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The powerful combination of Santa Barbara's innately healing natural properties and a talented collection of local lifestyle gurus makes life-changing, mind-altering and body-bending transformational experiences an everyday possibility here. It's exactly what today's travelers are after with the popularity of wellness vacations on the rise and the still-burning afterglow of this summer's massive Eat, Pray, Love marketing blitz. Whether you dug the book/film or not, I don't think anyone would argue with the power travel wields to change lives, hearts and minds.
You can embark on an inward-bound journey in Santa Barbara under the gentle guidance of experts like locally-based SOMAdventures. SOMA stands for "sustainable, outdoor, momentous adventures" and was founded by Scott Crawford, who has an impressive background in fitness and psychology. With the help of his hand-picked team of specialists, SOMA provides custom-tailored, goal-specified, integrated training, holistically combined with mental-wellness consulting, Pilates training, yoga, nutrition education and bodywork. Catering to all ages and fitness levels, programs begin with an in-depth health and fitness evaluation and can include beach and mountain training, overnight to week-long retreats, as well as life-coaching services.
The Destination Coach specializes in life-coaching and also plans customized retreats for individuals, couples and groups. The destination "coach" is Nicki Parr, who helps her clients see their lives from a fresh perspective and establish new personal goals while they are here in Santa Barbara. She continues to work with her clients after they return home using Skype or the good, old-fashioned telephone. Her retreats can include signature destination pleasures like guided wine tasting, hiking and kayaking. She'll even plan an "Eat, Pray, Love" style retreat for you with culinary tours, yoga classes and love-yourself life coaching sessions.
The highly-lauded La Casa de Maria Retreat Center in Montecito has been operating since 1955 and is open to individuals and couples for private spiritual retreats in addition to their ongoing calendar of specialized retreats. Perched in a tranquil mountain setting overlooking the Pacific, White Lotus Foundation is the place to go for yoga retreats and training courses. Guests are invited to take advantage of the grounds' hiking trails, massage services, library, swimming holes and meditation sites. The personal yoga retreat option is a bargain at $95/day for a yurt and full access to the grounds. It's typically available Monday through Thursday when group programs aren't going on.
For soul-seekers who prefer an independent, à la carte approach to their wellness travel planning, Yoga Soup in downtown Santa Barbara offers a rich assortment of workshops, classes and events that combine nicely with activities like massage, hiking and beach walking. Paradise Found is a gem of a spiritual bookshop that offers readings and counseling sessions with intuitive and healers. And, tapping into the "you are what you eat" sentiment, Market Forays will teach you how to become a slow foodie and change the way you relate to food forever.
All of the people behind these various services and entities are incredibly nice, authentic and open and will take great care of you should you choose to enlist their assistance! More spa and wellness resources are available on our website here.
Easy-to-navigate listings provide up-to-date information on restaurants, wineries, accommodations, things to do, specialty food shops, nightlife and more. The deals section highlights money-saving offers at locations throughout Santa Barbara. And, the events category tells you what's happening around town.
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The Santa Barbara Beer Festival is coming up this Saturday, October 16, 12:00pm-4:00pm at Elings Park. One of the key signature events during epicure.sb: a month to savor santa barbara, the Beer Fest features 24 craft breweries primarily from the Central Coast, in addition to food and live music. Tickets are $45 and it's best to buy now because they are likely to sell out.
Santa Barbara has seven home-grown microbreweries, a refreshing collection that is often overshadowed by wine, our leading local libation. The two industries are far from competitive though -- their relationship is highly symbiotic. Winemakers always say "it takes a lot of beer to make great wine."
Here's a rundown of Santa Barbara microbreweries:
This weekend, wine country will be full of festivity and open house events that only take place a couple of times a year. Tickets are still available for the Santa Barbara Vintners' Association's annual Celebration of Harvest October 9 (two days away!) at Rancho Sisquoc where dozens of wineries will be pouring in one place. The Vintners' Visa 4-day tasting pass program starts tomorrow, October 8. This is prime time to see harvest in action, sample library wines and taste at wineries that are not typically open to the public.
Harvest season is a picturesque and lively time of year to go wine tasting in Santa Barbara County. With over 175 wineries to choose from, the big question is where to taste. Frankly, you can't really go wrong with any of the options, but we all have our favorites. Some are spectacular for the settings, some for the standout wines and some for the friendly folks pouring the flights -- most for all of the above. Given the vast options and large expanse of wine country, it's best to break down a tasting tour to a specific region so you don't spend your entire day driving from place to place. Check out the Vintners' Association map here, which you can also request a copy of or pick up at wineries and Visitors Centers in the region. The map/guide is segmented by very helpful tasting trails and areas. If you're not a seasoned wine taster, know that hitting three wineries in a day is a reasonable goal.
