We are in a port! Yippie!
Santa Barbara is sunny, plant filled, and sleepy. I overheard another passenger say it was like one big botanical garden, and I think that was a good summary. The summery had to be short, though, because this is our briefest stop- 8am to 3pm.
Preparing for port
I woke up at 6am to make the most of it, but buy oh boy was it hard.
I grabbed some fruit from the Lido and then went to Concerto for breakfast right when it opened. Was able to get a seat near the window so that I could watch us pull into Santa Barbara. It reminds me of a port on the Mexican Riviera- Spanish colonial style architecture built onto a hill with tall, green mountains rising behind it. I guess that’s why they call this region the American Riviera. We Americans always have to put our own spin on things I guess.
I wasn’t on the first tender, so by the time I pulled myself together, I was actually on water shuttle #3. For some reason, we were bobbing there on the side of the cruise ship for over 20 minutes, and all of the rocking was actually making people seasick. Eventually and for no discernible reason, we were off! The ride to shore was bumpy, but fun. I just love the water shuttles from cruise ships to land and back. It’s like a free boat ride!
In the harbor, we were treated to sea lions jumping out of the water, and seals sleeping on the boardwalks.
Once off the tender, I had about 2 hours to explore on my own before I needed to be back for my excursion, so I decided to check out Stern’s Wharf first.
Sterns wharf was and still is a working pier. Both trucks and ships use it to transport things- it’s actually the only pier I’ve been to that you can drive onto and park.
There’s plenty of informative plaques along the wharf where you can learn about the nature and history of the area. For example, the pier burned down in the 1900’s. I guess no wooden structure was safe back then. Yikes.
On the wharf, there are a couple of restaurants, a wine tasting room, a psychic medium, gift store, and even an aquarium! Sadly, pretty much none of these places are open until 11am, so that narrowed my options for wharf activities a bit. It didn’t take long to see the whole pier, and there wasn’t much to do there at 9am besides read about all the flags that have flown over California (I think there are 13?). The views from the end are nice though.
Walking along the shore
Next I walked through Palms park. It’s a nice path for both bikes and people, and it’s lined with tall, wavy palm trees.
The side facing the ocean though… is a work in progress. Santa Barbara’s East Beach is currently undergoing an ecological restoration similar to the one that was so successful in San Francisco. It’ll be awesome for the environment and will look really lovely once it’s done. For now, it’s some promising plant life along Mission Creek with a huge pipe running thru it and lots of debris on the beach. I didn’t really want to walk in the sand, so stuck to the path.
That brought me to Chase Palms park. It’s a small one, but just really lovely with a fountain, flowers, and a pond full of ducks. There’s also a shipwreck playground at the end for kids.
I noticed a cute little corner store that said ‘Visitor’s Center’, but it’s only open Thursday to Sunday. It promised that an alternate visitors center is open on State Street every day, so I walked down there as well, but it was also closed. Oh well, hard times have hit us all.
This gave me a chance to see a little of downtown Santa Barbara, though. It’s nice and there are mosaics on the ground all over the place. This one was put together by the Chumash community to share their history.
Then I had about 30 minutes until my trolley tour, so I decided to just go ahead and find my way there. I’m glad I did, because the trolleys ran a little behind, and by getting there early, I got a nice open-air seat.
Open air Trolley Tour
The trolley tour was 90 minutes and blissfully easy to enjoy, I just love being driven around!
We started with a visit to the Montecito neighborhood where our guide pointed out homes of some of the rich and famous who have homes here. Ty Warner from beanie babies is represented here, along with Oprah, Harry and Meagan, and even the music school where Katy Perry went!
There is also a super-exclusive country club for the elite here that costs 200,000 USD per year to be a member of.
What is in that pool water?
Driving by the Montecito Inn, our guide told us that Charlie Chaplin and his friends built this place as a haven for relaxing when not shooting a movie. Whether it be mudslides or earthquakes, this hotel has faced a lot of mother nature’s wrath over the years, but it’s still standing despite it all, and you can still book a room there! If that’s out of your budget, Santa Barbara is also home to the first ever Motel 6.
