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Santa Barbara

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 12, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: activity, Anne Banas and Christine Sarkis, culinary travel, destination, Massachusetts, Napa, New York, Oregon, Quebec, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, vacation package, Vancouver, Vermont, Washington.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara's mild, Mediterranean climate is great for growing produce year-round. Talk to people there and it quickly becomes clear that fresh and local is not so much an interest as a passion. And it's one that visitors can delight in.

What to do

Eleven farmers' markets around Santa Barbara County keep local produce accessible almost every day of the week. For an even fresher look at produce at a uniquely visitor-friendly farm, Fairview Gardens offers guided and free self-guided tours around its organic farm daily. Depending on the time of year, visitors will find specialties such as white asparagus, cherimoya, and strawberries. It offers cooking classes in an outdoor kitchen that overlooks the orchard. Classes range from $50 to $125.

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Santa Barbara also offers a way to get back to the land and go back in time. The Huerta Project at Mission Santa Barbara provides a fascinating look at the history of farm-to-table in Spanish California. This living museum of plants grown at California's 21 missions holds native grapes, 200-year-old olive, pear, and citrus trees; native woodland strawberries; and hundreds of other species of edible and useful plants. Access to the Huerta is restricted but free, and the two ways to visit are by joining the Wednesday morning volunteer work group or by private tour. For more information about either, contact Huerta Project Manager Jerry Sortomme.

In Santa Barbara, it's not just the land that offers bounty. On Saturday mornings, visitors can head down to the wharf and buy fresh spot prawns, rock crab, and spiny lobster from the decks of fishing boats that ply the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. Visitors can also purchase oysters and other shellfish farmed in nearby waters.

In northern Santa Barbara County, vineyards and farms blanket the valleys, and a yearly strawberry festival celebrates the region's very popular crop. More than 80 wineries make it a major tasting destination. And, at the Clairmont Lavender Farm, located two minutes outside the charming small town of Los Olivos, visitors can walk in the fields, picnic, and watch as one of the farm's handmade copper distillers extracts oil from the buds.

Where to stay

The Simpson House Inn offers vegetarian breakfasts and evening appetizers made with many local ingredients. Cakes greet guests on arrival and handmade chocolates arrive each evening. Rates start at $235 per night.

Other accommodations that offer a close-to-the-land experience are The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, set on a working cattle ranch, with rates from $450; and El Encanto Hotel and Garden Villas, nestled into seven acres of botanic gardens, with rates from $189. The Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau (CVB) also posts culinary themed getaway packages.

Where to eat

At the downtown Santa Barbara restaurant bouchon, the food is as fresh and as local as possible, and there's an all-Santa Barbara County wine list (though others are available). The nearby 31 West restaurant in the Hotel Andalucia, offers a $28 three-course prix fixe farmers market dinner available every Tuesday night.

On weekend nights at American Flatbread in tiny Los Alamos, pizzas made from local ingredients are cooked in a wood-burning oven in the open kitchen. Glasses of local wine are a fixture on diners' tables, and it's a great place to eavesdrop on conversations by local vintners about the state of the current crop.

Find more information

The not-to-be-missed resource for Santa Barbara is the Savor the Flavors guide published by the Santa Barbara CVB and available free online or in print.

When to go: Bounty is the norm year-round, though for farm-to-table travel, visitors may enjoy being outside more by avoiding the rainiest winter months. Check suggested itineraries for each month for a better idea of what to expect.

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