Traveler’s Guide to Santa Barbara: Spanish Revival, Home Inspiration, & Where To Visit
For the most part, our family took one trip a year together and we were lucky enough to do it in Santa Barbara, California (well, SB, Carpinteria and Montecito). My Aunt and Uncle had moved there in the late 80’s having their third child in this coastal town only to decide to invest in a beach house down the road a couple of years after arriving. This magical oasis became my best childhood memories. Sitting right off of Santa Claus Lane where a giant Santa statue used to sit on top of the toy shop on the lane (and a candy shop right next door).
Our week-long stay would consist of becoming sand mermaids on the beach, flattening pennies on the nearby train tracks, walking to the candy store to buy trick candy and stopping in the surf shop, our favorite place away from the beach house. Year after year we would relive these same traditions. Spending time with my grandfather and his wife until he died in 2008. Watching my cousin’s volleyball games at East Beach. And of course, taking advantage of the historic Casa Blanca pool right next door to the beach house on days when it was too cold to jump in the sea.
My childhood might put rose colored glasses onto this city for me, but even visiting as an adult I continue to find the magic of this surreal place. Now, with an obsession for home decor, the Spanish Revival architecture speaks to me in ways I didn’t fully grasp as a kid getting away from the mountains for a week at the beach.
- History of Santa Barbara
- Interior Design Inspiration
- Noteworthy shops
- Favorite places to eat
- Photo Inspo
Santa Barbara Style Aka Spanish Revival
I’m not going to pretend that I know all the history of Santa Barbara, only because every time I talk to someone from there I learn more. For a city that’s been around only about 250 years (obviously the land and indigenous people go back way further) it’s incredible how much history and culture is packed into this place but for me it all comes back to the Spanish Revival architecture (or Santa Barbara Style) that you see everywhere.
A cross between Turkish, Spanish and Moroccan design, this style continues to take my breath away and keep me inspired. I think I took more pictures of tile than anything else on this trip. (Okay, I probably took more pictures of flowers, but it was close). If you want a deep dive into this exquisite style of design I suggest the Magnolia Network show, Classic Homes. The very first episode is dedicated to Spanish Revival.
The Spanish Revival aesthetic started in 1915 near San Diego but spread throughout California through the 1940’s. It was a way to connect with the Spanish colonial roots which span back to the 1600’s and to develop a style that would be known only to California.
In Santa Barbara, this aesthetic took off after the 1925 earthquake, which measured a 6.8 magnitude, that leveled the city giving the people a chance to rebuild in a way that could make this town completely unique. Dedicated to the Spanish Revival style (now often called the Santa Barbara style) inspired by their historic Mission, Santa Barbara became the first city with an architectural review board in order to keep this Spanish standard.
Throughout the city you’ll see red tile roofs and white stucco buildings and tiles that will have you dreaming of lands afar. This ode to their Spanish roots continues to live on almost 100 years after that earthquake and is shared in so many special history places within Santa Barbara.
The Casa Del Herrero (House of the Blacksmith) is a Time Machine back to the 1920’s and 30’s in Montecito, ÇA.My aunt has been a docent there for almost thirty years. Wrapped in the history, stories, and amazing facts of a time few of us think about.
From handmade tiles to ceilings transported from churches in Italy, this home is made of magic and is the epitome of Spanish Revival style. Thought and attention to detail is applied to every inch of the grounds, including the garden used for moonlit strolls under the full moon.
A home filled with love, artistry, and community (And a workshop that made me green with jealousy). This place is a reminder of just what a home can be. More than just walls keeping the weather out but a fanciful world that provides rest and creativity, inspiring others even when the owners are long gone.
If you’re ever in Montecito, California I highly suggest signing up for the $25 tour. It’s a walk through time into interior design of the past and will give you so much inspiration you won’t know what to do with it. The coffee table book of the home is a little pricey but one you’ll reference back to a million times if only to see the sketches of the tiles and other details that went into this place.
I’m extremely lucky to have access to this historic pool house. It’s not open to the public but happens to be a part of the community property attached to my Aunt and Uncle’s beach house. This incredible architectural history has been featured in shows like Colombo, Dynasty, and Airwolf before its more recent renovations and the addition of the Morrish beach houses surrounding it (While not Spanish Revival, the Morrish style still plays and ode to this design aesthetic with its beautiful tiles and mix of cultures).
Designed by the famous George Washington Smith, known for his style of a mix of moroccan and Spanish influences creating the Hispano-Moorish style and built by millionaire, Albert Keep Isham in the 1920’s. Isham met an early death at 38, in 1931, leaving the 7-acre property abandoned for years.
