Santa Barbara lies two hours north of hectic Los Angeles, where life often seems so fast-paced and hurried, it's easy to lose sight of what important among the bustle of cars, people, and sprawling landscape.
Santa Barbara is different. Only a short drive up the coast, it seems separated from the more populous parts of California with its breathtaking scenery. Pristine beaches are one of the biggest draws, with jagged-edged cliffs and smooth, sandy shores.
The architecture is also what draws so many people to the region, with its famed Santa Barbara mission, the ubiquitous red-tiled roofs dotting the city, and the hilltops where amazing mansions overlook the coasts.
Santa Barbara is also home to a prestigious public university, UC Santa Barbara, where thousands of students, faculty and staff reside alongside the town's residents. The university brings an eclectic mix of laid-back teens, surfer chicks, hard-core partiers, athletes, and of course, the reserved and studious.
While most of the Arab population in California tends to be concentrated in both Los Angeles and San Francisco's surrounding vicinities, the university is a good draw for international students from the Middle East as well as second or third-generation Arabs. While there are a few supermarkets and stores that cater to this population, there aren't as many options as there would be in, say, Los Angeles.
However, Santa Barbara is known for its unusually diverse population and dining choices. One can see just on one block, the various offerings that most in Santa Barbara have become so accustomed to. Just one street can have restaurants ranging from Mediterranean, Japanese, Mexican, Peruvian, Indian and Polish, just to name a few.
There are certain things that are "must-see" when visiting the city. One is to take some time to stroll the downtown area of the city, which not only has great shopping indoors, but often has outdoor bazaars that sell trinkets from all over the world.
Another is to pick one of the beaches, and simply stroll along, letting the great view sink into your bones. After a nice walk, head over to La Super Rica, which has the some of the freshest, taste bud-approved Mexican food in all of the U.S. (It's even Julia Child approved.) The tortillas are all handmade, on the spot, and they have plenty of vegetarian options, even though they cater primarily to carnivores. The façade of the restaurant is nothing special, but there is always a line out the door just to get in, one of the few ways one can tell if a place is worth it.
Another option for visiting Santa Barbara is to visit the surrounding cities. There are many small towns tucked away just a few miles north of the city, one of the most picturesque being Solvang.
Solvang has long been known for its beautiful Danish architecture and kitsch, but it has some great restaurants and bakeries that churn out danishes as big as your head, and strong coffee and tarts. Going in the springtime is ideal, since that's when the town blooms and bursts with daffodils, and the weather is perfect.
Santa Barbara offers a lot to do, but it's primarily a place for rest and relaxation. It's a place that lets you unwind, savor some good food, and make new, easygoing friends. It's well worth visiting, and offers a lot to the traveler who has some extra time.