I’m not going to lie, driving from Yosemite to LA is a fair distance and despite the curvaceously stunning coastlines of the Big Sur, there comes a point where you just have to pull over and take a break.
Twice we’ve stopped at Santa Barbara for a couple of hours to break up the drive and although it wasn’t on our list of places to visit, I have found that I’m completely in love with the place.
The first time we visited, I saw a grand total of a multi-story car park, a sandwich shop and the view from the top of the Court House. We were racing time to reach our next overnight stop and didn’t have much time to see the sites. This was a functional visit – loo break, food and a change of driver. The main reason for choosing Santa Barbara as our impromptu stop was because we googled interesting locations along our route and Santa Barbara was listed as a location for Michael Jackson’s house. This felt like an interesting adventure. We thought we might be able to see it from the rooftop of the County Court House – spoiler alert: we couldn’t. The view was lovely however and the Spanish colonial style architecture made it feel like we were in a little European town rather than in the USA. Despite the short visit, the bright streets and sun-drenched rooftops made a quick stop-off somewhere to remember.
The second time we visited, we had a little more time and were able to explore further. We found the main street entirely by accident, twisting and turning through narrow, boutique-lined streets.
Heading up State Street, we came across the La Arcada Courtyard. It was here that I lost my heart. The centrepiece of the courtyard is a stone fountain, complete with an abundance of turtles lazily plodding onto the rocks in the summer sun. We sat by the edge of the fountain watching the light bounce off the water as the turtles clambered over the slick rocks and each other, jostling for position in the warmth.
Peeling ourselves off the hot fountain edge, we wandered through the streets, stopping to marvel at statues, shops and tiled walkways. It felt like an art-lover’s paradise, with expression and passion everywhere you looked. The life-like statues (something that would usually creep me out) perfectly fit the activity on the streets and added to the bohemian atmosphere.
Eventually the grumbles of our tummies won the argument with our brains and we agreed to head for lunch. We stopped at a little restaurant on the square and the food was incredible! It might have been the time on the road talking but I probably had the best salad ever at that little restaurant.
After lunch we headed down for a quick stroll on the beach to check out the sand sculptures. Walking along Stearns Wharf, the sun was reflecting off the water and it was a refreshing walk along the pier to burn off our food. I loved the close proximity of the beach to the shops and town centre and the whole place had a really chilled out, centred vibe.
We only had a short time in Santa Barbara but it was one of those places which makes ‘winging it’ on the road really pay off. It’s such a beautiful place and I’d love to spend more time there exploring, as I feel that it has much more to offer than we managed to see.
Where has been your best unscheduled stop? Has it lead to any unexpected adventures? We’d love to hear them in the comments!