Later, Mrs. Marguerite Eyer Wilbur, an oil tycoon’s widow, bought the property and built her own home there to lead writing retreats. The home was later demolished except for a small portion of it called “The Honeymoon Cottage” which is the beach house that I got to stay at growing up. The land was then divided into seven units where 6 of them now hold Moorish style homes in honor of George Washington Smith’s original design for the Casa Blanca Pool House, and creates the dream setting it currently holds now.
The Santa Barbara Mission in Spanish Revival Style
As a child we never visited the Mission, probably because as a 6-year old you might find this boring. But at 31 it was a magical experience.
Years ago, in the late 1700s’, the Spanish heard that the Russians were making their way South (From way up North, ie Alaska/Canada). They decided to make it look like more area of land had actually been settled. Missions were then built up and down California (21 in all) as a way of staking claim to the territory.
The Santa Barbara Mission was the 10th Mission built in California and holds to the Franciscan tradition. Established in 1786, she has witnessed two major earthquakes (1812 and 1925) and has been owned by the Spanish, Mexico, and finally the United States in all her years.
What made this place extra special to me was the rose gardens at the other end of the park in front of the Mission. Beds filled with a variety of roses changing colors and scents as you walk through, just sitting on a bench and breathing it all in while looking up at the Mission was one of my favorite parts. Combine that with the amazing coffee food truck parked out front and its Spanish Revival architecture and we had ourselves a perfect little excursion.
Santa Barbara Courthouse
I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t actually go to the courthouse while in Santa Barbara. We did drive past it. But the things I’ve heard about the full grounds of this place are simply unbelievable. In looking at it from the car I even said, I wouldn’t mind having to go to court if it was there.
So I won’t go into depth about this landmark since I didn’t fully experience it myself, but will share this link if you’re interested in learning more and want a chance to experience all the wonderful things I’ve heard about it, and deep dive into the Spanish Revival architecture its known for.
Spanish Revival Design inspiration from Santa Barbara
Everywhere I went in Santa Barbara had inspiration for my home and my wallpaper designs. Whether it was the flowers blooming in my aunt’s garden, the variety of tiles seen in every style of architecture, the Moorish and Spanish influences, or the lifestyle that comes with living by the ocean. Everywhere I went I seemed to be basking in new colors, textures and ideas.
From the Casa Del Herrero tour I learned a fascinating fact about the Spanish tiles we see all around that house and throughout Santa Barbara (Thanks, Aunt Jane!) Spanish tiles come in three styles–Cuenca (which means “tub”). In this tile, the clay is pressed into a mold. Then there is Cuerda seca (dry line) where there are painted lines on bisque tile with linseed oil and manganese. The lines are then filled in with colored or white glazed and fired—lines are either dark or are the bisque tile showing through the thick patches of glaze. Finally there is Alcora tile which has a white underglaze and has hand painted designs over the glaze. All three of these tiles are are Mojolica (tin glazed).
Even when looking at my favorite tile company, Fireclay Tiles, I can see that they use the Cuerda seca technique where lines are drawn to hold in the colors of paint before being fired.
As I think about my next wallpaper line, I’m thinking about the layers of flowers I saw in gardens, the bird footprints I saw in the sand and the birds I watched fly overhead. Colors from tiles, and repeat patterns keep popping up into my head and honestly, there is so much inspiration I’m having a hard time sorting it all out.
Whether it’s texture, color, history or nature, Santa Barbara has so much inspiration to offer any artist but especially those with the home in mind. I may live in the middle of Denver where there is no beach or Spanish styled buildings but I’m dreaming of the day we can have our own Spanish Bungalow even if it’s by the Colorado Mountains.
Noteworthy Shops Near Santa Barbara
I’m not much of a shopper, but I do love to stop into a few cute shops and get inspired, have a laugh, or perhaps buy a tourist’s sweatshirt because the weather isn’t quite what you expected it to be. These shops will have you opening your eyes to color palettes and playing with texture in new ways. You’re also sure to find a few pieces to go in your next home project or to give as a house-warming gift.
It was the beginning of May when we visited so it’s not a huge surprise that it would be cold. But I don’t think I’ve ever been to Santa Barbara when it was in the low 60’s for most of the trip. There was no ocean swimming that’s for sure. But the first day we were there I realized I didn’t pack enough warm clothes so my mom and I were on a mission to find a sweatshirt that would memorialize this trip, be cute, and not break the bank. Lucky for us we found the Carpinteria Beach Company where we both found a sweatshirt to our liking that hit all these things and was pretty much our uniform the rest of the trip.
The owner of the shop was so sweet and shared fun stories with us, connected with my talkative father about working in retail, and did all she could to help us find exactly what we were looking for. We even went back later to buy another sweatshirt for my sister.
