Peachhead™ Approved Vacations: Franciscan Inn – Santa Barbara
I have never been to the Santa Barbara Zoo so we decided to visit there for a few days. We took the coast down (got a little lost) and lo and behold, we ended up at the Camarillo Outlets …lucky us. I found out that if you have a AAA card you can get a discount booklet at the Managers office. It saved me a bunch of money so if you are planning on buying a lot, stop by and pick up your discount book. Once we finished our shopping we were back on the road again and arrived in Santa Barbara in 45 minutes. We went straight to our hotel, which is a cute little inn called The Franciscan Inn . Originally a Spanish-style ranch house from the 1920’s, the owners have transformed the property into a modern and comfortable inn. The Franciscan Inn offers 53 beautifully decorated rooms and suites designed to meet a wide range of styles and budgets. We got the Santa Barbara suite which has a large living room with 2 queen beds and a fold out couch and then a separate small bedroom with a queen bed. The hotel has a little pool that is 8 ft deep (but it was too cold for us to try it out). The hotel serves warm chocolate chip cookies at 3:30 and in the morning they have a complimentary continental breakfast that includes croissants or muffins (the chocolate muffins were to die for), bagels, cheeses, and coffee and hot chocolate. “Aunt Carol” made sure everyone was well taken care of. The hotel has complimentary wireless internet but it did not work very well when I was there. Luckily there is a Hot Spot nearby.
After checking in we wanted to explore Santa Barbara and what better way than on the Land Shark Tour? It is a bus than converts to a boat, so you explore Santa Barbara by land first and then end up in the ocean…pretty cool. They drove around the streets of Santa Barbara and talked about the history of Santa Barbara (the guide was quite humorous). Then the bus converted into a boat and we went in the water. While we were in the water we saw a group of seals (the girls loved this). After our tour we stopped at the Ty Warner Sea Center on Stearns Wharf. At the Sea Center visitors can enjoy interactive exhibits and a live shark touch pool. Children can crawl through a 1,500-gallon tidepool tank to see ocean life from a different perspective. My girls had fun touching the sharks and starfish. There is even a little puppet theatre where the kids can put on a puppet show.
For dinner we went to Endless Summer Bar-Café at the Santa Barbara Harbor. This is a very beachy restaurant with surfboards decorating it. What was interesting is that every board has a story. The restaurant has a great view of the harbor and they have 2 covered yet open air patios, called “Lanais,” which are great for families. The south Lanai has two outdoor pool tables that the kids can enjoy while you enjoy your meal. They also have a popcorn machine that my girls loved and a juke box where they had fun picking songs. There is another restaurant called Chucks Waterfront Grill that is owned by the same owners as Endless Summer Bar-Cafe. So if you are looking for a casual atmosphere you can dine at Endless Summer but order off of either the Endless Summer menu or Chuck’s Waterfront Grill menu, where they have a great selection of steak, seafood, and sandwiches. We had the filet and it was really good. They have a kids' menu with a great selection, including grilled chicken, which Jasmine loved. They also had a great Caesar salad and the best dessert called Death by Chocolate (homemade Bavarian dark chocolate pie with an Oreo cookie crust served with raspberry sauce and a white chocolate hatchet) “to die for”…yum!!!!! My server Ashley was a sweetheart. I also loved how one of the servers was wearing a shirt that said “The bathrooms are downstairs, down the hall, and to the right” on the back. My girls were able to find the restroom without asking for directions after reading her shirt. This is a great restaurant for dinner or just drinks…and they even have a happy hour. Be sure to take the elevator to the top floor to check out the incredible view from the top.
After dinner we walked around State Street; stores were closing but we had time to go to a couple of stores and then of course the book store…great way to end the day.
For breakfast we went to Sambos. This restaurant has been here since 1957. It is now owned by Sam’s grandson, Chad Stevens. It does get crowded, so get there early; however, their service was superb and the food was very good. They also have a kids' menu. It is located right across from the beach so if you want to sit outside you can people watch or look at the ocean.
