It’s About the Welcome

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It’s About the Welcome

I have realized the experience you’ll have in a port, city, or town is immediately revealed by the welcome received upon arrival.

In ports or cities that depend on tourism as a main income, expect to be greeted with various vendors peddling their goods.  The message is, “Give me your money,” at times, these people can be very aggressive.  Being wary of everyone in these ports, including the pickpockets, is important.  Think big capital cities such as Rome, Athens, London, and Cartagena, as well as resort towns like Cabo San Lucas and many Caribbean islands.

The big harbors are about business; they are huge, highly secured, and care little about cruise ship passengers other than they often have to provide customs services.  Such ports include Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, and even Cartagena.  Here, the port area is protected, and there is no welcome; passengers can navigate out of the port to their destination on their own.   In such ports, guests are protected from aggressive peddlers. This allows visitors to set the tone of their visit.  In these industrious ports, we find it best to stick with ship excursions that provide transportation and well-vetted excursion options.

Other ports are happy to see the cruise ship passengers and proudly welcome them to their city.  Often, they greet the ship with music, dancers, or a welcome committee of people focused on helping visitors enjoy their city.  They want people to love their city and offer entertainment assistance and advice.  Such was the case when we arrived in Santa Barbara.

 Santa Barbara – a welcoming city:

Santa Barbara is a quiet, beautiful, and carefully curated Spanish City nestled on the coast about 100+ miles north of Los Angeles.  It is a wealthy town on display with large mansions dotting the coastline and hillsides.  Santa Barbara wasn’t selling anything except their pristine reputation for the idyllic California coastal town. It was a bright, sunny day as we exited the lower decks onto the bobbing tender in the wind-stirred-up bay.

As we disembarked from the tender, we were greeted by about 3-5 nice women from the civic community group, who offered free maps, brochures, and answers to any questions.  “Can we help you with any directions or recommendations for the day?” they asked. Their smiles and friendliness were genuine.  They were proud of their city, history, and culture.  Their goal was for us to leave appreciating the beauty and hospitality of their town and maybe revisit it later.  They knew Santa Barbara had a unique story to tell and wanted us to learn and appreciate it.  This welcome set such a relaxed and interesting tone for the day.

 Bike Ride:

Bob and Danielle - ready to rideBob and I had chosen to start our day with an e-bike ride through the Santa Barbara and Montecito areas arranged using Viator.  Fresh air and sunshine were the backdrop of our day’s discoveries.  We arrived early at the “Mad Dog and Englishmen” bike shop in Montecito, a 10-minute Uber from the port.  Daniel greeted us with a typical Californian low-key, welcoming vibe.  “You’re the only two on the tour, so the morning is all yours.”  Wow, we lucked out again, I thought.  After getting fitted with our e-bikes and helmets, Daniel led us across the street to one of the many well-defined bike paths under the highway and down to the beach path.  Californians are proud of their bike and walking paths, prioritizing bikers, joggers, and walkers.  They are so polite about it, we found it a little unnerving.

At the start of the beach path, we stopped.  “See that mansion on the hill. That belongs to Ty Warner of Beanie Baby fame,” Daniel said.  He also owns the Four Seasons across the street, which is currently under renovation.  I asked if that was the only thing he was famous for, and Daniel replied, “That and some drama in a divorce and a few other things.”  Upon further research, Ty was never married but had a bad break-up with his girlfriend and partner. He was convicted in 2014 for tax evasion.  He paid a $53 million fine for failing to pay $5.6 million in taxes and was given a suspended two-year sentence.  He is currently 477th on the billionaire list.

We rode up the hill past his mansion guarded by gates and extensive lush landscaping, then down and around back onto the beach path.  Bob and I were starting to get the hang of using our gear shifts in conjunction with the power modes of the e-bike.  We found we still had to do some work, but the effects of wind and steep hills were much lessened with the power assist as long as we were in the right gear.

