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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, October 12, 2000

Santa Barbara has
a famous mission

ON Tuesday, I wrote about Carmel, a California place my wife and I try to revisit often.

Recently we also were visitors to Santa Barbara, a place some visitors laud as highly as Carmel, where we had never vacationed before.

It, too, is on a hillside sloping up from the coast but minus the pine forest that makes Carmel Carmel. Its distinguishing feature is California Mission-style architecture with terra cotta tile roofs and adobe-type walls.

The famous Catholic missionary-priest, Father Junipero Serra, included Santa Barbara on his trek north along the California coast when it still was Mexican-controlled.

He followed Camino Real, then the only south-north route, to proselyte and enlist the local residents in mission building.

Mission Santa Barbara was started in 1786 but not completed until 1820. It is called "Queen of the Missions" and is among the best preserved.

Other Santa Barbara attractions include a 65-acre botanic garden, a 40-acre, 600-animal zoo, historical and art museums and a museum of natural history with emphasis on Indian tribes and their lifestyles.

Santa Barbara today has wide streets, unlike Carmel, scattered trees and many delightful flower-planted passages from one street to the next. Many offer outdoor coffee and dining spots.

Totally unlike Carmel, which frowns on chain stores, it has a Macy's store, a Saks and a Nordstrom's.

Also, unlike any other place I have been, it clusters its bars mostly in one sector of its main street, State Street. I didn't count but our Orange Cab tour driver -- a wonderful Irishman named Corky, for Corcoran -- said there are 40 in three blocks, mostly patronized in late afternoons by college students celebrating happy hour.

There is a Santa Barbara campus of the University of California plus Santa Clara City College.

We stayed at Hotel Santa Barbara in Old Town on State Street just above the bars and just below the posh shopping area. One late afternoon a week several blocks around the hotel are turned into a farmers' market.

Santa Barbara is just south of Vandenberg Air Force Base but little disturbed by the long-range rockets that sometimes leave contrails in the sky. These rockets, among other things, test the viability of a ballistic missile defense system. The base is one of the biggest in the U.S. but well insulated from the city by its hills.

SANTA Barbara has plenty of room and no need for Carmel-like residences crowded together on 6,000-foot lots to stay in Carmel's one-square-mile area.

A must-see viewpoint from the 80-foot tower of the county court house displays a panorama of posh hillside homes above the city , the attractive commercial district and a small waterfront with a commercial pier, Stearns Wharf, where we dined one night.

Most hotel rooms are along the coast on Cabrillo Drive. Double Tree Resort (owned by Fess Parker, TV's Daniel Boone), stretches for a long block along the waterfront. Its low-rise structure reminded me of a skyscraper hotel lying on its side to meet zoning regulations. Ditto some of its neighbors.

Santa Barbara is popular as both a vacation spot and a retirement place for the well off. Its quiet beauty fits a retirement mode. It is cooler than Los Angeles, some 125 miles south, and had a pleasant breeze while we were there.

P.S. We still prefer dinky, crowded Carmel in its pine forest.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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