I moved to Los Angeles from Copenhagen 20 years ago, and we moved north to Montecito when we realised we’d no longer have to be in the office five days a week. It’s a tiny, warm community, and a place I never expected to be so international – there are transplants from LA, New York and San Francisco, but also the UK and Europe. I think it used to have an older feel, but now it’s full of young families and feels more vibrant than ever. In challenging times, as we’ve seen with the recent storms, the bond of this community is even stronger.
When we were looking for a home, we stayed with our kids at the Rosewood Miramar Beach, which is right on the beach in nearby Santa Barbara, and also at the Hotel Californian, which is in a neighbourhood that is perfect for exploring on foot or by bike. The whole Central Coast of California – and particularly Montecito – has a very Mediterranean vibe; from the beautiful weather, to the flowers that are in bloom all year round, to the white Spanish colonial-style architecture.
There’s a real focus on the outdoors here. Butterfly Beach in Montecito is where I like to take my kids to walk and talk. Padaro Beach, which is nearer to Carpinteria and Summerland, is another of my favourites, and a great spot to watch the dolphins and seals frolic. The beach in Santa Barbara is much busier and more commercial, but it is also a hit with kids who like action, and you can go on a whale-watching excursion from the main harbour here, which is a good way to experience the coast and islands. Beyond the beaches there is Lotusland – the stunning 37-acre estate that was once owned by Madame Ganna Walska, and is considered one of the 10 most spectacular gardens in the world.
Hiking is another big draw. I always recommend the Hot Springs Canyon trail because it works for people of all fitness levels. You can walk up to the hot springs and slather yourself with mud, which is thought to heal and detoxify – or you can just go for a magnificent brunch under the lemon trees at the nearby San Ysidro Ranch. The historic property was damaged by a fire in 2017 and then by mudslides in 2018, but it has been faithfully rebuilt and both the setting and the food are pure California. One thing I will say on the hiking: there are bears, rattlesnakes and mountain lions here, so don’t ever head out alone!
Fresh food is central to everything in Montecito, and with so many surrounding farms growing artichokes and amazing avocados, it’s no surprise. You’ll find fresh-pressed juices almost everywhere, including at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. I love Oliver’s for vegan food, with cocktails that incorporate cucumber and mint. Los Arroyos is another favourite; it’s not fancy, but the make-your-own fajitas and fantastic margaritas are a must once a week. For a date night or a special dinner with the kids I love Lucky’s; it’s an institution that feels old Hollywood, with food that’s very American. My order is a great steak and a Mr Lucky, which is a combination of tequila, St Germain and lime juice, with a touch of salt. They’re super-potent, so be careful…
Montecito is more about eating than shopping, but for a mix of cooler fashion brands – and the flowy, casual pieces that work well here – there is Diani in Santa Barbara. My favourite shop is always Field + Fort in nearby Summerland. You’ll find everything here from backgammon sets to antiques and garden furniture, and I also highly recommend eating lunch outside at their café, Feast.
We’ll often take day trips to Santa Ynez – a little town just over the hill – for lunch at SY Kitchen, or to Los Olivos, which is known for its wineries and tasting rooms. Stay for lunch at nearby Bell’s, which is a sort of Californian French bistro that’s completely relaxed but holds a Michelin star. In general, people are just happy to be here in this beautiful part of the world, and so that makes everyone a bit more kind.