We headed down a long stretch of Santa Barbara’s beach, past a few interesting buildings.  Looking out at the ocean on my left, it was strange to see several large oil rigs sitting in the glistening sea and several homeless people sitting in the pristine green park on our right as workers pruned the palm trees.  Every city has its challenges, and clearly, Santa Barbara had theirs.  The wind was in our faces, making it chilly.  I sure wish I hadn’t taken my jacket off and planned to put it back on at our next stop.

Santa Barbara – The City

We stopped at a busy corner of the intersection of Cabrillo St. and State Street, the jewel of Santa Barbara.  Daniel said, “This is State Street, the main commerce street of Santa Barbara.  It was closed to traffic during COVID-19 so that the restaurants could serve in open-air seating areas on the street.  The City has left the upper part of State Street designated for pedestrian use only.  We’ll ride up the length of the street.”  As we rode along, we passed quaint shops and art galleries, local restaurants, and an occasional chain store disguised in code-enforced Spanish architecture.  I almost missed the Apple Store, but caught the logo in the window.  There were lots of pedestrians walking about, including one of the tour groups from the ship on a walking tour learning about the historic City Court House.

Daniel wasn’t much into talking about the city or its history.  He wasn’t acting as a tour guide but a bike guide responsible for covering the route and getting us back to the shop at the right time.  He stopped at a coffee shop at the top of State Street and asked if we had any questions or wanted a coffee.  We didn’t know enough about Santa Barbara to ask questions.  He did tell us about the various theatres, such as the Arlington, where the Santa Barbara film festival is hosted.  We weren’t worried too much about the city narrative as we were going on the ship’s included tour later in the afternoon and would undoubtedly be overwhelmed with historical and cultural information, so we just went with the flow and enjoyed the ride.

The Arcada Shopping Area

We headed back down State Street and stopped at the small Arcada shopping area, a series of narrow cobblestone streets with small shops and a fountainLa Arcada Shops-Santa Barbara Shopping at the intersection of the quaint streets.  “This is our turtle pond,” Daniel said, and sure enough, there was about a ten-foot wide fountain with statues of turtles with live turtles hanging out on them while the water splashed, entertaining a toddler nearby.  Of course, there was a Starbucks on the corner.

We walked our bicycles out of the courtyard area and to the corner, jumping on to ride the rest of the way down StateTurtle Closeup - La Arcada - Santa Barbara Street to the beach.  Along the way, we got a glimpse of life in Santa Barbara in January 2024.  A group of young people exited a restored theatre after a show, others window-shopped along the street, and others sipped coffee while enjoying the sunny, cool day with their friends.  We passed the Moxi, a famous children’s Museum, and the Courthouse, whose story we would learn about later, and finally arrived at Sterns Wharf.

 Sterns Wharf:

“This is Sterns Wharf,” Daniel said.  “It has a few restaurants, a fishing pier, and souvenir shops.” He didn’t seem inclined to take us out, so I asked, “Can we go out on it? I would love to grab a couple of souvenir magnets?”  After a warning that the pier would be very bumpy from the uneven wood planks, he happily agreed to take us out to the end of the pier.  We found a few fishermen at the end of the pier. Daniel explained, “The fisherman can bring their catch to that restaurant and get paid for it.  Sometimes, there are a lot of fishermen out here.”  After taking pictures, we headed back towards the souvenir shop.

Sterns Warf - Santa BarbaraThe bumpy wharf rattled our brains, but I managed to hang onto the bike and my two remaining brain cells.

I entered the souvenir shop and picked out two magnets that would remind me of our day.  One is a bicycle on the beach; the other is Sterns Wharf with an old woody car.  I approached the cashier, who looked at me and noticed my Viking jacket.  “Are you on that world cruise?” she asked.  “Yes, “I said.  “How long is it, and where are you going?”  I responded that it was 137 days, and we would go west to London when we arrived on May 9th.  At that moment, two other women entered the shop and overheard us talking.  “Oh my god, you are going around the world; that is so cool.”  Wow, I felt like a celebrity for a minute.  I answered their questions, gave them a card with this blog address, and invited them to follow us on our trip.

