Travel | Santa Barbara: What a classy getaway

David Vokac, a San Diego-based travel writer who has written extensively about American towns and cities, anoints Santa Barbara, 100 miles north of Los Angeles, as America’s most beautiful town with a population over 50,000.

I concur.

Santa Barbara has it all — with the exception of ski runs for those winter types. An increasingly respected wine appellation; remember “Sideways” and its references to “pinots?” Nationally renowned restaurants and lots of them. One of the few south-facing beaches in America. Clean air. Sunny skies. Cool nights. A major university. One of California’s 21 missions. Miles of flat biking trails. Direct Horizon Airline service from Sea-Tac. And money.

Yes, it costs a ton to live in Santa Barbara, but a vacation there is no pricier than anywhere else in California. On my latest visit to this American Riviera, I booked a room at the newly rebuilt Canary Hotel, a half block off State Street in the epicenter of town. The Canary succeeded on a number of levels: good-sized rooms with all the latest conveniences, a stylish restaurant and bar, and best of all, a well-designed rooftop pool and spa. The pool was well-heated. The deck furniture was superb, and the 360 degree views of America’s prettiest town were fabulous.

Santa Barbara architecture, as with San Francisco’s Embarcadero, is a gift of the gods — in this case, the Earthquake gods. In 1925, all the buildings in downtown Santa Barbara were leveled by a major quake. The city council jumped on the opportunity and required that all public, private and even church buildings adhere to the new architectural covenants of white stucco, red tile roofs, black wrought iron accents, and set-backs to allow for ample lawns, gardens and landscaping.

Santa Barbara boasts some of the most exclusive resort properties in the United States. San Ysidro Ranch, with its iconic Stonehouse Restaurant, was where JFK and Jackie honeymooned. Since then, San Ysidro has only gotten better.

Bacara Resort and Spa, El Encanto and Alisal Ranch all fit in the highest categories for unique and unusual retreats. And the Simpson House makes everybody’s “top five” list for bed and breakfasts in the United States. Those aside, there are 50 or more other good properties with prices that most everyone can afford, scattered around Santa Barbara, its sister town of Montecito and its backyard neighbors in the Santa Barbara valley wine region.

If you go:

Visit the Santa Barbara visitors' Web site or e-mail

Canary Hotel: visit

David Vokac is the author of "The Great Towns of America" and also "The Great Towns of Southern California," published by West Press:

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