Near Montecito is a park with paths surrounding a lake that’s considered a bird reserve. This is a spot I really wish I could’ve hopped out at, I love birds!
We also passed by butterfly beach, named for its spot on the monarch butterfly migration route, and the volleyball fields. Did you know sand volley ball was invented here?
As we left the Montecito area, we passed by a colorful sculpture appropriately named ‘The Rainbow Bridge’. It refers to the local Native American legend that when we die, we pass “over the rainbow bridge” to arrive at the next life. I’d heard the phrase before, and it’s awesome to now know where it comes from!
Next we passed an absolute icon in Santa Barbara, the world’s largest Moreton Bay fig tree. And boy is it huge! It’s 80 ft at its highest and a whopping 176 feel long- too big to even fit in the frame as we drove by! Here’s a video instead:
Just kidding the link won’t embed, just click here to see it on my youtube channel!
I was surprised to learn this type of fig is actually from Australia, but it’s clearly thriving here in Santa Barbara’s Mediterranean climate.
Our next segment of the drive took us through more of the neighborhoods, where one home is made completely of little paintings representing happiness, and a few sites of historic Spanish-style colonial buildings.
Finallly, we got to the highlight of the tour, THE Old Mission of Santa Barbara.
Missions refer to catholic churches established in the California/Baja Mexico area, and they have such a distinctive style of Spanish neo-colonial architecture that visiting this region requires a visit to a mission.
Mission park is massive and there’s so much to do, from looking at a whale skeleton to spending a day wandering through the parks and gardens.
At this mission, the grounds contain the original lavanderia where members of the Chumash tribe would wash their clothes, a Moorish fountain, the chapel, a friary, and a library.
We got lucky, and were allowed to go inside the church during our visit. The cyborium where you take a bit of holy water to anoint yourself is HUGE. It’s a giant bowl full of gallons of water, and some people unknowingly dunked their entire hand in, it was pretty funny.
The sculpture work in the chapel is eerily lifelike and the frescoes on the far wall behind the altar are a little hard to see from the back of the church, but rendered in eye-catching patterns and colors. There aren’t a ton of windows so it’s actually pretty dark and cool inside.
My favorite bit of artwork in the mission is actually the pattern above each chandelier
This mission was actually destroyed in the earthquake that shook apart Santa Barbara in 1925. However, they’ve done a great job restoring it and I hope that measures have been put in place to keep it from collapsing again.
Tucked against the misty forests, the Santa Barbara Mission is a glowingly beautiful place.
Finally, our tour ended at the city hall, a massive grounds complete with a clock tower, gardens, and more. Just really lovely architecture here that really was designed with the style and feel of the city in mind. That brought an end to the trolley tour.
Guess what time it is now, wine time!! I can’t afford any of the day trips that take you to wine country, so instead I chose to do some tastings in Santa Barbara itself. It was awesome!
Santa Barbara Winery
This winery was chosen over the dozens to be found in Santa Barbara because it was the first to be opened in 1962.
It’s a little confusing since they’ve just moved and the location listed on google maps is wrong, but I did find it eventually on Anacapa street. They’ve got a whole sheet of wines you can choose from for your tasting, and you can put a check mark next to the five wines you want to try.
Then they present you with the classic wooden plank with 5 glasses of wine. Except each wine is served in a shot glass here, which you pour into the bigger glass that’s provided. It was a little convoluted, especially because I wanted to wash the glass out with my drinking water each time to avoid the flavors getting muddled, but maybe that’s just me.
I was able to sit outside on the porch, where I could enjoy the gorgeous breezy day and the succulents potted all around the patio. I was also able to use the techniques I learned at the Princess Fine Wine Tasting.
See, Swirl, Sniff, and Sip baby!
Probably the most outstanding wine of the bunch here is the rosé, it has the perfect flowery and peachy taste for an outdoor springtime glass! On a Tuesday, it was nice and quiet, and the owner was so friendly, answering any questions that I had and telling me about the wine scene in Santa Barbara.
