- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Welcome to the American Riviera,” said our host, Jean Paul de Craemer as he gestured at the setting for a very Californian al fresco lunch of white asparagus, snapper and white wine set elegantly on the rooftop of the Andalucia Hotel. It was not much of an exaggeration. California seems to produce everything, and have everything.

From the Andalucia’s roof — where the swimming pool sparkles in the noonday sun and the potted lemon trees rustle in the breeze — the red tiled roofs and whitewashed villas of Santa Barbara, spilling down the hills to the ocean 10 blocks south of the hotel, do, indeed, resemble the famed Mediterranean coast.

Like the real Riviera, as Mr. de Craemer, the food and beverage director of the hotel, says, Santa Barbara is blessed with a benevolent climate, beaches, a backdrop of rocky hills, plenty of good restaurants and lots of little shops selling beautiful and expensive items of clothing, gifts and local products in the paseos or pedestrian alleys lined with shops woven through the city center. Like the European Riviera, Santa Barbara has some very good local wines produced in the more than a hundred vineyards in the county.

This is where some movies are made, and many of the Hollywood glitterati live in the surrounding hills, but it was not always so. This was not always a serene coastal town 100 miles north of Los Angeles. When the Spanish arrived more than four centuries ago, the Chumash Indians, known for their exquisite basketwork, had been here first. They were living on the Southern California coast as hunters and gatherers. Agriculture was introduced by the Franciscan friars. Chumash religious practices included the creation of elaborate polychrome rock art in remote caves and rock outcroppings.

Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo claimed the region for Spain in 1542, but the town was not named until 1602 when Sebastian Viscaino sailed a small fleet into the channel, between what are now the Channel Islands and the coast of California, seeking shelter from a severe storm. The storm abated on Dec. 4, St. Barbara’s feast day, and the ships were saved. A friar onboard named the spot where the crew came ashore in honor of the saint.

The area was not settled by Europeans until 1782 when a royal presidio, or fort, was established; the Santa Barbara Mission was founded four years later by the Franciscan friars as part of the 21 mission system in California, each one day’s journey apart, from San Diego to Sonoma.

The Spanish ruled until 1822 when California became Mexican territory. In 1846, Col. John C. Fremont claimed the region for the United States. With statehood in 1850, the town’s Mexican style was replaced by Eastern Anglo influences.

The Santa Barbara Mission was the 10th of the California missions. The original building was an unpretentious adobe, enlarged in later years to resemble a Mexican country church of the early 19th century. Today, the mission is part museum and part church with a lovely garden between the two. It contains three sculptures carved by a mission Indian.

The motion picture industry began in Santa Barbara in 1910 when American Film Co. opened Flying A Studios in the center of town. Flying A was the largest studio of its kind in the world at that time, and ultimately produced more than 1,000 films until it closed a decade later and the movies and the stars moved south to create the tinsel town the world knows as Hollywood.

Santa Barbara was badly damaged in a 1925 earthquake. Pearl Chase, chairwoman of the plans and planting commission, offered to pay for architectural services if houses were built in the Moorish style. The idea caught on, and today Santa Barbara continues to be a graceful mix of Spanish, Mediterranean and Moorish, a lovely town where the average price of a two-bedroom house is $1 million.

The Santa Barbara Historical Museum sets out the history of the city with some fine displays going back to the days of the Chumash, with exhibits of the Spanish period and the short-lived film industry with stills from the film, “Purity,” starring Audrey Munson of the “lovely dimpled derriere” fame, who caused a scandal by appearing nude in the film. The museum is a lovely low adobe building surrounded by flowering trees and plants. Everyone wears clothes now, and it’s a popular venue for weddings.

During the gold rush days of the mid-19th century, cattle were a major source of wealth in the area around Santa Barbara.

Herds were driven north to the lucrative market — known as the Cow Palace — in San Francisco.

Santa Barbara honors its Spanish and Mexican heritage with an annual fiesta during the first week of August, a tradition begun in 1924.

There are numerous other festivals in the city, the adjacent towns, such as Montecito and Carpinteria throughout the year, and virtually monthly festivals in the Santa Ynez Valley.

We began our tour of Santa Barbara at the Presidio, the last Spanish fortress built in Alta California in 1782, by pedicab from the hotel.

The Presidio protected the settlers against foreign encroachment and Indian attacks and provided a social and cultural center. The feared foreigners were the British and the Russians.

Earthquakes damaged the various buildings in 1806 and 1812, and the Presidio fell into further disrepair after Mexico took over California from the Spanish.

By the 1840s, the buildings were partly in ruins. Except for two buildings, one of which is the second-oldest standing adobe in California (the oldest is the Old Mission San Juan Capistrano), the fort is a reconstruction made pursuant to extensive archaeological excavations and historical research.

One of the surviving old buildings in town is the Casa de la Guerra, constructed outside the fort in the 1820s to be the home of the fifth Presidio commandant, Jose de la Guerra. The house was remodeled several times during the ensuing century to fit changing family needs and aesthetic tastes. In the 1920s, the El Paseo shopping complex was built around the house. Now the property of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, the house is being restored to its original configuration.

A lovely 20th-century building is the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, completed in August 1929, just before everything crashed on Wall Street. Everything in the building was made in California — except the Tunisian ceramic tiles on the staircase. The ornate ceiling was inspired by a synagogue in Toledo, Spain.

