The Arc’s Guide to the Southern Central Coast

Text and Images by Kyle Beechey

Map of the region. Illustration by Kyle Morrison

The holiday season beckons and for many of us that can mean a little more family time to enjoy. Hopefully we all can take those vacation days, long weekends and extended breaks from the everyday. That might mean occupying the kids over winter break, entertaining in-laws or sneaking away for a romantic weekend escape. If you’re looking for some ideas and happen to live in the Los Angeles area we’re here to help! Even if you don’t, keep them filed away for future road trip inspiration.

One of the best things about LA is its proximity to the natural wonders. The number of day and weekend trips the region provides can seem endless. Just a few hours to the east is the magical, mystical Joshua Tree and the midcentury design haven of Palm Springs. Head to the coast and you’ve got some of the most bucolic beaches in the nation. The north holds the rustic wilderness of Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear; where we Angelenos can, depending on the season, pretend we’re in the mountains of Colorado. And we haven’t even mentioned the perfectly quaint, ever popular Ojai.

Currently, our preferred escape has to be to the Southern Central Coast. A place where wonderful wines, delicious food, a perfect beach or two and sublime vistas are in no short supply. It has some of the gifts that Northern California has to offer, only much, much closer.

“A place where wonderful wines, delicious food, a perfect beach or two and sublime vistas are in no short supply.”

Farmer’s field view just outside Los Alamos

We’ve put together two introductory guides, one of the Santa Barbara area and another if you’re willing to venture slightly further afield to Solvang & Los Alamos. They include a little something for everyone, from the vacationing family to the hungry traveler to the avid shopper. You’ll find new arrivals to the region as well as old standbys. Every type of adventurer should find a little something!

We hope you enjoy; but as with any great road trip we always recommend getting a little lost. The journey is as important as the destination. Stop at the farm stands, the antique markets and the scenic lookouts. Just don’t forget to pack lots of snacks.

View of Santa Barbara region from the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Santa Barbara

Nestled in-between the Santa Ynez mountains and the Pacific Ocean is the paradisiacal Santa Barbara. The self-proclaimed "American Riviera" is typically, a two-hour drive from Los Angeles. You'll find it sprinkled with historic adobe-style buildings and the simultaneous offering of the mountains, the ocean and a gourmet’s utopia. Santa Barbara’s charms lie much more in the luxurious than the rustic. So, kickback and indulge.

Where to stay?

If you’d like to revel in the whole luxury experience we’d recommend the Belmondo El Canto. You’ll find it quietly tucked up in the hills and with a touch of Old Hollywood glamor. The property has many amenities, but is known for its spa. Take the time and book that long overdue facial or massage. If you’re looking for something a little more hip and fun, check out the stylish Wayfarer. Right downtown with a large pool. It is within walking distance of some of the best bars and restaurants.

Where to eat?

There is no shortage of exceptional food to be found in Santa Barbara. Restaurants abound in this city. Some of our favorites can be found in the “Funk Zone”. An ideal evening could start at Les Marchands Wine Bar, with a local wine flight, followed by a seasonal California dinner at The Lark.

If you’re longing for something sweet, post dinner, head to McConnell’s on State St. The legendary creamery was started in Santa Barbara and remains committed to using local dairy in all of their products. We’d recommend sampling some seasonal flavors, perhaps a Burnt Caramel Apple or a Pumpkin Pie?

If you’re looking for a quick bite, a few of our favorite places include La Super-Rica Taqueria. Initially, made famous by a glowing Julia Child recommendation. The grande game of French cuisine named this humble restaurant as her preferred place to dine later in life. As one would guess, the line is often long, very long, so if you need a faster alternative head to Lilly’s to satisfy the taco craving. Grab coffee at Breakfast, the ultra cool surf themed café where they pull a mean espresso.

Where to shop?

The Public Market is our favorite stop on a SB shopping tour. It is an easy place to spend an afternoon, grabbing sandwiches and salads for a beachside picnic from Flag Stone Bakery. Why not pick-up a couple of sweets from Enjoy Cupcakes for dessert? If you’re looking for gifts to take home, il Fustino, Oils and Vinegars, has a great selection of local products that you can sample before you buy. A wine tasting? Wine + Beer has got you covered. They carry an array of bottles from the area’s breweries and wineries to take home as well.