On the Santa Maria & Los Alamos Valley Wine Trail, a must-stop is Foxen, which splits the tasting between their original barn tasting room (as seen in Sideways) and their new solar-powered tasting room just down the road. You need to call ahead to make an appointment to taste at family-run Demetria and it's well worth the extra step. (Note that cell phone coverage is slim-to-none out on Foxen Canyon Road so call at least a day or two ahead!) This winery is so picturesque and relaxed, from the drive in on their private road to the straight-out-of-Italy-style villa that houses the tasting room. You sit at tables on the courtyard outside overlooking the vineyards and rolling hills, and the staff comes to you to pour each wine. This is the perfect spot to bring a picnic or cheese selection because you'll want to linger. And on weekends they have live acoustic music, adding to the inviting ambiance. If you find yourself in the Los Alamos area in the early evening after a day of tasting, be sure to stop at Full of Life Flatbread's Hearth in the Cottonwoods restaurant which is open Friday-Sunday nights only for dinner.
The Buellton-Sta. Rita Hills area is cool climate pinot country. So delicious. It's tough to narrow these down because I'm partial to the wines from this specific AVA. The cooperative facilities in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto will allow you to taste several boutique wines in one central area. Flying Goat, Palmina and Ampelos are just a few ghetto-fabulous highlights. Off Highway 246, Dierberg/Star Lane, Foley and Melville are mmm, mmm good. On Santa Rosa Road, Alma Rosa and Lafond are classics. In Buellton, Avant Tapas & Wine is a one-stop-shop to enjoy more pinot goodness and also get a bite to eat. Here you can taste wines (including several other varietals beyond my personal pinot noir bias) from the 30 different wineries that use the new, super high-tech cooperative Terravant wine production facility. You can actually see production and harvest activity while it's happening through a massive window that separates the tasting room from the winemaking below. FYI, Terravant is where the Hitching Post Wine magic happens.
Downtown Los Olivos is another hub of tasting rooms with plentiful dining options all in a 4-block area. Artiste and Blair Fox are the newest kids on the block, and there are more than 25 wineries to hit in this tiny, tasty town. Stop in at Global Gardens for a bit of olive oil sampling -- according to owner Theo Stephan, eating bread and olive oil will help prevent hangovers! Surrounding Los Olivos, you've got the Santa Ynez Trail. Bridlewood and Beckmen get big points for beauty, and the wines are equally rewarding. Downtown Solvang's wine walk includes 8 wineries, while downtown Santa Barbara's Urban Wine Trail offers 11 tasting rooms.
Um, clearly sticking to that three winery limit is challenging with all of these fantastic options.
I went horseback riding at Circle Bar B Guest Ranch & Stables yesterday with a couple of visiting travel writers who were on the hunt for "off-the-beaten-path" finds. It's amazing how you can drive just 20 minutes up the coast from downtown Santa Barbara, head inland a few miles, and be totally transported to cowboy country.
We took a 1.5-hour trail ride in the late afternoon, as the light started to become golden and the intense heat of the day had waned (being at the tail end of California's record-breaking heat wave). I felt very safe riding Herman, my handsome horse for the afternoon, who quickly caught onto the fact that I'm not much of a disciplinarian when he started feasting on avocados hanging from a tree while we waited for the rest of the group to head out on the ride. It was gloriously peaceful and beautiful along the trail, especially at the half way point when we reached the Indian Canyon Ridge and stopped to soak up the expansive views of the mountains and Pacific Ocean before heading back down to the stables. My bum is a bit sore today, but the entire experience was well worth it and my only real complaint is that the ride passed by too quickly!
In addition to the 1.5-hour rides, Circle Bar B Stables offers 2.5-hour rides (which our guide said is the best value) and half day rides. You can also book a private, customized ride. Guided trail rides range in price from $45 to $135. Call 805.968.3901 to book a reservation.
Set on 1,100 acres on the Gaviota coast, Circle Bar B has been in the Brown family since 1939 and their property borders the legendary Rancho del Cielo (also known as "Reagan Ranch"), where President Ronald Reagan lived for 25 years. Circle Bar B's Guest Ranch offers a range of lodging options for overnight guests including ranch rooms, cottages, cabins and 2-story homesteads. The larger stand-alone accommodations are ideal for families and girlfriend getaways, while the ranch rooms and private cabins are well-suited to couples in search of a romantic escape. The bucolic landscape sets the tone for taking it easy, with miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding, a swimming pool on-site and nearby Refugio State Beach. Leisure is on the agenda at the lodge, complete with a game room, library, dining room and bar...serving local wines, of course. Mobile spa services are also available for in-room treatments. Room rates start at $292 per night for two guests -- all meals are included in the room rates, too. For the best deal, book the "Weekday R&R Special," starting at $208/night for a midweek stay, or one of the bundled packages like the "Medicinal Country Cure All," including massages, horseback riding and champagne.
If you are on a tighter budget, Rancho Oso also offers a guest ranch experience. Located on the other side of the mountains off Highway 154, Rancho Oso is more rustic and bare bones with cabins, covered wagons and campsites to choose from. Here, you have public restrooms and showers, similar to a camping set-up. Rates start at $69/night for a wagon or $89/night for a cabin that sleeps four. On the other end of the spectrum, Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort in Solvang offers a luxurious, high-end guest ranch experience. Room rates start at $495/night and include breakfast, dinner and access to the resort's guest-only activities including golf, horseback riding and fly fishing.
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