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Montecito: Insider's guide to the American Riviera

Just east of the Californian city of Santa Barb...

Posted: Aug 15, 2018 6:35 PM
Updated: Aug 15, 2018 6:35 PM

Just east of the Californian city of Santa Barbara is the delightful, idyllic village of Montecito. With the majesty of Butterfly Beach on the other side of the 101 freeway, this beach community's main artery is Coast Village Road.

After the devastation of the Thomas Fire and mudslides, Montecito is again welcoming visitors with its mix of quaint hominess and understated glamor.


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Of course, there's much more to this community than one street, but Coast Village Road is the most walkable, with an array of fantastic dining, beach-casual clothing and design stores and a seemingly endless stream of top-notch people-watching (Is that Oprah?).

There's a weekly farmer's market on Fridays to peruse the bounty of local farms, and on Sunday mornings, locals park their luxury and classic cars on the street to see and be seen. And in late September, the annual Montecito Motor Classic benefit takes place.

It's also worth noting how many of the local restaurants and stores are independently owned, so you can feel good spending your travel money supporting small businesses. So, hop off the freeway, park your car and spend a few hours strolling through a piece of America's Riviera.

Food and drink

LUCKY'S: This classic steakhouse is definitely pricey, has a hopping weekend bar scene (order a martini), black-and-white photos of old Hollywood stars on the walls and some of the best abalone we've ever tasted (a seasonal special). As you'd assume, the steaks are perfectly prepared, but be sure to save room for their delectably oozy molten chocolate cake.

JEANNINE'S: Jeannine's is a local hub, family-owned and operated for 30 years. Everybody knows everybody and even if you don't know anyone, you'll immediately feel at home. Lines for breakfast (both savory and sweet) are a usual sight. The outdoor seating is prime real estate, with fresh flowers on the table, bistro chairs and a white picket fence. Coffee drinkers adore their bowl-sized lattes. There are two other locations in Santa Barbara, too.

HONOR BAR: Part of the Hillstone chain of restaurants, Honor Bar is always a solid choice. Sit at the bar (of course) and order up a nice cold beer and some deviled eggs. Outside seating is light and lively, while inside is darkly lit and convivial -- the staff attentive and friendly. The Honor Bar (as well as Hillstone) is known for the French dip sandwich, a favorite of Momofuku's David Chang, who once told Bon Appetit,"The French dip. That's all anyone needs to know. It haunts me."

OLIVER'S: This gourmet vegan restaurant creates masterful dishes that would satisfy anyone's taste. This is southern California after all, where all the produce is local and as fresh as it gets. We love their veggie burger, but their inventive takes on non-vegetable classics (Artichoke "crab cakes" and Rawsagna are truly unforgettable).

LOS ARROYOS: Another family-run restaurant, this is Montecito's Mexican go-to. The vibe here is ultra-casual; flip-flops and T-shirts are the norm. Family recipes mingle with standard Mexican fare, all homemade with the freshest ingredients. The standouts are the shrimp tacos, the pozole and Tony's Alambres, the owner's special recipe. Incidentally, Mr. Arroyo kept his Montecito restaurant open during the peak of the 2017 Thomas Fire to feed first responders.

RORI'S ARTISANAL CREAMERY: This delicious ice cream mini-chain sources its ingredients from Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma, California. The milk and cream come from what they call "happy cows." So, this farm-to-cone is as good as it gets. In the Montecito location, you'll see kids lapping up ice cream in the courtyard after school, which sprinkles the experience with added sweetness. Try the Cinnamon Toast Cereal Crunch or the Fresh Mint Patty, which tastes exactly the like fresh mint you'd find in your garden.


ANGEL: If there's a Montecito woman's uniform, Angel sells it. Designer jeans, flowy white linen everything, straw hats and delicate jewelry are on display along with the requisite swimwear.

MAISON K: To add a little European flair to your home or wardrobe, Maison K is the place to go. Eclectic yet consistent, this charming boutique stocks elevated, chic clothing, accessories and home décor.

WHISKEY + LEATHER: This dreamy store stocks clothing and accessories for both men and women, along with select home décor items for the more whimsical and youthful set.

LETTER PERFECT: If you prefer pen and paper to text on screen, then this is the shop for you. Old-school calendars and organizers, weighty ink pens, cards and more will satisfy the obsessed, written-word Luddite.


MONTECITO INN: Opened by Charlie Chaplin, along with a group of investors, the Montecito Inn dates to 1928. Luxurious, contemporary guest rooms, Mediterranean courtyard and pool and a brand-new dining program from Scratch Restaurants give this historic hideaway a decidedly modern edge. The Monarch just opened with a menu of elegant yet uncomplicated dishes showcasing Santa Barbara County's local bounty, and the inn's seafood-focused Frankland's Crab & Co. serves oysters and lobster rolls and all manner of crab dishes.

COAST VILLAGE INN: For an affordable, rustic stay, this cozy boutique hotel is more homey than luxe, and has been standing on Coast Village Road since 1935. There is no in-room dining, but the excellent vegan restaurant, Oliver's, is on site and serves a continental breakfast.

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