Five Things To Do In…Santa Barbara

Scenic Santa Barbara offers beautiful landscapes, magnificent sunsets and many great things to do while visiting the “American Riviera.”

Santa Barbara, California, is rich in history – from the Chumash Indians who inhabited this coastal area more than 6000 years ago, to the Spanish soldiers and missionaries who came in the 1700s, to the silent film industry that made Santa Barbara the hotspot for film production in the early 1900s. (Humble brag: many silent film stars frequented Rancho Oso, including Charlie Chaplin! Rancho Oso features teepees, safari tents, covered wagons, and cozy cabins.)

Today, Santa Barbara remains a hot spot – but now its about the beautiful landscape, the magnificent sunsets and all the great things to do here in the “American Riviera!” Here are just five don’t miss things to do in SB:

  1. Visit Chumash Painted Cave Historic Park: At this small park outside of Santa Barbara, visitors can view actual cave paintings created by the Chumash Indians thousands of years ago using a palette created from earth pigments including charcoal and limonite. Located inside a cave in the Santa Ynez Mountains, the drawings are protected by a grate so viewing may be during daylight hours.

    Chumash_PaintedCave
    Chumash Painted Cave Historic Park outside of Santa Barbara.
  2. The Old Mission in Santa Barbara was founded in 1786 and is one of the longest, continuously operating missions in California. The church that currently stands is actually the fourth built here and was constructed between 1815 to 1820. Its classic Greco-Roman design is said to be taken from the style of the architect Vitruvius, whose Roman structures date to 27 BC. Several different tours of the Mission can be taken that include both self-guided and docent-guided – check out santabarbaramission.org for details.
  3. Bask in the beauty of the gardens of Lotusland – a 37-acre estate of the late opera singer Madame Ganna Walska that contains 25 distinct gardens open to the public. The gardens were designed to always have something in bloom year-round, but if you’re specifically interested in the lotuses, visit in July and August. LotusFest! 2020 is currently planned for June 28.

    Water Garden at Lotusland
  4. Does anyone remember the 2004 Oscar-nominated film Sideways about a guys’ road trip to Santa Barbara wine country? If you’re a fan of the film, or a just a fan of the wine, you can follow the itinerary of the film’s main characters by downloading “Sideways-The Map” from santabarbara.com. Or, you can just choose to take one of many wine tours offered in Santa Barbara that include a Cupcake and Wine tour (our favorite!), a Wine and Bike Tour, or the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Tour. Visit www.winetours-santabarbara.com for all the fun details.

    Wine tours are a popular choice across Santa Barbara vineyards, along with hiking trails along the Santa Ynez mountains.
  5. Get Out and Hike: the weather is almost always accommodating for a lovely day hike in Santa Barbara and planetware.com has very nicely put together a quick list of 10 Top-Rated hikes (www.planetware.com/california/santa-barbara-hiking-trails-us-ca-72.htm) for some ideas. Inspiration Point, while rocky and steep, is considered a moderate hike, and hikers say is worth the view. If you want a glimpse of the harbor seals at the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary, consider hiking the flat trail at the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve. A pup-friendly trail would be Rattlesnake Trail. Shaded, thanks to the oaks and sycamore trees, the trail provides great views and is also popular with birders!
Western cabins at Rancho Oso in Santa Barbara, CA.

While working your way through this list of things to do in Santa Barbara, be sure to double up on fun by staying in a teepee, covered wagon, safari tent, or cozy cabin at Rancho Oso! You’ll also have the opportunity to do some horseback riding, right onsite.

Forest Bathing – No Water Required!

Forest Bathing is the latest way to go off grid and absorb the benefits of nature.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a boom in technology that plunged the average, everyday person into the digital world, resulting in what could be called screen-time addiction. During that time, the use of home computers, hand-held video games, and portable pocket-sized devices for our viewing and listening pleasures became the norm rather than the exception.

So, it’s no wonder that in the early 1980s, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries began to promote the practice of shinrin-yoku to encourage people to spend time in nature. Shinrin-yoku translates to “forest bathing,” which is fast becoming a popular way to go off grid and absorb the benefits of nature.  ­

Studies have shown plenty of positive health benefits of forest bathing. It reduces levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. It also has been proven to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, boost energy levels, and provide more sound sleep.  Plus, you don’t necessarily need to do anything strenuous – simply bathe in the natural surroundings and be present in the very moment!

