The movie It’s Complicated opens with an aerial shot of red-tiled roofs set against a clear blue sky, before panning to the sprawling coastline, where beautiful people dressed in casually chic clothes are gathered for some special occasion. Before Meryl Streep utters her first mesmerizing line, you’re thinking, I want to go there! Well, I did. And you should.
Santa Barbara, where the film is set, is perhaps the least complicated of places. It is simply lovely. Tucked between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, this “American Riviera” is swanky to be sure, but, unlike its French namesake, it seems the kind of place where people go to hide from the cameras and live like a local. More Ellen and Oprah, who actually live nearby, than Kim and Kanye, who do not. For you Gilmore Girls fans, imagine an upscale Stars Hollow with Spanish-Colonial architecture, better weather, and without that annoying Sally Struthers character.
In California for an L.A. graduation, we arrived a few days early and headed ninety minutes up the coast to the newly refurbished Belmond El Encanto, a 1920s resort nestled in a residential neighborhood just high enough to afford glorious views of Santa Barbara below and the sea beyond. The hotel is really an intimate compound with freestanding bungalows positioned along meandering pathways lined with flowers and vines. And oh, the fragrance! The scent of jasmine greets you at every turn. It’s tempting to stay on property by the pool to catch every intoxicating whiff, but you’ll want to go into town and to nearby Montecito for food and fun.
Dining choices run the gamut from Julia Child’s favorite eatery, The Super Rica Tacqueria, a dive in Santa Barbara serving deliciously cheap Mexican fare – go early as the lunch line snakes around the building by noon – to the romantic Stonehouse Restaurant at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, where Jack and Jackie (yes, as in Kennedy) honeymooned, and we, Warren and Brenda, did not. Instead, we enjoyed a memorable anniversary dinner under the stars and were treated by the Stonehouse staff like the Hollywood A-listers they’re used to serving. In fact, everyone we encountered in California was exceedingly kind and helpful. Maybe the sun bestows a good-karma vibe on all who call the Golden State home?
There are many other restaurants to try (sadly, we ran out of time) as well as the Urban Wine Trail in downtown Santa Barbara for those wanting to sample the region’s varietals without venturing out into the fields- an experience made famous by another movie, Sideways, which I will need to watch again as it’s been awhile. But for now, I’m busy binging on Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. It takes place in sunny San Diego, another California destination callin’ my name.
Caroline Travels the World…And So Can You.