I walked out to the guys waiting and said, that was fun as we took off heading back the way we had come a few hours earlier.  The sun was shining from the west, now making the water shimmer.  It made me smile as we rode along with the wind at our back now.  As we rode away from the shore to round a Giraffes at the Santa Barbara Zoocorner near Ty’s place, Daniel stopped us.  “Look up the hill to the left,” he directed us.  “That is the Santa Barbara zoo up there; see the two giraffes between the trees?”  It took us a few minutes to see them between the trees, but sure enough, two giraffes were grazing on the tree leaves and walking around a bit.  More pictures, and we were off.  We had told Daniel we wanted to get back early, if possible, as we had to get an Uber back to the port for our afternoon bus tour. With that said, Daniel picked up the pace, and we were back to the shop in about 15 minutes of straight riding, navigating the switchback part of the trail without walking.  Bob and I were pretty proud we didn’t crash into the cement walls along this narrow trail area under the highway.  We said our goodbyes at the shop, thanked Daniel for a great morning, tipped him, and ordered an Uber.

The Viking Bus Tour:

We didn’t have much time as we arrived back in time for the afternoon tour.  Surprisingly, there were several busloads of people waiting.  We were hungry, but there was no time to grab a bite, which was good; we needed to take a break from our over-eating indulgence on the ship.

We boarded our bus and met Tim, our tour guide for the afternoon.  Tim was the opposite of Daniel; he was a resident of Santa Barbara and an ex-NPR executive who had done tours since his retirement.  He had his monologue down.  We took off, and Tim immediately began enlightening us about the city and its history.

Santa Barbara History:

(See the History and Culture tab for a more complete summary)

Close up of Santa Barbara ChurchOur first stop was the Santa Barbara Mission, built in the late 1700s by the Franciscan Monks in the name of the Patron Saint, Santa Barbara.  The bus made its way down very narrow streets and arrived at the pink sandstone mission, built by the indentured native Chumash Indians who had lived on the land peacefully for thousands of years.  As typical, along came the white man, conquering the perfectly happy Indians, stealing their land, and forcing them to follow their religion and culture.  Along with their guns and new God, the Spanish soldiers brought disease that almost wiped out the Chumash tribe, killing all but about 200 of them—same story – different place.

The Santa Barbara earthquake of 1925:

The original town was built with Spanish influences, but an earthquake hit in 1925 and leveled the entire village.  Even in those days, Santa Barbara was a town frequented by the rich and famous.  The town fathers and wealthy residents set about rebuilding Santa Barbara, enforcing a strict building code ensuring the Spanish architecture would be rebuilt to restore the town’s former charm.  They enlisted the services of architect Jeff Shelton to help set design standards for the city and designed several significant structures in this style.

Over the years, many wealthy benefactors have contributed to the community with large endowments to build museums, parks, the famous courthouse, and more.  Famous residents have included Oprah, Katy Perry, Ellen DeGeneres, Lena Horn, Charley Chaplin, and many others I can’t remember.

The Santa Barbara Courthouse:

Time was tight, but Tim had the bus stop at the courthouse for us for a quick walk around.  He explained that it was built after the earthquake, with aSanta Barbara Court house theme of the sea, featuring statues of Neptune, as well as a famous tiled interior wall that depicted the town’s history, which we did not get to see.  A few more pictures, and we were on our way, which is good. My stomach was growling, and we were both getting a bit tired.

We headed back to the harbor.  The wind had picked up, and the waves in the bay were a bit bigger.  We saw our tender arriving in the distance as it floated like a cork on top of the sloppy water.  The line was long, and we were sure we would need to wait for the next tender. We were surprised when we all had a few spots to spare.