Come stay with us and enjoy the nearby forests and take the plunge (no bathtub necessary) to see why forest bathing is making such a big splash these days.

The Deschutes National Forest is just minutes from the yurts and cabins at Bend-Sunriver. Bask in the beauty of the soaring trees, which include Douglas firs, Ponderosa pines, Western larch, and White pines. There are roughly 76 moderate trails in the 1.8 million acres that comprise the forest. Waterfalls, wildlife, and mountain views add to your bathing pleasure!

Safari Tents at Rancho Oso in Santa Barbara, CA.

If you’re planning a trip to Santa Barbara to stay in a teepee, tent, covered wagon, or cabin at Rancho Oso, you’ll be happy to know California’s Los Padres National Forest is conveniently less than 10 miles away and provides the perfect forest bathing venue. Coming in at approximately 1.9 million acres, Los Padres has over 1000 miles of trails and is home to magnificent coastal redwoods, pine and fir trees as well a variety of oak tree species, including Blue Oak and California Black Oak. Oh, and Pfeiffer Beach is also located within the forest so you can actually get wet while forest bathing here!

The Tuxbury Tiny House Village

The Tuxbury Tiny House Village in South Hampton, New Hampshire, has two nearby options for forest bathing: Cowden State Forest and Powwow River State Forest. While a short drive away, about an hour and a half to be exact, this puts you smack dab in the middle of the White Mountain Forest with plenty of hemlock, pines, and spruce trees to bathe in. Fun fact, the state of New Hampshire is the second most forested state in the US with roughly 81 percent of forest land, so everywhere you look, there’s an option to forest bathe!

Cabins at Tranquil Timbers in Sturgeon Bay, WI.

Take a trip to Wisconsin’s Door County and you’ll find yourself surrounded by forest lands, including Baileys Harbor Boreal Forest and Wetlands. A stay at Tranquil Timbers is a great way to get your daily dose of forest bathing. Baileys is home to spruce, cedar, birch, and hemlock trees as well as a bevy of birds including warblers and merlins who can add the soundtrack to bath time.

A Sunny Southern Cali Kind of Stay

A cozy cabin at Pio Pico, near San Diego.
A cozy cabin at Pio Pico, near San Diego.

Make your winter months as sunny as possible and head to southern California to explore the area. Daytime temperatures tend to hover around 68 degrees and the sun is out more than it’s not! There are places to make a home base while you visit the known and lesser known attractions in the Golden State.

Los Angeles: First, book a stay in a cozy cabin at Soledad Canyon and then get ready to check out the area that draws more than 48 million visitors each year.

Of course, many people flock to LA to see the stars of the human variety rather than the celestial kind. You may want to combine a hike in Runyon Canyon with your star-search efforts as this a is favorite spot for the exercise-minded celebrity. Another spot to see stars in their everyday life is The Grove, an LA shopping mecca and the adjacent Original Farmers Market. Whether you see the stars or not, these are all worthy expeditions while in Tinseltown.

Cabin interior at Soledad Canyon, near Los Angeles.
Cabin interior at Soledad Canyon, near Los Angeles.

Other LA attractions include the Griffith Observatory for celestial stargazing, the Santa Monica Pier, and Huntingon Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. And, if you want to feel like it’s winter in all the sunshine, visit Pershing Square’s Holiday Ice Rink, located in the Financial District of the city. The Square will also host a Winter Holiday Festival on December 7, complete with LA’s version of snow!

San Diego: Start by making a reservation to stay in a cabin or cottage at Pio Pico, which is a perfect location thanks to its proximity to San Diego proper. San Diego has beaches, the Pacific Ocean, museums, galleries, a world-class zoo, lots of history, and a boatload of outdoor fun to be had.

The San Diego Zoo consistently ranks as one of the top zoos in the world. With more than 3,500 rare and endangered animals, including gorillas, polar bears, and koala bears, this is definitely not your basic zoo. Visitors can enjoy a guided bus tour through the zoo or see it from above on the zoo’s Skyfari Aerial Tram.

Make a stop at the zoo as part of your San Diego Hop-on Hop-off Trolley tour which also makes stops at Old Town State Historic Park, which is considered the Jamestown of the Pacific; the city’s historic Gaslamp Quarter and Balboa Park.

Santa Barbara: Choose from a cozy cabin, teepee, or covered wagon at Rancho Oso and then head out to explore this charming California town known for its architecture and history.