Searching for something a little less perishable? Warbler Records and Goods has what you need. They carry both new and used vinyl as well as a selection of clothing, letterpress and goods for the home.

What to do?

You can’t leave Santa Barbara without a wine tasting. You’ll find them available at most wine shops and restaurants around town. We suggest heading to Municipal Wines and trying a flight of their red or white. All made from local handpicked grapes.

Interested in something a little less urban? Head up to the Santa Ynez Mountains for a short hike or drive. The region is home to some of Southern California’s best vistas. For a little more adventure try to find the cave paintings at Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park at the top of the mountain range.

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park

If you’re headed back to LA and looking for a beach, Carpenteria is the spot. Proclaimed, the "Safest Beach in the World”, it is a lovely place for a swim or walk. A stroll along their main street will transport you to a simpler time. A perfect little beach town. If you’re in the mood for a latte, coffee or matcha, stop into the Lucky Llama. They also happen to make the best acai bowls in town.

Montecito is another option to pass an afternoon. Home to two sophisticated shopping plazas filled with high-end fashion and home goods stores. For our clothing needs, we look to Wendy Foster. She has been the go-to woman for the past 40-years in providing that classic refined, yet laid back approach to luxury fashion that the region does best. Mate Gallery is another great option if you’re looking for gifts. They carry a variety of New England centric goods, from candles to oddities to clothing.

If you want to grab a quick bite before settling into the inevitable traffic, pop into by Bree’osh for the pastries with the best lamination this side of Paris. Or, stop for Happy Hour at Honor Bar, for something more substantial. Sip on a local pint and split one of their legendary chicken sandwiches. They have a gourmet market next door to replenish your road trip snack supply should you need.

The Alamo Inn on Bell St.

The Complete Guide to Solvang & Los Alamos

If you happen to have more than a night or two to escape, continue up Highway 154 to Solvang. You’ll feel like you’ve landed in Denmark by way of Disney. Danes settled this odd little town in the early 20th century. If you truly want to get into the Danish spirit, stop by the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, yes the town has one. Or if you’d like to sample some regional cuisine, pop into Paula’s Pancake House and eat some aebleskivers, traditional Danish apple pancakes.

Spending the night? Look to one of Shelter Social Club’s hotels, The Hamlet Inn. Tasteful, yet keeping within the Scandinavian theme, it offers bike rentals if you’d like to peddle around town. The hotel also provides packages for local beer and wine tastings. If you’re looking for something slightly more upscale, The Landsby is a new 50-room boutique hotel. Elegantly designed with neutral tones and a contemporary vibe. It is home to Mad & Vin, Solvang’s best restaurant.

A mere 20-minute drive to the north, is the perfect single stoplight town of Los Alamos. Technically lacking official “town” status as its size renders it a “census designated place”. It has everything you’ll need for a fantastic food and drink filled 24 hours. Check-in to The Alamo Motel on Bell St. It’s newly renovated in an elevated ranch style and the town’s best or rather, only option. They have a welcoming fire pit to gather around at dusk and watch the stars. The caliber of restaurants in Los Alamos is staggering for its size; with almost more culinary choices than residents. We'd suggest grabbing a sandwich from Bell Street Farm and in the evening, stop in for dinner at Pico in the General Store. You’ll be greeted with both delicious food and wonderful hospitality. No shortage of charm in this town.

We’d be remiss not to tell you what to have for breakfast when one of the best bakeries in the region is right across from your hotel, Bob’s Well Bread. You can’t go wrong with anything in their pastry case, but the pain au chocolat is a strong choice. To conclude your Los Alamos adventure, pop into the antique mall at the end of Bell St. You’ll find a smattering of goods that include vintage glassware, furniture and cookware. All before embarking on the drive home along a highway lined with picture perfect farms and vineyards. There are certainly worse ways to spend a weekend.

Antique postcard selection at the Los Alamos Depot Mall
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