Have you been thinking about visiting Santa Barbara with your new beau or significant other for a romantic weekend away from home?
Here's what I know...
1. Santa Barbara is a highly accessible weekend destination. You can fly into Los Angeles, pick up a convertible and less than 90 minutes later you will arrive in splendid Santa Barbara.
2. If you are looking for a place to stay that is beach front and beautiful, choose the Four Seasons Biltmore. The property was fully renovated 5 years ago and they did an excellent job of maintaining the historic landmark while adding in a plenitude of modern amenities. They have a top-notch spa and gym and they give you access to one of the most exclusive beach clubs in Santa Barbara, the Coral Beach club. The Coral Beach club is located directly in front of the hotel, has direct access to the beach, a great restaurant and a gigantic Olympic size racing lane swimming pool for all those preparing for a triathlon. Make sure to request a room at the hotel with a deck on the ground floor so you can soak in some sunshine at your room while you are sipping wine from their extensive list. And don't forget to check out the piano player in the Ty Lounge, off the Lobby, where you will see other couples like yourself having after dinner drinks and dancing the waltz and the fox trot; a perfect mood setter before you head back to your room.
3. Even though Napa Valley is the area of CA that people think of when there is mention of CA wines, Santa Barbara County has quite the wine selection as well. With over 100 vineyards in the region and over 21,000 acres, if you are a wine affectionato or a just someone who likes to taste new wines, Santa Barbara is a great place to visit. You should get a map of all the vineyards from your hotel and pick a bunch that you want to go experience. A few great suggestions are places like Demetria where they encourage you to bring a picnic lunch and eat while you taste their wines. The setting at Demetria is quite breathtaking especially as you are driving up the long drive and take in the view of the 213 acres on the property. At Demetria, make sure to try the 2008 Viognier and the 2009 Grenache Rose. Additionally, Bridlewood is a lovely vineyard for romance. It is one of the more manicured vineyards in Santa Barbara, resembling a Napa Valley vineyard. Their tasting room on property is very modern and fully air conditioned which is key on the very hot days. Make sure to try their Syrah Dusty Trail wine.
4. While you are in the wine country, make sure to save time to explore the tiny little towns there like Los Olivos. In these towns, you will find many tasting rooms like one of my personal favorites, the Epiphany Cellars where the tasting was just $5 and they gave you 7 pours; don't miss their 2006 Petit Syrah, Rodney's Vineyard. Additionally, if you are a movie buff, you can hit a few places in this area that became famous in the 2004 hit movie, Sideways like Solvang. Solvang is set up as an authentic Danish town with all the trimmings and definitely worth the stop.
5. Before you leave the wine country, you must eat at the not to be missed, Hitching Post II also featured in Sideways. The Hitching Post II is a quintessential family style Steakhouse where the prices are very affordable, the portions are larger than large and things like the barbequed sautéed mushrooms and the grilled artichoke appetizers are not to be missed. (We couldn't stop eating the mushrooms!). Plus, the Angus Rib Chop is one of the best bone-in rib steaks you will ever have. You can choose one of their own wines, our favorite was the Pinot Noir Highlander. And try not to miss the Leroy Neiman-esque portrait hanging on the wall of very friendly owner, Frank Ostini.
6. If you decide that you don't want to drive to wine country and prefer to stay local, don't miss the urban wine trail right in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. You can get a map and go from tasting room to tasting room, comparing and contrasting the different wines that they have you taste right on premises. Usually for just $10, they give you 6 to 8 different pours of their newest and finest wines and will explain to you what you are tasting. This is a perfect low cost prelude to a romantic bubble bath back at your hotel. A few tasting rooms I would recommend are the Santa Barbara Winery where you must try the 2007 Santa Rita Hills Reserve Chardonnay, and Oreana Tasting Room where they have a terrific Zinfandel, the 2006 Oreana Zinfandel - Sugar Mountain Vineyard.
7. Dining out in Santa Barbara can be quite the romantic experience. If you are there for a long weekend, spend one night finding romance under the stars, dining at the Stonehouse at the San Ysidro Ranch. It has a world renowned wine list, interesting and inventive appetizers like the Braised Short Rib Raviolis with Ricotta Salata, Spinach, Cipollini Onions, Organic Mushrooms, in a Chianti Cream Sauce and don't miss the dessert sampler so you can try their Belgium Chocolate Pot de Crème, Brown Butter Pecan Tart, as well as their Chocolate Lovers Banana Mascarpone Tart! Yum! Make sure to request a table out on the deck and ask to speak to the Sommelier who will help you pick the right wines to accompany your dining choices and he might even give you his own personal vineyard picks.
8. Spend a second night dining right in the town of Santa Barbara eating at Olio e Limone, one of the top Italian restaurants in Santa Barbara. The husband and wife owners are there every night making sure all their patrons are happy as they feast delectable dishes like Tagliolini del Campo (thin ribbon pasta, leeks, spinach, green beans and parmesan) or Scaloppine con Carciofi e Limone (thinly sliced veal cutlets with fresh artichoke hearts and lemon sauce) while sipping one of the local wines. And save time to go for a romantic stroll along State Street, the main street of Santa Barbara where you will find blocks and blocks kitschy one of a kind stores mixed in with some of the national chains.
9. Riding bicycles beachside along the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara is a great way to be outdoorsy, athletic and romantic at the same time. All over Santa Barbara you will find bicycle outfits where you both can rent beach cruisers to use for the day. However if you want to get some exercise while holding hands at the same time, you can rent a Surrey bike which looks like a car with pedals; you actually sit side by side and bicycle in tandem. This is a great photo opp that is fun and very romantic at the same time!