This is my favorite place in the world. It’s a small little surf shop right off the beach on Santa Claus Lane. I’ve been going into it since I was 8 and it’s always felt like home to me. The staff is kind, helpful, and easy to connect with. Their products are some of the top brands including a very specific tinted sunscreen I get that’s reef safe and I can only buy online in Denver. (Luckily they happened to have it when I was almost out!) I still have a puka shell ankle bracelet and a saint Christopher medallion that I got there when I was a kid. This sweet shop will forever have a special place in my heart.
I also found the first ever piece of art I purchased (a print) there some years ago. It’s a mermaid holding a surfboarding going under the waves. She’s still framed in our half bath on the main floor of our home and I not only love this piece but the reminder to the surf shop, my favorite childhood shop.
In the old candy + toy shop on Santa Claus Lane now stands an Interior Design firm, Coast Supply Co. Their small boutique home decor shop has so many fun things to discover including the greatest set of dishes I’ve ever seen with different faces, coconut husk candles that we definitely bought, and pillows and rugs that I wish could have fit into my suitcase but alas, the candle barely fit! If you’re looking for some inspiration or an interior design firm for your next S.B. project, this is a great place to check out!
During our day trip to Ojay we stumbled upon this sweet home decor shop on the main road. As a wallpaper designer and lover of all things home, you know I couldn’t help myself and needed to see what they had inside. A mix of textures, colors, and styles surrounded me. This place was pure magic. While nothing was going to fit in my suitcase I loved getting inspired by all the different patterns I saw, way of mixing furniture, and pieces I dreamed of having in my own Spanish Bungalow someday. If you’re in the Ojay area, I highly recommend stopping in this shop for a dose of inspiration.
Santa Barbara Restaurants – My Favorite Places to Eat
While you’re looking for home decor or inspiration for your next space, you’re going to get hungry so I though I’d add a few of my favorite places for a bite to eat!
There are few places that I’ve eaten at in Santa Barbara that I wouldn’t go to again. It used to be that the first place we’d go after getting off the plane was In-n-Out because they were only in this part of the country. But now that one lives just 5 minutes from us in Denver, that magic has been lost and we’re looking for our meals to be a little less fast and a little more fresh when we visit Santa Barbara.
Santa Barabara is a Mediterranean climate which means more farms and a ton of fresh foods. If you don’t believe me, just watch Ranch to Table. Their ranch is in Santa Barbara county and just goes to show what kind of fresh foods are available in this town.
But if you aren’t sure where to start, these are a few of my favorite spots.
This is easily my favorite spot in Santa Barbara (technically, it’s in Carpinteria). We came here all the time growing up and the only thing that’s changed is how big the palm trees are that surround it. The food is classic americana food and the outdoor seating is the absolute best. There’s even a kid free zone if you need a little adult time.
The sand “boxes” are available for kids to run off too while parents gather around picnic tables, listen to the waves, and enjoy a drink with their lunch or dinner. I could eat at this spot a million times over during any stay at my favorite California city (and we might have seen Steve Martin there once too!)
I don’t remember traveling into the mountains of Santa Barbara as a kid, so on our last trip it felt like a great adventure to see what lies in all that green. Low and behold the city of Ojay. I would say the best part of this city is the drive to it. But then, we entered the Ojay Valley inn for lunch and the whole family and I were taken aback by the intense beauty of this campus. From the golf course, to shops, to the outdoor restaurant, The Oak. Sitting on a roofed terrace with heaters (they were needed at the end of Spring) you overlook the most insane oak trees you’ve ever seen. Hanging from the trees are vintage lanterns and fire pits that would be magical to sit under when the sun goes down. The food was absolutely delicious. Starting with the just out of the oven rolls with salted butter, followed by the crispy chicken sandwich with kale slaw, pickled peppers, spicy aioli and a side of fries. After a full meal walking around the grounds to look at the buildings, flowers, and mountains isn’t a bad way to burn off your meal.
Literally 25 feet from the beach, this mostly outdoor restaurant (although it does have an indoor dining area too) was our go-to breakfast spot when we were growing up. Although then, it was called the Brown Pelican. While the name has changed not much else has. The views are incredible, the food great (with a variety of eggs benedict options for breakfast) and it’s open everyday.
By far the most affordable place to eat (especially with the recent increase in costs of EVERYTHING) this classic spot also has amazing food with walls of California’s history. You can see photos from the 1925 earthquake that leveled the city and started their commitment to the Spanish Revival architecture.
Grab a drink, watch the game, or hang out with friends and enjoy a burger (The Guacamole burger is my go-to).
Okay, I’m a little biased since we spend 90% of our time on Santa Claus Lane but seriously this place is a gem. The owners are the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, stopping by your table to learn more about you and make some suggestions on the menu. We went with the Lasagna (a crowd favorite there) and a pesto pasta with added shrimp, which I just loved. It’s a sweet little Italian restaurant, family owned, and is one of those places you just want to support because there is so much love in it.