Deep Sea Winery/ Conway Family Wines
The naming is a little confusing, I know, but I’m pretty sure Conway Family Wines is the vineyard where the wine is produced, while the Deep Sea Winery is where it’s served. Pretty smart marketing move, and I’ll tell you why!
Deep Sea Winery is actually on Stern’s Wharf, so you get both the wine tasting experience and views over the Pacific Ocean while you sip.
Lucky for me, there were not many people here despite wine tastings being such a popular SB activity and being located in such a touristy area. Here, you can choose the regular or the red-wines-only tasting, which was a few dollars more. I opted to try the regular tasting since I’m still learning which wines I like most.
They conduct the tasting here a little differently, where you get your glass and go back to the counter for each pour. This is nice because they wash the glass out and everything, but a little inconvenient in that you have to get up each time. Not a huge deal at all though, especially since Winnie the dog dutifully guards the bar, and is very receptive to petting.
Each time you get a pour, the sommelier explains what each wine is and points out defining characteristics in the nose and palate.
If you’ve read about my wine tasting adventures, you’ll know that this is especially important to me because I never get the notes right. I asked for some paper and a pen so I could write it all down, which they do have if you want it!
As the name ‘Deep Sea Wines’ implies, the views over the ocean and the surrounding Santa Ynez mountains are absolutely perfect. Watching the boats and the water and the clouds while I got to savor each wine really made it special, so I think this was my favorite of the two wineries I did a tasting at.
Here, I think my favorite was the last red, it was very full bodied, and the guests next to me really liked it too. They definitely had more experience than I do, so that surely means something!
If I ever go back to SB, I’ll definitely be at Deep Sea wines.
Goofy Adventures on the Tender
Apparently they’re called “water shuttles” for fanciness now, but whatever.
After two tastings, I was sufficiently tipsy. Sad, I know, but true.
I got into the line at about 2pm even though we weren’t due back until 3pm, but after waiting so long for the first tender, I wasn’t risking it for the way back.
However, I really REALLY had to pee while waiting in line. Sorry guys, I have to mention it since it was a big event in my day. Thankfully, the line moved fast and so did the tender, I guess they learned from all of the older ladies complaining on the way here.
And yet, I thought I was going to quickly become the most embarrassing person on the ship. I told some poor, random lady in front of me that I had to pee and asked if I could rush out when we docked, and so when we did, I took off… right into security. I asked if I could use the restroom and then come back for screening like a dingdong. Predictably, they said no and I just had to wait it out. As soon as the x-ray machine spit out my backpack I snatched it and FINALLY I ran up those stairs and to the restroom. No harm no foul, but I do worry I might get a kidney infection from all that self-created drama.
To be totally clear, this situation was completely and totally my fault and I hate that anyone else had to be involved at all. I hope that doesn’t happen again, but it probably will.
Formal Night and “Encore!”
Given that I hadn’t eaten lunch, my first stop when getting back on board was to afternoon tea. It was more packed than I’ve ever seen it!
The rest of the night was fairly straightforward. Another formal night sat at a group table, which was very nice. I was thrilled beyond the stars to see lobster on the menu, since the only time I ever get to eat it is on cruise ships. It’s even more thrilling that the lobster was really good, the waitstaff even remove the shell for you, which to me, indicates an extra layer of elegance on this line.
I ordered quite a few things to try, and all of them wowed me. It was probably one of the best meals of my life! Especially the pistachio dome, so unique and so richly perfect I almost cried. Pics will be below 🙂
Then was the second production show titled ‘Encore!’, featuring lots of Broadway and opera songs. Just like last time, the sets were way high in quality, it was decorated to look like an outdoor French terrace, I think.
All 15 performers knocked it out of the park. I think I am a little young to recognize some of the songs, but I can appreciate them for being well performed! Although I’m a little out of touch in general, so that could be it.
The guest soprano did an amazing job with some classic operetic pieces. I’ll admit I tried replicating her grand solo in the shower but with much less breath support and way more flat notes, and also way more annoyed neighbors probably.
Anyways, that’s as good a note as any to end on!
Are you ready for San Diego tomorrow? I don’t know if you are! I don’t know if I am!
Stay tuned to find out 😉