Let’s face it, we cover Santa Barbara quite a bit in this space. And with good cause. Like Palm Springs to the east and San Diego to the south, it’s a welcoming destination within about 90 minutes, which is about how long it takes to clear one’s head of the daily grind. Best of all you can just hop on a train. On my latest excursion, I met a group of co-workers just getting away for the day. Personally, that seems a rather hurried itinerary, so I packed a bag. Besides, why would I want to leave town just as the sun is going down?
If it’s been a while since you’ve been, you’re gonna love what they’ve done with the place. You know that during Covid, they shut down downtown State Street to vehicle traffic, well, that’s still the case. I’d suggest that all they need to do now is rip out the pavement, but I’ll confess there’s something almost spiritual about rolling your bag from the Amtrak station, down the middle of State and popping into an open-air joint where there’s a guy playing piano to grab an afternoon cocktail and acclimate. And if that’s your deal, too, you’re going to want to check out Wylde Works.
These guys describe themselves as musicians, artists, beekeepers and fermenters. Oh, and get this: The place is dog-friendly. There’s an illustrated children’s story lining a wall, along with barrels of what I assume is their dry-hopped honey mead. The Santa Barbara Sunset is their most popular cocktail, made of course from honey spirits, with a kick of fresh-squeezed lime and blood orange. Set your bag down and enjoy on a leather sofa as you watch the foot traffic go by.
Anyway, where are you staying? Lots of nice places. Take a right on Canon Perdido, head down to Garden and it’s a quick left into Palihouse. It’s a little cold for the pool this time of year, but it makes for a nice view. And be back at 5 for a glass of wine and some friendly hellos with your neighbors. Making it back by 5 could be problematic, however, if you happen to wander over to The Good Lion in the late afternoon and discover the magical elixirs they’re mixing. I generally like to keep some cards close to my vest, but I’ll just let you in on a tip: This is the best cocktail joint I’ve come across in Santa Barbara.
Oh, you’re staying at the downtown Courtyard Marriot? This is a nice section of State, in the 1600 block, just out of range of the hustle and bustle of the rowdy college crowd, but an easy walk. The brains behind this reconceived hotel is Andrew Firestone, who you may remember from “The Bachelor,” and co-founder with Jess Parker of Santa Barbara-based hospitality development company StonePark Capital. These guys transformed the 122-room pad with ocean-facing and mountain-facing balcony vistas. Each room includes a mini-fridge and coffee makers.
Take a dip in the whirlpool, get cozy by a firepit or take in the view from a rooftop deck. And while it’s still a bit chilly for a plunge, the 72-degree sun is pretty sweet for sunbathing. Oh no, a Lapse in Judgment (Aperol, creme de peche, rosemary simple syrup, lemon and Allagash white ale) and you fell asleep poolside. Not to worry, throw on some clothes, the restaurant is right beside you. And that would be St. Remy.
This may well have been the reason you came. You’ve already had a Lapse in Judgment, so try something different. How about you have A Fever Dream in a Mexican Airport (blanco tequila, ancho reyes, lemon, creme de cacao, and sprinkled with Mexican chocolate). I can’t help but wonder if there’s a story behind these cocktail titles. The wine list is a well-curated showcase of local vintners such as One Stone Cellars, a winemaker that gives back to local and global organizations; in addition to some labels from Spain, Argentina, and for you Pinot Noir fanciers, Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Saint Remy features a casual, retro-inspired design that just feels chic and stylish. Dine indoor or al fresco. The menu is, of course, locally sourced coastal cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. The burrata and grilled peach salad is Santa Barbara on a plate. And you’ll be blown away by the crispy short rib hummus. The short rib is braised in sherry, and includes caramelized onion, beef jus, and is served with crunchy strips of crispy lavash with pine nuts.
After dinner, it’s time for some entertainment. Now, everyone’s got their own idea of a good time. I asked a few young ladies on the street (on the street, not of the street) where the fun was at and they recommended the Sandbar followed by an up-and-down look at me and pregnant pause, which I filled in immediately with the qualifier, “But I’m old.” Saved me the price of a watered-down cocktail and jockeying with barely 20-somethings at the bar.
Across the street is something more your speed, too. The Red Piano is a place for people who remember the song before it got covered, they know the lyrics, they might even sing along. It’s a vibrant atmosphere and the drinks are stiff. I happened to accidentally crash a party being held by the good people at Village Properties, who were beyond cordial and made me feel right at home. That’s the feeling I went to bed with that night… Santa Barbara hospitality.
Keep in mind, the trains back to L.A. and parts south are a different story than the trains up–more business-oriented, and you don’t want to be late. Then again, breakfast at Alessia Patisserie & Cafe is worth missing a train for. The duck confit hash is ideal, whether you’re nursing a hangover, or aren’t. That hash includes crispy potato, poached egg, hollandaise, pickled Fresno chile and cilantro. And their coffee is sublime.
Now, we’ve probably missed a train or two, and we’re pushing it, unless you’re up for another night. I recommend a rideshare. So, grab your coffee and get your butt back to lower State Street.
What? You’re still here? No judgment. But it’s dinner time and you’re going to need to eat. Maybe somewhere near the station this time. You’re in luck, there’s an incredible steakhouse about a block away: Rare Society. This a Rat Pack kind of venue. To step inside is to step back in time. I’m going to recommend one of the two boards, which is a selection of choice cuts from the chef, and provides a good sampling.
What surprised me most about Rare Society, apart from its existence, was their thoroughly modern cocktails. I mean, steak joint, you’re thinking a Beefeater martini that’s half vermouth, right? Nope. Take a quick peek at the menu, and you’ll understand right away, these folks are doing some cutting-edge work behind the bar.
It’s late. Your train has left the station; your ship has sailed. C’est la vie! Just repeat after me: “I’m going back to Pali… Pali… Pali.”
A Santa Barbara Overnighter