Summary:  Santa Barbara:  It’s all in the welcome:

After being warmly welcomed by several town representatives, we had a relaxing, fun day bike riding and taking the Viking tour in the afternoon to learn a bit about Santa Barbara’s history.  The Viking excursions, although touristy with their large buses and Viking lollipop signs, usually have interesting and well-educated guides worth listening to if you want to know about the history and culture of a town or area.  Our experience in Santa Barbara was a fun and refreshing one, and we’ll have fond memories of it for a long time.

Back on the ship, we settled in for a long 5-day cruise to Honolulu, HI.  The seas were a bit rough at times, but our ship handled them well, and we were kept busy by the many activities offered aboard the Viking.

 

 

Cruise excursions in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Highlights Duration: 2.50 Hours

Old Santa Barbara Mission, County Courthouse, and State Street — Discover two of Santa Barbara’s most picturesque landmarks and explore its vibrant downtown scene. Take a short drive from your pier to the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Known as the “Queen of the Missions” because of its exceptional beauty, this historic building was originally built by Spanish Franciscan monks in 1786. Pause for photographs of its grand double bell towers and verdant gardens set against a backdrop of the majestic Santa Ynez Mountains. After pausing in El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park for photos of the remnants of a late 18th-century Spanish outpost, continue to the County Courthouse. A palatial complex built in the Moorish style, its carved doors, wrought-iron balconies, giant murals, and imported tiles give it a unique old-world flair despite its 20th-century construction. Then, enjoy free time to browse the many specialty shops and independent boutiques that line State Street before returning to your ship.

Danish Solvang Duration: 4.50 Hours

Southern California City with Roots in Denmark — Embark on a scenic drive past verdant hillsides and sun-soaked vineyards to Solvang, nestled in the picturesque Santa Ynez Valley. This community was founded by Danish immigrants in 1911 and has grown over the following decades but still reflects its Danish heritage. Following a one-hour orientation tour, enjoy free time to explore at your own pace. Browse the many shops, admire the architecture—the half-timbered houses harken back to 16th-century Denmark—or see the replica of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue. Savor a taste of Denmark with a visit to a local restaurant, where you can purchase, at your own cost, an open-faced Danish sandwich or try a dessert called aebleskiver, a doughnut-like ball coated with powdered sugar and smothered in raspberry preserves.

Santa Ynez Valley Wine Tasting Duration: 6.00 Hours

Sample Award-Winning Vintages at Celebrated Wineries — Savor the Santa Ynez Valley’s finest vintages during exclusive tastings at two of its celebrated wineries. Embark on a scenic drive through the picturesque California countryside north of Santa Barbara en route to this fertile valley. Located between the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains, this region has long been celebrated for its viticulture. Pass rolling hills covered in orderly rows of grapevines while your knowledgeable guide describes the far-reaching effects that 1920s Prohibition had on wine production and viticulture. You will delight your palate at each vineyard, tasting award-winning wines at each winery. Learn proper tasting techniques and the basics of wine production as you breathe in the fresh air and sip on wines ranging from Syrahs to chardonnays. At your second stop, you will pair your sampling with a delicious picnic lunch at your second stop your motor coach and return to your awaiting ship.

The Reagan Presidential Library Duration: 6.00 Hours

Life and Times of President Ronald Reagan — Located on a hilltop in Simi Valley, the library and museum chronicles Reagan’s life, from his childhood in Illinois to his Hollywood career to his two terms in the White House. During your audio tour, you will have an opportunity to see a full-sized recreation of the Oval Office, a multi-colored piece of the Berlin Wall, and the actual Air Force One Boeing 707 used by Reagan during his time in office. View Reagan’s meticulously written note cards and listen to him describe, in retrospect, his famous series of meetings with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that helped bring an end to tender your tour,

