I left Copenhagen for Los Angeles 20 years ago, and we moved north to Montecito when we realized we wouldn’t need to be in the office five days a week anymore. It’s a tiny, warm community, and a place I didn’t expect to be so international – there are transplants from Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, but also from the UK and Europe. I think it looked older, but now it’s full of young families and feels more vibrant than ever. In difficult times, as we have seen with recent storms, the bond of this community is even stronger.
When we were house hunting, we stayed with our kids at the Rosewood Miramar Beach, which is right on the beach near Santa Barbara, and also at the Californian Hotel, which is in a great area to explore on foot or by bike. The entire Central California Coast – and Montecito in particular – has a very Mediterranean vibe; from the beautiful weather, to the flowers that 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 love to take my kids for walks and talk. Padaro Beach, which is closer to Carpinteria and Summerland, is another favorite of mine and a great place to watch dolphins and seals frolic. Santa Barbara Beach is much busier and more commercial, but it’s also a hit with action-loving kids, and you can take a whale-watching excursion from the main harbor here, which is a good way to discover the coast and islands. Beyond the beaches there is Lotusland – the magnificent 37-acre estate that once belonged to 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 as it is suitable for people of all skill levels. You can walk to the hot springs and slather yourself in mud, which is said to heal and detoxify – or you can just go and have a wonderful brunch under the lemon trees at nearby San Ysidro Ranch. The historic property was damaged by fire in 2017 and then by landslides in 2018, but it’s been faithfully rebuilt and the setting and food are pure California. One thing I will say about hiking: there are bears, rattlesnakes and mountain lions here, so never go alone!
Fresh food is at the heart of everything in Montecito, and with so many surrounding farms growing amazing artichokes and avocados, it’s no surprise. You’ll find freshly squeezed juice almost everywhere, including the Santa Barbara Farmer’s 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 looks like old Hollywood, with very American cuisine. My order is an excellent steak and a Mr Lucky, which is a combination of tequila, St Germain and lime juice, with a touch of salt. They are super powerful, so be careful…
Montecito is more about eating than shopping, but for a cooler mix of fashion labels — and the flowy, laid-back pieces that work well here — there’s Diani in Santa Barbara. My favorite store is still Field + Fort in nearby Summerland. You’ll find everything here from backgammon sets to antiques and garden furniture, and I also highly recommend eating out at their cafe, Feast.
We’ll often take day trips to Santa Ynez – a small town just up the hill – for lunch at SY Kitchen, or Los Olivos, known for its wineries and tasting rooms. Stay for lunch at nearby Bell’s, which is a totally relaxed kind of California French bistro but holds a Michelin star. In general, people are just happy to be here in this beautiful part of the world, which makes everyone a little nicer.