TRAVEL: Santa Barbara’s Simpson House-A Welcomed Escape from LA

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Santa Barbara’s always been dear to me. After graduating from UCSB, I quickly realized that I couldn’t afford to live there, so the next best thing is visiting. There are many beach communities on the rise as you go north from Los Angeles, but there’s something special about Santa Barbara that seems to set the pace for every other beachside community.

On this visit, we opted for the luxurious Simpson House, ( one of the few Five Diamond properties in Santa Barbara. Even with the recession, this place was busy, and for good reason. Erected in 1874, it’s a sight to behold, providing many amenities that really distinguish it from similar properties in the area. No buffet breakfasts here. Sit down and be prepared to be spoiled. Your name is even printed on the morning menu. Every evening, a dazzling array of appetizers and selections from local wineries are on hand to enjoy. This is a great place to relax and unwind, and The Simpson House provides a welcomed escape from all things urban.

Hayloft room, living room.

We stayed in the Hayloft room, set back from the main house among a web of sprawling oaks. From our patio deck, the foliage basks you in shade, as sunlight winks at you through the branches. Woodpeckers play peek a boo by the fountain, pausing briefly for a sip from the birdbath, before they’re on their way again. Adirondack chairs partner in pairs over an expansive lawn, with the emerald hues of the grasses spreading out like a cool green blanket. The tall hedges block out the din of the neighborhood, giving you a tranquil setting to park your thoughts, moods and dreams.

Steps away from property, you’ll find the Alice Keck Memorial Gardens, an optimal pedestrian escape with ducks and turtles punctuating the ponds. Meander through the many paths and let nature distract and embrace you.

Ostrich Land in Solvang; Alice Keck Memorial Gardens.

There are many fine restaurants in Santa Barbara, but one of the ones recommended by the Simpson House was the Downey’s,( a landmark in Santa Barbara since 1982. Ruth Reichl  put Downey’s on the map with her review in Gourmet, but the style and finesse of this restaurant hasn’t change much over the years.

Not only does John Downey continue to put his stamp on this charming place, but sous chef Felipe Uriarte, who has been with them since his days as a dishwasher, has evolved into a culinary master himself. Look at the walls, graced with the fine oil paintings of Liz Downey herself, and let these picturesque landscapes take you to the countryside of any pristine location, adding to the ambiance of this lovely place.

The food here is refined and elegant. Pace yourself and you indulge in some of Santa Barbara’s finest fare.

Los Olivos wineries; Downey's restaurant.

Beyond Santa Barbara, you can visit the Sideways territories north of the city, which include a plethora of wineries, in places like Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and other points north. Two of our favorite vintages included a Babcock Chardonnay Grand Cuvee (2008) from Lompoc, ( and the Brander Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (2007) from the Santa Ynez Valley.

If missions are your thing, you can’t ignore the Santa Barbara Mission, with its sprawling grounds and rose gardens. Kids will enjoy a stop at Ostrich Land near the ever-popular Solvang, to feed the many feathered critters.

Lunch was in order, but sadly, the Hitching Post wasn’t open so, we headed to an old standby for Anderson’s Split Pea Soup. (

This kitschy place belongs on the hit list for Huell Howser, but you can’t argue with the soup. It’s divine.

Even with the economy still stuttering, it’s important to get away and recharge. It’s easy to do in Santa Barbara, a mere two hours away from LA.

Mary McGrath is a freelance writer and photographer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in many publications including Newsweek, Copley Newspapers, and the LA Times. ( or

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.