Santa Barbara Architecture On Foot

The Unique Style of Local Architect Jeff Shelton — Join local architect Jeff Shelton on an insightful neighborhood walk to discover his unique designs. Describing his style as “asymmetrically symmetrical and a bit over the top,” Shelton marries whimsy with drama to seamlessly match the historic Mediterranean style of Santa Barbara. Stroll through and see several of his creations, such as the intriguing El Jardin house. This pueblo-inspired structure combines artful accents with bright ceramic tiles and winding stairs to create a building that is part of M. C. Escher and part of Dr. Seuss. Admire his green-colored Vera Cruz home, covered top-to-bottom in artwork, before venturing to the Ablitt Tower. This intriguing five-story residence sits on a 20-foot by 20-foot lot in the heart of Old Town, its white facade and artful accents at once dominating and complementing its surroundings. Afterward, you will walk back to your awaiting ship.

 

 

 

Santa Barbara: Its Storied History and Culture:

Santa Barbara, a picturesque city nestled along the central coast of California, boasts a rich history and vibrant culture that have shaped its identity over the centuries. Santa Barbara’s story is a captivating blend of diverse influences, from its indigenous roots to Spanish colonization and from Hollywood glamour to its present-day allure.

Indigenous Roots:

Long before European settlers arrived, the area now known as Santa Barbara was inhabited by the Chumash people. The Chumash thrived in this coastal region for thousands of years, establishing a sophisticated society with advanced maritime and trading practices. Their unique culture is reflected in the intricate rock art, artifacts, and shell middens that testify to their enduring presence.

Spanish Colonial Era:

In the late 18th century, Spanish explorers and missionaries ventured into California, bringing a new chapter in Santa Barbara’s history. In 1782, the Presidio of Santa Barbara was established as a military outpost to protect the Spanish interests in the region. Shortly afterward, the Mission Santa Barbara was founded, becoming the tenth of the California missions. The Spanish influence left an indelible mark on the city’s architecture, with red-tiled roofs and adobe structures defining its landscape.

Mexican Period and American Annexation:

As Mexico gained independence from Spain, Santa Barbara transitioned to Mexican rule. Political upheavals and land grants marked the era. However, in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo concluded the Mexican-American War, making California a part of the United States. The shift in sovereignty introduced a new wave of settlers, influencing the cultural fabric of Santa Barbara.

Victorian Era and the Railroad:

The late 19th century witnessed the arrival of the railroad, connecting Santa Barbara to the broader state and nation. This development fueled economic growth and tourism, drawing attention to the city’s Mediterranean-style architecture. Notable Victorian-era homes, like the Adamson-Benedict House and the Bellosguardo Estate, remind this period’s opulence.

Earthquake of 1925 and Rebuilding:

In 1925, disaster struck when a powerful earthquake razed much of Santa Barbara to the ground. The city emerged from the rubble, committed to rebuilding in a distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival style. The meticulous restoration efforts transformed Santa Barbara into a picturesque haven, earning it the moniker “The American Riviera.”

Hollywood’s Playground:

During the early-to-mid 20th century, Santa Barbara became a favored retreat for Hollywood celebrities seeking respite from the bustling film industry. The city’s charm and pristine beaches attracted luminaries like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, contributing to its allure as a glamorous getaway.

Contemporary Culture:

Santa Barbara’s cultural scene has evolved, with a thriving arts community, festivals, and events. The city hosts the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, drawing cinephiles from around the world. Museums such as the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Santa Barbara Historical Museum offer glimpses into the city’s diverse heritage.

Natural Splendor and Outdoor Recreation:

Beyond its cultural richness, Santa Barbara is renowned for its natural beauty. The Santa Ynez Mountains provide a stunning backdrop, while the beaches offer sun-soaked serenity. Residents and visitors alike enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, surfing, and wine tasting in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley.

Conclusion:

Santa Barbara’s history and culture are a tapestry woven with threads of indigenous legacy, Spanish colonization, Victorian opulence, Hollywood glamour, and contemporary vitality. The city’s ability to preserve its past while embracing the present has made it a timeless gem along California’s coastline. As Santa Barbara continues to evolve, it remains a testament to the enduring spirit that has defined it throughout the ages.