Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reasons you might want to visit Santa Barbara

Last weekend the wife and I made a quick trip out to Santa Barbara.  Oddly enough, this was the first time I've ever visited California other than laying over in an airport.

First, the logistics.  Since we had a 6:47 AM departure from IAH we decided to stay overnight at the Wingate on Beltway 8 in order to avoid driving from NorthWest Houston to the airport that early in the morning.  The hotel was nice but, due to the storms they had some water outage issues along with some over bookings that made things a little hectic.  No worries for us though, all we had to do was run our water for a few minutes to ensure no sediment was in the lines.

Arriving at IAH that early meant security was a breeze.  Another positive note was that both the wife and my upgrades cleared, so we'd be 1st class from IAH to LAX.  We were on UA flight 1289 in Seats 6E and 6F.  The plane was a 757-200, which had overhead IFE and, wouldn't you know it, my headphone jack was broken.  I notified the Flight Attendant who really couldn't do much but say that she would notify maintenance because their next leg was to Hawaii.  Once again I'll note this on the UA survey that I receive, but I'm really not expecting much to come of it.  Fortunately, I brought my iPad along so I had entertainment options (I'm learning).

Breakfast was UA's standard fare of eggs, potatoes and sausage with fresh fruit and yogurt.  It was OK, but their breakfast sausage is close to inedible.  I did take the offered croissant and made myself and egg and potato sandwich.  On the up side, the fruit was fresh and the yogurt was tasty. The eggs were actually pretty good, as was the potato gratin-type dish that was served on the side.

Our second flight was UA 6345 which was a whopping 89 miles at 6,000 feet.  It lasted all of 20 minutes and we landed at SBA with no incident.  Great views of the coast however for the entire flight.

Upon arriving in Santa Barbara we stopped at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for some caffeine, and then went to the AVIS car rental desk where we were given the HMS Humongous as an "upgrade".  Next time I'm offered one of those I'm turning it down. 

We were early (it was about 11:00 AM) so we decided to go to La SuperRica for an early lunch.  I'll give the food here a full post in the coming days, but this place is GREAT.  It's not much to look at, but the food was simple yet outstanding. Be sure to arrive early however because the line gets LONG around noon. (They open at 11.)

We hit our hotel (The Days Inn, which I booked using Wyndham Rewards points) at about 1:00 PM and I inquired about early check in.  Unfortunately, they didn't have a room ready but the staff was VERY helpful, saw that we were tired and a little kindness and understanding got us in a freshly cleaned room about 30 minutes later.

We then went out to see the sites, which leads us to this:
La Alameda Plaza
This is the La Alameda Plaza on State Street, the main thoroughfare for Santa Barbara.  In the back left corner of the street you can see a sign for the East Beach Wine Company who happened to be having a Kermit Lynch tasting event going on that evening.  At this point it was about 3:00 PM and the tasting didn't start until 4:30.  We talked puppies, wines and the idiocy of the Texas three-tier system with the proprietor for about thirty minutes, and then decided to walk the rest of State Street and come back when the tasting event started.  We were glad we did, because the wines were great, the lady pouring was a Kermit Lynch sales rep and was very knowledgeable.  They also had a spread of French cheeses, so all in all we spent about an hour and a half sipping good French wine and talking shop with the rep and the proprietor.

After that we were hungry so we headed down to the Harbor:
Santa Barbara Harbor
Santa Barbara's Harbor district is one of the most beautiful places in America.  With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the mountains on the other the vistas and scenery are (to use a cliche) stunning.
Santa Barbara Scenery
Santa Barbara also has some unique statues and works of public art that are nice to stroll around and look at.
Dolphin Fountain
You can get up and down State Street, via trolley for $.50 a ride, per person.  All in all it's not a bad deal, but if you want a trolley ride to the Harbor it's going to cost you a second fare. (Two separate lines and there is no ticket so the fare does not transfer.)  The wife and I rode down to the dolphin fountain (above) and then walked over to the Harbor.

At the Harbor we walked along the beach, my wife pet every dog in site, and we met and spoke with quite a few locals.  All in all we found the people from Santa Barbara to be pleasant, with a couple of exceptions.  By the time we got to the Harbor itself (about a mile walk) we were hungry, so we decided to eat seafood at Brophy Brothers.  There's also the Santa Barbara Fish House on the pier, but that would have required another mile walk and we wanted food and drink now.  Again, I'm going to write about the food in depth later, but it was good seafood and a great atmosphere.

We closed out the evening with some beer and cider at the Old Kings Road pub on State Street (after a quick trolley ride there) where I purchased a shirt stating that "the liver is evil and must be punished."  We then went back to the hotel for some sleep before having to wake up at 4 AM. for our 6:15 AM flight.

If you're thinking this was a short trip, you're right.  The main point of this trip was miles, the wife and I did some calculations and we were going to be about 3K each short of 50K for the year, so we needed something fast and didn't have any vacation to use.  The flight back went through San Francisco and UA5632 (both short flights were on Bombardier 120's) took off from SBA on time and deposited us at SFO with about 1 hour and a half to spare before our flight back to Houston.  The wife went and bought some chocolates, and I went and purchased some breakfast food since our upgrades were looking dodgy.

Fortunately, my wife did score an upgrade (seat 3B) and the gate agent was nice enough to seat me in an exit row with no one beside me since I was the "first out" if you will. So all in all it wasn't too bad.  My wife slept most of the flight, although she did say breakfast was the same as the flight over: eggs, potatoes, sausage, fruit and yogurt.  I enjoyed my chocolate croissant and breakfast wrap and then plugged in my headphones to discover, miracle of miracles, that my IFE was working.  Even better, UA401 had channel 9, which is a direct link into the flight radio.  It's fun listening to the pilots interact with control.  So I played a few games on my iPad, and then got about 1 1/2 hours sleep, taking advantage of my extra space.

All in all we had a great, albeit short, time in Santa Barbara.  It's a town that's got some good things going for it.

Good food
Nice people
Beautiful Scenery

It's an area of the country where I'd like to spend a little more time checking out the surrounding area, especially the Santa Ynez valley, where there are some small wineries doing good things with biodynamics and unadulterated wines.

It's also a town that feels really sterile however, almost like what Europe would be if it was owned and ran by New Urbanists. And it's very expensive.  You're lucky to find a hotel room for under $200/night, and the quality of hotels for that price point are less than what you can find in other cities.  Then you have the wealthy, progressive set, like the 2 couples who barrelled in late for their flight to LAX in their yachting clothes and proceeded to dress down those of us in the security line for not understanding why their making a flight was more important than us making ours.  These are people who have flown before, judging by the tags on their luggage, but who just didn't care about anyone else but themselves.  There is a little bit of that "I'm richer than you" vibe that Santa Barbara has going for it.  The best way to deal with it however is to laugh it off and order another beer.  For the most part the people there were very, very friendly and we had a great visit.

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