Known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara and its sister cities — roughly 90 miles north of Los Angeles — are synonymous with coastal-chic sophistication and stunning natural beauty. After the Thomas Fire in December 2017 and mudslides in January 2018, it appeared this idyllic landscape and lifestyle were indelibly altered.
Luckily, this turned out to be far from the truth.
“If anything, our sense of community spirit is stronger and more palpable than ever before, and we welcome back visitors with open arms and grateful hearts,” says Kathy Janega-Dykes, president of Visit Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara proper was actually not affected by the natural disasters. They were, in fact, isolated to the Montecito area — a celebrity enclave in Santa Barbara County that’s home to A-listers, such as Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and Rob Lowe.
For a local’s perspective of what to know before you go, we sat down with Janega-Dykes.
Can you describe what the region looks like now?
A regular visitor to Santa Barbara would have no idea that there had been a natural disaster. The Thomas Fire and mudslide were isolated to the Montecito area and did not impact Santa Barbara.
The Santa Ynez Mountains that are visible from downtown Santa Barbara are regular shades of green and tan. They remain uniquely beautiful.
Coast Village Road in Montecito — which was initially impacted by the debris flow — has been cleared of mud, cleaned up thoroughly and businesses are now open. Only a few residential streets within Montecito where there was damage remain closed to through traffic.
What hotels, restaurants or attractions are still closed in Santa Barbara?
All hotels, restaurants and attractions in the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta and Summerland are open for business and were not affected, such as Belmond El Encanto, a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star-Rated property. The Thomas Fire in December and Montecito mudslide in January did not take place in these cities.
And how about Montecito? What’s open and were any hotels affected?
All major Montecito businesses, including restaurants and boutiques, reopened by early February. Among hotels in Montecito, only San Ysidro Ranch and Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara [a Four-Star hotel] remain closed. The Four Seasons plans to reopen by June 1 and Montecito Inn opened March 4. At this time, it is unknown when San Ysidro Ranch will reopen.
Are there any road closures still in Montecito?
Only a few of the residential side streets within Montecito remain closed to through traffic due to the mudslide, but these only affect residents. The major roads and arteries in Montecito, such as the popular Coast Village Road and Upper Village shopping districts, have reopened. Highway 101 through Montecito is fully open, after a temporary closure in early January.
What are the condition of the hiking trails in the area?
A few obscure hiking trails above Montecito, such as Cold Spring and Romero Canyon, remain closed, but this affects only a very select, niche subset of hikers. Santa Barbara’s most popular trails for visitors, including Tunnel Trail leading to Inspiration Point and Rattlesnake Trail, as well as trails bordering the city of Santa Barbara, are open and were not affected. Likewise, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden located in Santa Barbara’s Mission Canyon area offers lovely scenic hikes.
OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW
-Highway 101 is fully open.
-The Pacific Surfliner and the Coast Starlight trains are running. Santa Barbara Airport is open.
-Santa Barbara County beaches are open, and most of the popular spots — such as Butterfly, Leadbetter and Summerland — were not affected by the runoff. Beaches with swimming advisory warnings include: Carpinteria State Beach, Hammond Beach and Goleta Beach. Go here for the latest beach safety updates.
-Wineries in the area were not affected. Tasting rooms, whether in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone or the surrounding mountains, continue to welcome guests.
-Recreational activities and some businesses may still be affected in Montecito. It’s best to call ahead before visiting.
WHAT’S NEW IN THE CITY
From home designer and hotelier Steve Hermann, Smithy Kitchen + Bar opened its doors in December 2017 to offer family-style farm-fresh dishes in a light-filled, contemporary setting.
For another exciting new option, look at the recently debuted Hotel Californian’s signature restaurant, Blackbird. The Mediterranean-inspired menu was developed by chef Alexander La Motte, a student of culinary giants Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud.
Opening within Montecito Inn in late March, Frankland’s Crab & Co will be a New England-flavored fast-casual seafood eatery from prolific restaurateurs/chefs Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee. The duo operates five restaurants in Los Angeles; this will be their first location outside the city.
If you need something to do in Santa Barbara beyond noshing, the new Cat Therapy is the city’s first cat café where animal lovers get to gently pet and play with well-cared-for, adoptable shelter cats.
Kids of all ages will love the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. This three-story science museum for tiny travelers, which just celebrated its first birthday, is chock-full of interactive, educational displays that will keep little minds active for hours.
For the latest travel advisory updates in Santa Barbara County, click here.