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Santa Barbara from Summit to Sea
September, 2021 - Issue #203

It seems counterintuitive to drive inland when visiting Santa Barbara during the summer. If it's coolest by the beach, why turn toward the mountains that rise behind the town like a backstop?
Curiosity.
I steal sideways glances at that domineering ridgeline whether I'm driving north or south on the 101. There must be a road up there somewhere, I think, and the views would have to be amazing. But I always forget to scout Google Maps when I get home.
We headed to Santa Barbara with no particular agenda recently and finally found the road. Not with a smartphone, but by exploring.
It's called East Camino Cielo, and yes, it lived up to my expectations. Surpassed them, actually.
Tight, twisty and sometimes precarious, it winds up the steep slopes to the top of the ridgeline. We pulled over where there was room to safely park and admire the view.
The deep blue sky was clear overhead. The sun shone strong and warm. A steady breeze slipped through the manzanita. The hills fell away to the coast, where a boat traced a white pencil wake offshore and a scrim of fog filled the channel. We made out Santa Barbara Airport and UCSB below. Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands bordered the horizon. In the Santa Ynez Valley far to our right, Lake Cachuma's bathtub ring clearly testified to the drought.
I knew my phone couldn't capture the grandeur and scope of our perspective. But this vantage is what the panorama setting is made for, so I tried.
On the other side, we found swells rolling toward the beach, unimpeded by the breakwater. It was more excitement, and challenge, than we wanted.
Back in the car, the narrow strip of pavement traced the undulating knife edge of the ridge as we drove on. Hiking trails and fire roads fingered off into steep canyons. Eventually the road began descending and changed names, too.
We followed Gibraltar Road back into the city, where we parked at the harbor. Having satisfied my curiosity in the mountains, the remainder of our day unfolded on or near the water, starting with paddleboarding.
Pushing off from the boat ramp, we turned south, following the wind toward Stearns Wharf. We traversed underneath, each in our own carefully chosen lane between the pilings. On the other side, we found swells rolling toward the beach, unimpeded by the breakwater. It was more excitement, and challenge, than we wanted. We crossed back under the pier in favor of the harbor's placid waters.
Dart Coffee, a favorite stop when visiting Santa Barbara, promised refreshment from paddling. With iced coffees in hand, we settled into the sand at Leadbetter Beach, north of the harbor. We alternated between dozing in the shade, reading and watching the activity on the beach. Skimboarders slid along the water's edge. Kids ran back and forth through the sand. Further out, sailboats glided with the afternoon breeze.
When it was time for dinner, we again relied on curiosity. Shalhoob's Funk Zone Patio caught our eye when visiting Dart. It was busy - a good sign - but the wait was short and we soon found ourselves perched on stools at a wine-barrel table beneath Edison lights.
After I ordered at the walk-up window, a server delivered April's taco trio - pulled pork, breaded fish and tri-tip - and my Shooby burger, a hefty patty topped with grilled onions and special sauce, all encased in a decadent brioche bun. The burger was better than most, but the pulled pork taco was our unanimous favorite.
The day started with something new but ended with tried and true: two scoops from McConnell's Fine Ice Creams on State Street and a sunset stroll on the pier.
From top to bottom, it was a relaxing day of Santa Barbara firsts and favorites.

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Dart Coffee Co. dartcoffeeco.com
Shalhoob's Funk Zone Patio shalhoob.com
McConnell's Fine Ice Creams mcconnells.com
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