A safari tent at Rancho Oso, near Santa Barbara.
A safari tent at Rancho Oso, near Santa Barbara.

One of the neat things about Santa Barbara is its proximity to the Channel Islands National Park, an archipelago of five islands. A great way to explore the Park and the islands is through the Santa Barbara Adventure Company (www.sbadventureco.com). There are all kinds of adventures waiting on the Channel Islands including snorkeling, sea cave exploration, hiking and whale watching.

A great way to get to see the beautiful architecture of the city is to take one of the weekend walking tours, offered Saturday and Sunday, through the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara (afsb.org) Tours begin at 10 a.m. and last approximately two hours.

And again, if you want to experience a bit more of a winter feeling in this sunny climate, don’t miss the “snow” events at the town’s Paseo Nuevo outdoor shopping center where “snow” fills the evening skies through December 31. There is also holiday entertainment including carolers, choirs, and Santa himself!

Glamping – It’s all the Rage!

Yurt • Circle M RV & Camping Resort

It may have become official when the word was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2018, but “glamping” has quietly become quite trendy over the past several years. The word itself it’s a combination, or portmanteau, if you will, of glamour and camping. The concept is simple, combine luxury amenities and accommodations with the outdoor activity of camping, and voila, you’re glamping.

But why has it become such a big thing in the last few years?  Simply put, American’s are looking to combine two of their favorite things – relaxing, and being outdoors with the caveat of making it less stressful when it comes to the accommodations part. No more making sure you arrive before dark so you can see all the tent poles, or waking up with an aching back which may wreak havoc on daytime activities like hiking and canoeing. According to a market research study done by Arizton, the glamping market will reach roughly $1 billion by 2024 in the U.S. Glamping is here to stay!

Glamping certainly amps up an outdoor experience in many ways. Accommodations for glamping are designed to give you the maximum amount of luxury, while staying true to the concept of communing with nature. What today’s glamper is looking for is camping amenities that include unique and quality sleeping options, onsite private kitchens and bathrooms, and a location that is near major attractions but still provides that “off the beaten path” feeling, while not sacrificing resort amenities and facilities.

Yurt Yosemite Lakes Groveland, CA

Of course, whether your camp or glamp, the benefits are still the same. The reduction in stress levels when you go off grid and spend time outside is tremendous.

So, how do you glamp?

First off, unique accommodations such as yurts, cabins, teepees and tiny houses are considered glamping accommodations. Yurts are spacious, and typically can accommodate queen-sized beds, bathroom suites with showers and kitchenettes. Similarly, cabins provide ample space for more luxurious amenities and plenty of space to relax and enjoy your camping company. Teepees are unique, and well, just plain cool. As for the tiny houses, these little darlings are so well-appointed they feel just like home.

Location is also a factor for your outdoor foray to be considered glamping. To be glamping-worthy, your campground should have clean, accessible bathrooms (if your accommodations do not provide private bathrooms), electric hook-ups, onsite amenities like pools and laundry rooms and should be pet-friendly (after all, if you’re a pet-lover, you wouldn’t consider adventuring without your four-legged bestie along for the ride.) Access to recreation should also be available, whether at the location or nearby.

Horses RanchoOso Photo By JulieVader

Some Petite Retreats glamping locations to consider would include:

Yosemite Lakes (Groveland, CA) – Check off access to recreation with Yosemite National Park just up the road, and the campground is pet friendly. As for accommodations, check out the yurts here.

Rancho Oso – The scenery surrounding the campground, which includes Los Padres National Forest and the Santa Ynez River, provides relaxing vibes, while the teepees are ultra-cool for bedding down after a day spent horseback riding or hiking. And yes, pets are welcome.

Mt. Desert Narrows (Bar Harbor, ME) – The rugged east coast location, proximity to Acadia National Park, the cozy cabin accommodations, and the pet friendly attitude make this campground a glamping possibility.

Other items that can make you a glamper include interesting menu items other than traditional camping fare that can be created over your campfire or camp kitchen, fun cocktails, or mocktails, to relax after the day’s events, cozy blankets and chairs to relax in, and aromatics or incense to keep things smelling fresh!

Sunset • Mt Desert Narrows Camping Resort

Check out other Petite Retreat locations and get your first glamping experience under your belt. You don’t want to be left out in the cold on this trend!