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Santa Barbara, on the north end of California’s southern coast, is a small jewel of a city cradled picturesquely between the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the mountains rising just to its east.A mix of Mediterranean, Spanish, and surf culture, the area is cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and strikingly beautiful. Steeped in Vaquero and Californio traditions, it’s also a cowgirl’s dream! Oak studded equestrian trails, horseback riding on the beach, and the Santa Ynez Valley—often referred to as the “Valley of the Arabians”—are minutes away.  So when COWGIRL’s Editor-In-Chief asked me to come up with an “insider’s guide” to Santa Barbara’s perfect day, I knew just where to go!

Start your perfect day with a cappuccino and decadent almond croissant at Renaud’s Patisserie and Bistro in Loreto Plaza; or choose a custardy, vegetable quiche and a freshly squeezed glass of California grown orange juice.  Either way, the authentic café ambiance and French cuisine will leave you enchanted.  Then stroll up the sidewalk to Chaucer’s bookstore, a locally owned Santa Barbara landmark, to choose a beach or bedtime read from the curated selection of fine and fabulous books and magazines (including COWGIRL!). 

A three minute drive from Loretto Plaza, on De La Vina Street, is Santa Barbara’s cowgirl destination for all things western: Jedlicka’s Saddlery. Family owned and operated since 1932, Jedlicka’s is the go-to destination for western clothing, boots, tack, silver, gifts and horse supplies. Look for the life-sized horse out front!

Just southeast of Jedlika’s, Santa Barbara’s  downtown area offers a multitude of ways to take in the quintessential cool of this cultured—but laid back—California enclave.  The Courthouse is the centerpiece of the red-tiled central district, itself an impressive example of Spanish Colonial architecture, replete with large-scale murals and intricate and colorful tile work. Take time to visit the Courthouse tower, which affords panoramic views of the city scape.  A short walk away is the Santa Barbara Art Museum, whose distinguished collections include sculptures by artist Frederick Remington.

Walk south (toward the beach) on State Street and you’ll find the historical La Arcada marketplace with its romantic fountain and resident colony of turtles—a delight to observe while enjoying lunch at Cielito Restaurant and Taqueria. 

Step next door, into Encanto, to discover a “casual luxe” women’s boutique, whose array of artfully curated items are collected on owner Christy Martin’s travels around the globe.  Look closely and you’re likely to see marvelous statement furnishings and home accents sprinkled throughout the store;  Martin is also an accomplished Interior Designer specializing in Spanish Colonial revival, Santa Barbara Mission, Contemporary, Santa Fe and Old Ranch interiors.

Continuing down State Street will bring you to Rooms & Gardens, another treasure trove of iconic Santa Barbara style, i.e. casual, affluent, and stylish.  The intoxicating scent of Nest candles greets you as you enter, a welcome you’ll want to take home with you.  Handcrafted furniture, blue and white porcelain ginger jars, and textiles and bedding collections by John Robshaw are a few of their specialties.

Wind your way to the back of the shop, to the outdoor patio, where buttery yellow Buff Orpington hens scratch out a privileged life among the garden items.

Before leaving the downtown area, treat yourself to a unique hour’s respite inside  the Salt Cave, a remarkable urban cavern crafted from forty-five tons of 250-million-year-old Himalayan crystal salt.  Guests recline on chaise lounges while the Himalayan crystals detoxify and rejuvenate body and mind. 

The neighboring “suburb” of Montecito, on the south end of Santa Barbara, is home to celebrities and successful businesswomen, including Oprah Winfrey.  It’s main street, the eternally charming Coast Village Road, is not only a perfect people watching post, it’s home to a smattering of eclectic, upscale boutiques, galleries and cafes, including Peregrine Galleries. 

Peregrine Galleries is the place to find early California paintings and vintage jewelry—including Native American pawn, and rare sterling silver by master silversmiths Georg Jensen and William Spratling.  You’ll also find vintage Chanel and elusive and coveted Miriam Haskell jewelry.  Be sure to tell proprietor Marlene Vitanza that COWGIRL sent you!

Next door at Lily Boutique, pick up a pair of whimsical salt and pepper shakers in the shape of cowboy boots and you just might rub shoulders with one of Santa Barbara’s resident television or movie stars; stay cool, and you’ll be regarded as a local!

For a postcard perfect ending to the day, take the scenic walk from Montecito down to Butterfly Beach (which fronts the Four Seasons Biltmore) and sink your toes in the soft sand. Dolphins are often spotted here, so keep an eye out for Bottlenose swimming and leaping in the surf while you gaze at the sky turning rose, coral and gold over the blue Pacific.