Over the stone, arched lawyers’ entrance is carved “Reason is the life of the law.” The building is in the Spanish-Moorish style with open hallways overlooking lush gardens that contain 40 varieties of palm trees. From the 85-foot clock tower, there’s a splendid view of Santa Barbara.

Our group was given a tour of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which has an outstanding collection for a town the size of Santa Barbara. The area is home to many of California’s best artists, and there are plenty of galleries showing contemporary local art.

The art museum, in a former post office, was opened at 11:30 a.m. June 6, 1941, the most auspicious time according to a local astrologer. Its permanent collection includes Greek, Roman, American Indian, Asian, European and contemporary art, as well as photography, drawing and an interactive children’s gallery.

My favorite painting is “Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932,” a powerful David Siqueiros mural exhibited in a special outdoor gallery. The mural was painted during Mr. Siqueiros’ eight-month stay in Los Angeles for filmmaker Dudley Murphy’s Pacific Palisades house. The mural was donated to the museum in 2001; it is the Mexican artist’s only intact mural in the United States.

Santa Barbara traditions continued at dinner at Bouchon, offering “California wine country cuisine.” The restaurant prepares excellent local fish and splendid desserts and has an outstanding lengthy list of Santa Barbara County wines, many of which rival the best of Napa.

A highlight of our visit was a wine and mountain Jeep tour with Cloud Climbers. Guests climb into open Jeep Wranglers (seat belts obligatory) and take off for the Santa Ynez Mountains and the lush valley to the east. As the Jeeps speed up the mountain, the noonday sun warms your back.

Although Santa Barbara is on the west coast of California, the city is tucked into a wide bay and faces south rather than west, and the wind dances in your hair.

Before your eyes is the magnificent view of the Pacific, the city and the Channel Islands, looking deceptively close. In spring, the mountain range is covered with wildflowers and the air is filled with their fragrance.

Across the mountains lies the Santa Ynez Valley, now one of the great wine-growing areas of central California and home to about 60 wineries. Wine tasting is included in the cost of the tour, so we began with a picnic lunch in the garden of Foley Estate & LinCourt Vineyards, sampling a selection of whites and reds.

Later in the afternoon, we visited three more wineries, including the Australian-owned Kalyra Winery, where much of the action of the film “Sideways” was shot.

On the way back to town, we stopped at the Cold Springs Tavern, deep in the wooded mountain. The 110-year-old tavern once was a stagecoach stop; it retains the atmosphere of the Old West with a rustic appearance and memorabilia on the walls.

Our final stop was at a mysterious cave with ancient Chumash paintings. We crossed back over the mountain just in time to see the sun set, glory sinking into the calm Pacific in a riot of color and shadow, a sight not easily forgotten.

Andalucia Hotel in center of action

SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Andalucia Hotel is in a perfect location for visiting Santa Barbara — in the center of the historic section. It is within walking distance of galleries, museums, shops and restaurants and only 10 blocks from the beach. A trolley runs along State Street, a block from the hotel, linking the center of town with the seaside.

The hotel is decorated with outstanding works by local artists; rooms are furnished in Spanish style in keeping with the town’s architecture. A charming feature is the memoir “Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain” by Chris Stewart, left on the bedside for guests to enjoy.

One of the hotel’s five meeting rooms serves as a contemporary art gallery showcasing the work of local artists.

Michael Reardon, formerly executive chef at Napa Valley’s famed Tra Vigne restaurant, is in charge of the kitchen at 31 West, the hotel’s first-class restaurant.

The Andalucia has a sister hotel in Santa Monica, Hotel Casa del Mar. For a really special holiday, a night at the Casa del Mar on the Santa Monica beach with a beautiful view of the Pacific and the Santa Monica pier, and then a car trip up the lovely coast to Santa Barbara and the Andalucia makes a wonderful mini-journey.

The Casa del Mar, an elegant luxury hotel with a great bar area and beautiful rooms, once was a grand beach club; in 1999, it was restored to its former glory with the inclusion of a swimming pool, al fresco dining and a full-service spa and health club.

The two hotels have joined for a Royal Highway Package, good through the end of May. The package incorporates a one-night stay at each of the hotels and a two-day rental of a hybrid car for a trip up the lovely coast on El Camino Real, the Royal Highway, from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara. The road is marked by a series of cast-iron bells placed at two-mile intervals along U.S. Highway 101.

Hotel Andalucia, 31 W. Carillo; phone 805/884-0300; reservations 877/468-3515; visit www.andaluciasb.com

Bouchon, 9 W. Victoria St.; 805/730-1160; www.bouchonsantabarbara.com

Cold Spring Tavern, 5995 Stagecoach Road; 805/967-0066; www.coldspringtavern.com

Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State St.; 803/963-4364; www.sbmuseart.org

Santa Barbara Historical Museum, 136 E. De la Guerra St.; 805/966-1601; www.santabarbaramuseum.com

Casa de la Guerra, 15 E. De la Guerra St.

Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, 123 E. Canon Perdido St.; 805/965-0093; www.sbthp.org

Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours; 805/965-6654; www.ccjeeps.com

Santa Barbara Pedicab, 805/320-0374; www.sbpedicab.com

In Santa Monica: Hotel Casa del Mar, 1910 Ocean Way; 310/581-5533; reservations 800/898-6999; www.hotelcasadelmar.com

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