Little mountains, little forests, splendid beaches, stunning estates
With a fabulous wine country, the Santa Ynez mountains, and 25 miles of sweeping coastline, including miles of sandy beaches lined with palm trees, Santa Barbara County is one of the most coveted residential areas in the whole world. Here we are focusing on three coastal communities in the southern section of the county—Montecito, Summerland, and Carpinteria.
Just 92 miles north of Los Angeles, one of the many reasons the area is such a favorite with both tourists and residents is its climate. The seaside communities lie in a low coastal valley between the Santa Ynez mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It has a unique east-west coastline (the only one from Alaska clear down to Cape Horn). This combination, along with the protection offered by the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara County's coast, shelters the area, giving it a year-round Mediterranean climate with about 300 days of sunshine per year.
At left: Jeannine's is a breakfast-lunch-coffee shop popular with the locals in Montecito.
"My clients include lots of international company heads and people in the entertainment field because of our proximity to Los Angeles but our distance from the urban sprawl," says one Montecito Realtor. He says families are attracted, too, because of the excellent schools, especially those in the Montecito Union School District. He adds that families will do without an ocean view in Montecito just because of the quality of the school district, which is among the top 10 percent in the state.
Montecito translates as "little mountains, little forest." It's therefore the perfect name for this semi-rural residential community, with its winding, tree-shaded roads and numerous colorful gardens that give it a bit of English countryside flavor. Wealthy easterners began to move here in the late 1800s, attracted by its hot springs with their purported health benefits. Among the ultra-rich who became part-time residents were the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Fleischmanns, Duponts, and McCormicks. These newcomers designed and built their estates influenced by the residential styles of a variety of European countries, including Spain, France, Italy, and England. Today, you'll find stunning contemporary homes among them.
One of Montecito's most revered landmarks is the Four Seasons Resort, formerly the Biltmore, a Spanish Colonial treasure with its red tile roofs, ivory adobe, and graceful archways. The resort is perched on Butterfly Beach, named for the thousands of Monarchs that make an annual visit to the beach's trees.
The median price for a single-family home in Montecito is $2,100,000. The median for a super-luxury home is about $4,500,000. A local Realtor says that about 65 percent of current sales activity in Greater Santa Barbara involves people who already live in the area—they are either moving up to bigger houses or downsizing as they retire. Another approximately 20 percent of buyers are from California, but not from Santa Barbara County. "And I am starting to see more and more buyers from the East Coast—particularly from Manhattan," he says . Montecito's most famous resident (at least for part of the year) is Oprah Winfrey.
Top, left: A beach in Carpinteria. Top, right: Lucky's Restaurant,
a Montecito hotspot. Above, middle photo: Aleda Home Decor in Montecito. Above, bottom: Kreiss Collection, an interior design shop in Montecito.
Beautiful Summerland, recognizable from Highway 101 by its colorful, hillside buildings, is only two square miles in size and has a population of less than 2,000. One of Summerland's landmarks is The Big Yellow House, now a restaurant, which was the residence of rancher Harry L. Williams, who founded the town in 1889. Williams was fond of the supernatural and he attracted other residents with that same predilection. As a result, The Big Yellow House, as well as many of the other original buildings in town, is rumored to be haunted. Soon the town got ugly—literally—when in 1896 an oil boom brought derricks and drilling operations to Summerland.
Fortunately, Summerland's Miramar Beach regained its loveliness when the
oil operations moved offshore to the many platforms that to this
day stretch along the coastline. Most visitors come to Summerland
because of its plethora of antique shops. Another Summerland claim
to fame is the funky restaurant called The Nugget, where President
Clinton had a burger and played the saxophone one day.
The median price for a single-family home in Summerland is $1,207,000.
Above, left: The popular Luna Cafe in Summerland. Above, right: Mary Suding Antiques in Summerland.
Carpinteria, south of Summerland, "is a place where much of California's heritage and splendor can be found," according to civic leader Steve Greig. "You will find it in the plush mountains and coastal open spaces where you can stroll along picturesque trails, to our lush valleys of orchards and crops, and to a fresh cut flower industry that brightens each day. Not to mention our beautiful and safe beaches that first attract most of us here. Mingled with all of this are boutiques, art galleries, stores, shops, and restaurants that can easily satisfy even the most seasoned traveler."
The town is famous for its eclectic Santa Claus Lane, which houses a candy shop and toy store, plus a surf shop and a high-end market, a curio shop, and a wedding/catering facility.
The median price for a single-family home in the town was $950,000 in 2005. But you can spend much, much more—especially in the area called Padaro Lane, a 1.5-mile stretch of oceanfront that is home to 86 spectacular homes. "This is an unparalled lifestyle," says a local Realtor, who currently has a $35,000,000 beachfront listing and says the area has become very popular with CEOs and celebrities. "Padaro Lane is like a year-round Hamptons, Nantucket, or Naples [Florida]. Those areas have fabulous beaches, too, but they are not temperate year-round," she says.
Above, left: A beach at Padaro Lane in
Carpinteria. Right, top photo: The Garden Market on Carpinteria's
Santa Claus Lane. Right, middle photo: Polo action at the Santa
Barbara Polo Club in Carpinteria. Right, bottom photo: Part of
the coastline of Carpinteria's exclusive Padaro Lane.
Story by Jacqueline Shannon
Most photos by Latara Dragoo