The Santa Barbara area is replete with chic, design-forward destinations. Satisfying visual stimulation (and retail therapy) is a just a short drive away and after spending some time exploring Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito, and Santa Barbara, I might have to spend more time on the 101. In just one 24 hour blitz, I had the pleasure of previewing the newly refurbished Santa Barbara Museum of Art, discovered The Funk Zone, visited the studio of a local ceramicist, and shopped in some spectacular garden and home stores.
Pick and choose as you plan (you can’t possibly do it all at once), and enjoy an easy change-of-scenery adventure – or two or three – this fall.
1// Santa Barbara / The Santa Barbara Museum of Art and The Funk Zone
The inspiration for my trip up the 101 was a preview of the Grand Opening of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. After having spent 50 million dollars on upgrades, the trustees and curators who were very excited to show us new galleries that have been designed to share the museum’s impressive permanent collection.
The museum is an elegant jewel box with a glorious new entrance hall. Ludington Court and Thayer Gallery is a salon-style gallery (where the museum’s finest paintings are stack hung in the tall space) that harkens to the great halls of European collectors. Curators told us that many visitors never knew about the second floor, so after admiring the new Ludington Court and Thayer Gallery, and touring the Asian and bronze collections on the first floor, be sure to ascend these lovely new stairs to see the contemporary and photography collections.
Highlights were the Asian galleries, which include stellar antiquities from the founders’ collections – a sumptuous wooden Hindi deity, a fierce tiger from the Qin dynasty (21-206 B.C.) and a gallery full of elegant bronzes. The modern collection includes this inviting Anish Kapoor sculpture and a friendly Louise Bourgeois painting.
The new photography galleries are extensive and include classic works as well as new media offerings. I enjoyed learning about the work of Inge Morath; Morath’s life was about witnessing history – she escaped from Nazis, was a founding member of Magnum Photos (the premiere agency for photojournalists) and was married to playwright Arthur Miller — making her the mother of actress Rebecca Miller. She had a great spirit, and an excellent eye.
I learned that FSA photographer Marion Post Wolcott hailed from a notable Santa Barbara family and enjoyed several images from Kwame Brathwaite, who was a Barbados-born photographer who coined the term “Black is Beautiful” and, with his brother, founded the African Jazz Art Society and Studios.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Hours: Tues – Sun 11 am – 5 pm, Thurs 11 am – 8 pm, Closed Mondays and holidays
Tip: State Street, where the museum is located, has been closed to vehicle traffic in Covid and the town is keeping this pedestrian forward set up (at least) until March 2022; the relaxed atmosphere is a balm in these strange times. The architecture along this block is consistently uniform and elegant but there are miles to go before you sleep – so take a gander and then pop back in your car and head for The Funk Zone.
The Funk Zone and Raoul Textiles
The Funk Zone is a relatively new, nine-block center for arts and culture, and includes terrific restaurants, wineries, artist studios, and shops. You could spend an entire day cruising around, but we chose two spots for our visit – the Helena Avenue Bakery (delicious salads and sanwiches) and Raoul Textiles.
You need to make an appointment to visit this stunning shop, which was founded in 1981 by Sally McQuillan and her husband Tim – the shop is more like a gallery, featuring African statuary, local artisan works and the company’s exquisite fabrics which are designed and printed just two blocks away. The patterns are bold and colorful, graphically unique and printed on exquisite fabric. It’s no wonder the brand has gained world-wide acclaim.
Also of note in the Funk Zone area is Moxi, The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, Santa Barbara’s version of SF’s Exploratorium and a natural for kids.
2// Shopping in Summerland
Either on the way up or as you return home, save (at least) an hour for a stop in Summerland, right off the freeway south of Montecito. Grab a bite to eat at Field + Fork (which has a lovely grove for outdoor dining) and peruse the sumptuous kitchen and home goods on display.
Just down the road is The Well Summerland, a multi-acre outdoor garden furniture and supply shop with pop-up shops for home goods. The Well is associated with LA’s Big Daddy’s Antiques and their lavish outdoor displays will provide endless inspiration for your home garden.
Speaking of your garden, just up the road is another beloved store, Botanik — With lovely topiaries and refined table top choicesyou will wish this garden and home shop was in your neighborhood so you could pop by all the time. Also in Summerland is a very elegant design destination, Garde (just one of the firm’s three locations). It’s all rather pricey, but as you walk along the main street, you can see the ocean – how bad can that be?
3// Montecito – Lotusland and More
With endless shops and restaurants – not to mention the glorious grounds of the Four Seasons and Rosewood hotels – Montecito deserves a whole chapter. (Or your dream second home!) But, when it comes to visual stimulation, there’s nothing like a visit to Lotusland. Here is a link to the article I did about this special garden earlier this year – the venue which requires advanced, timed ticketing. If you secure tickets to Lotusland, be sure to visit Upstairs at Pierre Lafond, and grab a bite to eat at the Honor Bar.
4// Ceramics in Carpenteria
Carpenteria is an unspoiled little beach town with one of CA’s best surf spots (Rincon Point), a Seal Preserve, and a nice state beach. Cruising down main street, you’ll feel you stepped back in time. I only had time to visit the studio and shop of a wonderful ceramicist, Miri Mara, who was gracious enough to show us around his studio and shop (which is endearingly located in an old gas station garage). The Padero Beach Grill is a fun spot to dine, with lots of outdoor seating and play space for kids!.