Wellness Weekend in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara doesn’t actually need any help selling itself as a vacation spot. The city’s balmy Mediterranean climate, beaches, parks, and Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival architecture are enticing enough to encourage even the most hardcore workaholic into some downtime.
If, however, you prefer a less-sedentary getaway, Santa Barbara is still one of the nation’s most appealing destinations. The city encourages a “Car Free” ethos, with plentiful bike paths, rental shops and self-guided tours. There’s also excellent mountain-biking (and hiking) in the nearby Santa Ynez mountains, and bikes are free if you make advanced reservations on Amtrak (the train station is located on lower State Street, downtown’s main artery).
Santa Barbara is also the ideal place to surf, SUP, sail, or scuba dive, but my favorite activity in the region is sea-kayaking nearby Santa Cruz Island. Part of the Channel Islands National Park, it’s California’s largest island and a popular hiking, paddling, and camping destination.
The islands are known as North America’s Galapagos and home to over 2,000 species of bird, plant, animal, and marine life, 145 of which are found nowhere else on earth.
On a recent visit to Santa Barbara, I stayed in the lively Funk Zone because it’s lower State Street location is three blocks from the beach and the epicenter of the region’s most happening arts, food, drink (the ‘hood is part of the Urban Wine Trail; California’s Central Coast is home to some of the nation’s top wineries) scene.
The ideal home base for a weekend of biking, walking, sightseeing, eating, and imbibing is The Wayfarer, a stylish, 27-room hostel/boutique hotel hybrid that caters to an active crowd (drop in on their free yoga classes; they also offer pub crawls and wine tours if your arms need an additional workout). Rooms start at $79/night for a four-to-five-person dorm; private rooms are cozy, with Euro-style tiled bathrooms and King beds. Cruiser bikes are also available to rent.
Breakfast is included at The Wayfarer, but if you’re looking for local fare, I love the healthy options at adjacent Rebar Coffee Market- their housemade ricotta and jam on local bread is the bomb, as is the chia seed porridge with seasonal accompaniments like mesquite pecan milk, almonds, fruit, honey, and bee pollen. There’s also wood-fired egg and breakfast/lunch sandwiches at Lucky Penny, part of the renovated historic fish market; now a green-constructed garden complex with three eateries (don’t miss The Lark for cocktails or dinner), a clutch of tasting rooms and a brewery.
The Waterline complex, a renovated adaptive-use space that opened in May, is home to Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop, and The Nook- a casual takeaway operated out of a converted shipping container- look for well-executed, affordable, seasonal fare like Dungeness crab cakes and paninis, as well as vegan and vegetarian options.
You’ll find more locally-grown- and -produced goods at the community-centric farmers markets (held every Saturday and Tuesday, year-round); the Saturday Fisherman’s Market in the harbor offers the chance to purchase sustainable local catch like spot prawns from family fisherman (tip: bring an ice chest with you if you’re road tripping).
In between browsing the shops, galleries, historic sites and museums on State Street, take time to recharge at Salt, a spa that “provides holistic health, relaxation, and medicinal” treatments and products.” The emphasis is on the reputed therapeutic benefits of Himalayan pink salt, which are purported to include “reducing the signs of aging, regulating sleep, promoting vascular health, and regulating blood pressure.”
There’s no medical proof of such, although salt of all kinds assists with replenishment of electrolytes when ingested.
The ultimate skeptic, I visited the spa’s salt cave, which is constructed from 200-million-year old blocks from the Khewra Salt Range in northern Pakistan (the origin of Himalayan pink salt). The treatment consisted of a 45-minute halotherapy session (in which you breathe “air saturated with salt particles, which is known to be a natural and effective way to improve respiratory health”). Swaddled in blankets in a zero-gravity chair, listening to New-Agey tuneage, I actually managed to drift off which is no small achievement for my Type-A personality.
I started to revise my opinion of salt therapy when, not five minutes after completing my treatment, I entered a store and the saleswoman said, “Where are you from? You have such a calm, chilled-out vibe.”
Maybe it was the salt cave, or maybe it’s just Santa Barbara. Either way, I’ll be back.
Vitamin World does not have a relationship with the businesses mentioned in this post.
Laurel is a Basalt-based food and travel writer, cheese consultant and the editor of Edible Aspen magazine. When not sitting in front of her computer in her pj's, Laurel can be found enjoying the outdoors, or backpacking around the world eating street food and acquiring new and exciting tropical diseases.