Today, in the continuing series of places to go in the winter, we will visit Santa Barbara, Calif., located about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Santa Barbara lies on a south-facing coastal plain between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Inez Mountains. Spanish explorers named the area for Saint Barbara, a legendary Christian martyr. In 1782, Spanish missionaries and soldiers, sent to secure the area for Spain and convert the indigenous Chumash people to Christianity, established a fortified presidio as a base for the soldiers. On Dec. 4, 1786, the missionaries dedicated a church on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. The city of Santa Barbara grew up around the presidio and the mission. When an earthquake destroyed much of the downtown area in 1925, it was built back in a unified Spanish Colonial Revival style. The Santa Barbara County Court House, with a white stucco exterior, was among the rebuilt buildings.
Today, Santa Barbara, with a population of about 90,000, is among the most beautiful cities in the United States. Stearns Wharf, extending into the Pacific from the end of State Street, is the city’s most-visited landmark. Completed in 1872, it is California’s oldest working wharf and a wonderful place to eat, shop or just stroll. Visitors can get a great view of Santa Barbara from the top of the County Courthouse clock tower and take a land/sea tour on the amphibious “Land Shark.” The Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara, encompassing California’s second-oldest building, has been restored and is used for public events. The twin-tower Santa Barbara Mission church, considered the “Queen of Missions” because of itscommanding location and appealing design, conducts regular worship services. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Santa Barbara, often called the “American Riviera” because of its pleasant year-round temperatures, No. 1 in the United States for weather.