. I spent the Christmas holidays in Santa Barbara, my second home. A staycation in Santa Barbara, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is like traveling without leaving town. It’s an all-seasons resort with a flair for casual elegance.  I’m looking forward to the joys of Christmas there and hoping the yearly traditions will return again. 

La Arcada Mall Christmas tree

When it’s “beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, Santa Barbara’s seaside ambiance is a perfect stop for the holidays as the city spruces up its environs of the American Riviera. I can be there in just two hours from Los Angeles, along scenic California Highway 101. Luckily, I do not have to pursue a hotel, although there are plenty of options, from mountains to sea and chic to casual. 

Santa Barbara can be chilly in December, but that doesn’t keep the spectators away from the holiday season kick-off with the Christmas Parade on Downtown State Street. Locals and visitors are out and about and the holiday spirit pervades as approximately 60,000 viewers line the street. The crowd pleasers are the marching bands, holiday floats, entertainers, lots of music, the celebrity Grand Marshall, and all is culminated by the presence of Santa Claus himself and the lighting of the Santa Barbara Christmas tree. 

I love the simple pleasure of meandering down State Street with its twinkling lights, seeking the splendor of a plethora of decorated Christmas trees found in every nook and cranny galore, such as malls, arcades, street corners, restaurants and shops. La Cumbre Plaza and the Paseo Nuevo Mall bustle with shoppers and carolers. There are many holiday events and shopping options from boutiques, to a Mexican Christmas market, to holiday concerts, a lively Chanukah party at the Bronfman Jewish Community Center, and boats in the harbor, glittering with holiday lights. 

Downtown Santa Barbara

During the holidays I rediscover Santa Barbara. I visit the Funk Zone, I indulge in wine tastings at wonderful wineries like the Santa Barbara Winery, and I stop by the famed Stearns Wharf for fresh fish such as oysters, lobster, mussels, clams, and calamari.  From here it’s a joy to watch the harbor with it’s decorated boats and yachts. 


Art and wine in Los Olivos

Spontaneous travel is a great way to start a day.  So celebrating my birthday in Deeember was a sure incentive to spark a quick sojourn and Girlfriend’s Holiday Getaway with my friend Lisa. In just 40 minutes we arrived in the quaint country town of Los Olivos (The Olives), in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley wine country, and right at the door of the upscale Fess Parker’s Country Inn on Grand Avenue. In order to capture the moment, we checked into a spacious room and were pleased with its sense of style, oversized furniture, down comforters and an inviting fireplace.  Cordially, there was a complimentary bottle of their signature wine. The Inn itself was beautiful and tranquil, and just what was needed to revitalize the senses. 

Since our time there was precious, we quickly went off to “do the town”. We appreciated its walkability. With an invitation to wine tasting at Epiphany Wine Cellar, one of the Fess Parker Wineries, we headed over for a birthday tasting while taking in the Los Olivos holiday decorations. This is one town where you can do winery hopping for various tastings within minutes of each other, as there are so many wineries on Grand Avenue. There is something endearing and pleasant about wine tasting, shopping, art perusing, and dining in the Victorian and craftsmen houses in Los Olivos that have a very welcoming effect on visitors.  A big surprise awaited us on our return to the Inn. There was a beautifully wrapped box in our room.  Curiously it was a gift from the Chef, a dozen beautifully designed cupcakes to remember my birthday, so thoughtful! 

This small town has its own Olde Fashioned Christmas atmosphere with tree lighting, gingerbread houses, and more. It was a perfect girlfriend’s retreat at the Inn and we enjoyed a delightful dinner of fresh grown products, farm to table prepared, in creative dishes at The Bear & Star Restaurant. We returned for a complementary breakfast in the morning. As it was too chilly to enjoy the intimate private pool at the Inn, we walked through the town visiting art galleries and shops, finding a lot of products and items created by the locals. There was more wine sipping since we were in a mecca of over 40 wineries in the area. The folks of Los Olivos were very friendly and welcoming, which we also experienced from the warm hospitality of the staff at the Inn. All too soon it was time to return to Santa Barbara with a promise of a return visit to Los Olivos. 


More Santa Barbara trees

For Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day dining in Santa Barbara, there is the beautiful Ritz Carlton Bacara Santa Barbara, the Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara, and the Belmondo El Encanto, as well as many of the city’s upscale restaurants, which all serve special holiday menus.   For New Year’s Eve celebrations there are private parties, club events and the ever-popular New Year’s Eve Pops concerts at the Granada Theater.  The Granada Theater has a long time tradition of celebrating New Year’s amidst great music and lots of good cheer in an amazing, historic venue, reminiscent of old Hollywood. Enter the Granada, grab your holiday hat, sip some complimentary bubbly champagne, and enjoy the show! It’s a wonderful way to welcome the New Year, any year.  

Good-bye sweet nostalgia, please return again.