Find Your Summertime Oasis

The recent heat wave in the usually mild month of April portends sweltering weather come late summer. It got me thinking about a contingency plan should the mercury reach the triple digits. An evacuation drill was in order.

The safety bunker would need to be someplace reachable within a couple of hours’ drive lest we risk some kind of vehicular breakdown under the scorching sun, not to mention blowing the budget on petrol and air conditioning. It would need to be a coastal destination to ensure a cool ocean breeze, affording the luxury of spending time out of doors. And it would need to be pet- and family-friendly because who wants to leave their beloved pet/kid behind?

Using that equation, I’m sure you’ve probably come up with a half-dozen go-to locations, and if you tweaked it to your personal preferences – mountain air or desert oasis rather than ocean breeze, for instance – you’ll have even more fortresses in which to hunker down. As I do the math, the solution comes up Santa Barbara.

Afternoon Chardonnay in the Funk Zone (photo by Scott Bridges)

A few things to enjoy this spring include wine tasting in the Funk Zone. I like to enjoy a glass of estate-grown Chardonnay under the covered patio at the Pali Wine Co. Tasting Room, where the doggie can sip some water and the kid can enjoy some popcorn. Or take in some impressionism at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, which is showcasing a Van Gogh exhibit through May 22. Or grab a pizza and a pint at Institution Ale Co., where you can play cornhole right on the main drag, which has been converted to a promenade with al fresco dining and pedestrian travel. Caution: The Bad Scene imperial stout is over 12% ABV, so plan your day/life accordingly.

Given what I’m already shelling out in gas these days, and that this trip is not so much a vacation as a respite from the heat (as well as traffic, crowds, monotony, general city noise, ennui), I’ve chosen as my base of operations the town of Goleta, just a little farther up the road, a couple exits past the In-N-Out (ah yes, a landmark we’re all familiar with, and which also happens to be a central feature of this trip’s budget).

Dog and a beer: Auggie and Institution Ale’s Bad Scene imperial stout (photo by Scott Bridges)

Goleta is convenient to State Street (7.5 miles), Stearns Wharf (9 miles), Goleta Beach and Pier (2.5 miles), and El Capitan and Refugio state beaches (14 and 18.5 miles, respectively). It’s also a convenient starting point if you’re headed up to the Santa Rita Hills or Santa Ynez wine country or to spend a charming afternoon in Los Olivos or Solvang.

But I’ll be honest, there’s not a lot of places you’d stay in Goleta, which is a suburban outcropping of the city comprising retirees and priced-out-of-the-market-homebuyers. But there is one. It’s The Leta, which is obviously where I’m staying or why would I have mentioned it, right? You do you, that’s the ethos of this laid-back courtyard-style retreat with a surf culture-vibe and retro appeal.

You’re not likely to find a better charm-to-dollar value in Santa Barbara, so I’ll give you a brief rundown and spare you some research. The heart of the place is a resort-style pool surrounded by tall palms, which create that lovely tropical “whoosh” sound when the wind blows through them as you sip your poolside cocktail. On the far side of the pool is a lawn with cool games (including a giant Connect Four). The near side features the restaurant and a gardenesque dining patio with fire pits.

The restaurant is everything you’d expect of a California beach town – coastal California cuisine with local ingredients, including ocean-fresh seafood and sustainably sourced farm produce. The restaurant’s bar looks out over the patio and into the heart of the action, the pool. But if you’re looking for a cozier vibe, there’s a lounge on the other side of the lobby that’s more intimate and laid back. It has a patio to enjoy your cocktail under the sun or in the shade. Enjoy billiards and backgammon, premium tequila- and mezscal-based cocktails or some of the famous local craft beers or wines grown just up the road.

The Leta’s bar is a cozy surf shack. Margaritas, anyone? (Photo by Tim Weber)

If you roll with a tyke and a pooch and money’s an object, but you still require some luxuriousness, the above are some useful suggestions you’re going to want put in your phone.

Summer is coming. Stay cool, L.A.

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