Next we headed to Santa Barbara Zoo. I had never been there before. I was in for a very nice surprise. It is a smaller zoo than what I am used to, very shaded and green…quite enjoyable. They have easy-to-follow signs with pictures to find your favorite animals. The best part of the day was the girls got to feed the Baringo Giraffes…I have never seen that before. It costs $4.00 per person but it was very cool….they have the longest tongues. There is also the barnyard where you can pay $2.00 for food and feed the sheep. They even have a cute play area (The Kallman Family Play Area) where the kids can pretend to be a spider and climb through the web or a dinosaur being hatched out of an egg. There is also a train ride that circles the perimeter of the zoo.
After the zoo we took a ride along the bike bath on a single surrey from Wheel Fun Rentals . All 3 of us were able to sit on the front seat and Amber had fun driving the bike with the “steering wheel”. We had a blast riding along the beach for an hour.
Next we went on a sailing cruise with Sunset Kidd Sailing Cruise. What a beautiful way to spend the day. It is a sailboat that was once a private boat and then converted into a Coast Guard Certified 18 passenger inspected vessel. So while most tourist boats take up to 45 passengers, this boat only takes up to 18 passengers. This is also not one of those tours where they talk a lot and tell you details about every boat/restaurant/house you pass. It is for those who really want to enjoy life on the water and experience sailing….you just hang back and relax on the water…it was so soothing and comforting. The Captain, Dennis Longaberger, takes great pride in his boat and seeing others enjoy it. Near the end of the cruise it got windy and they brought out blankets for us (so dress in layers). They have three sails a day…11:00 calmest, quietest (best for families with kids), 2:00 (windier, faster), 4:00 (sunset cruise).
After our sail we were hungry so we walked around State Street and found the Wine Bistro owned by Pierre Lafond. Happy hour started at 4:30 so we went in for a late lunch/early dinner since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast (who has time to eat J). They were very accommodating and even made a grilled chicken which was not on the menu for Amber. They also have a kids' menu as well. I had their cheese plate which was really good and one of the largest ones I have seen.
After dinner we visited Maya’s Chocolate for a chocolate tasting. Wow….the chocolates were so incredible. I was amazed to have one of my chocolates with salt on it. I knew I loved salt with my chocolate but never thought about it being right on the chocolate. We learned a lot about how chocolate is made. I even bought a bar of chocolate that is dark chocolate/bacon (imagine eating chocolate chip pancakes with bacon)…yup my chocolate bar can be my breakfast. Maya has a love for chocolate and loves to share it (and we loved sharing it with her). After eating the large varieties of chocolate we took a walk down State Street and started our back-to-school shopping.
Our last morning we visited The Natural History Museum. The first room we walked into was the Robot Zoo where the kids had fun with all of the hands-on activities. We then explored all of the other exhibits, which include mineral and gems, mammals (the animals look so real), the Bird Hall and more. There is also a Nature Trail that you can explore before you leave. Great picture settings.
When we finished the Natural History Museum we visited the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardenwhich is nearby. When we first walked in I was blown away at the view….it was so incredibly picturesque (be sure to bring your cameras). It is approximately a 1 mile hike to do a complete loop. It was absolutely beautiful….we started to the right and got a bit confused as to how to continue the loop…we ran into a couple who told us we could easily cross the creek (which my girls loved) so we were able to finish the loop. It was a very easy hike (just wear tennis shoes; I made the mistake of wearing sandals and kept getting little rocks in my shoes).
I had only been to Santa Barbara once before and I had not realized how many fun and educational things there are to do with the kids. It was an easy drive from Los Angeles and one I can’t wait to do again.
I am looking forward to visiting Santa Barbara again soon. It is a great place to visit with your family. I would do many of these same activities again, especially if I was visiting with someone who was seeing Santa Barbara for the first time (or the first time in a long time, like me). This trip was arranged for me and my food, accommodations, and activities were taken care of in order for me to facilitate this review. I was not compensated for this review, and this review contains my honest opinions.