Color me Barbara
Whenever I visit or revisit a place, especially for the second or third time, I try develop a living persona for that spot. Something I can consider three-dimensionally and five-sensorally too, alive and in high def. So far, my photographic sojourns have been about rediscovering California, especially the southern half, and embracing it. Coming to love it, the way I love New York, San Francisco and Paris, let’s say. It has taken a great deal of afterthought and effort, but I think I may be there. I may have found, on the Central California Coast, the ideal place for us to retire to some day.
This year, my third blogging, as you know, I am devoting my attention to ‘a beautiful life’ — not just for me, for everyone. I want to mull over this idea as a silken thread running through all my posts, somehow. At this point, I believe I have presented a pretty thorough overview of Los Angeles and its environs. But, there is another hub or sphere of influence that has less of the vibe of LA and more of Northern California. So, for example, Santa Paula and San Luis Obispo have got that more complex, nuanced, and ‘life is good’ sensibility than even Valencia where we live right now. Valencia is a planned community, affluent, manicured, staid, conservative and, well, hot, dry and boring.
I have come to the conclusion that one of the things that matters most to me is weather. I grew up with lots of it and four distinct seasons. I have nothing against blue skies and sunshine, but I don’t like having them all year long. You will never see me pining for the island retirement location. I have been to a lot of gorgeous tropical islands, like Jamaica, Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Santorini, Capri, Ibiza and of course Hawaii. But give me Martha’s Vineyard, Prince Edward, or Vancouver islands any day, over all of those. You are not going to find a more perfect place to live than Bermuda if you want white beaches, vivid blue, clean water, year round sun and warmth, and safety. But that is the last place I would live and I don’t plan to visit again. I get it. They are perfect for people who seek complete tranquility and no challenges or complexity whatsoever. You can get away with a one-season, minimalist wardrobe. Your food choices are limited and that takes one more decision off the table, literally.
Nope! I grew up in the City (The City) and a nearby four-season beach resort town. That was a great combo for someone with an intricate mind like me and one Geoffrey and I could never afford. Gone are the days when middle class people can live like that here or anywhere, as I have said elsewhere on this blog.
So, I decided to make it a dual mission to look for the right combination: a beach town with a university with a rich cultural life, excitement, lots to do, rain and cold weather at least some of the year (occasional snow would be nice, but let’s not get greedy here). California, north of Los Angeles, offers many choices. The issue of course is: money. The puniest house in California now costs around $500K. Get it at the beach and you can triple that.
So, when we were revisiting Santa Barbara this summer, we reminded ourselves of how beautiful life is there. For those who can afford it. When I say Santa Barbara, I am talking about Santa Barbara County, which includes, famously, Goleta, Carpinteria, Summerland, and Montecito as well as the city of Santa Barbara. All told, this makes for a major metropolitan area, one without blight and, I reluctantly admit, poverty. And that makes it the destination of choice for those well-heeled who want the ultimate in luxury living, a mild climate but one with moisture and cloud-dotted skies all year long, sun and sand, privacy (more about that) and proximity to a megalopolis (two and a half hours away, i.e., LA).
The Central California coast is the ideal location for all of this. Above Santa Barbara and we are a bit too far from Los Angeles for practical purposes. The big drawback to living in Santa Barbara and its environs is there is only one real highway, the 101, which runs north and south, and in some places shrinks to four lanes.
If you know LA, you are familiar with its throat-choking traffic. Rush hour is virtually around the clock in the Southland. People are just used to crawling along, inhaling fumes from the sad sack in front of them and passing it to the one behind. Day after day after brain-numbing day.
It is twice as bad sometimes getting past Santa Barbara in either direction. That is the beauty of it for the high-bank natives who call it home: they don’t have to do this very often, if ever. If you are, let’s say, Barbra Streisand, who has a home there, or Oprah. There are so many millionaires and billionaires in Santa Barbara County, that if you wanted to hem in the donor class, just stop up the 101 right there. Of course, many of these people have private planes and helicopters, but, just saying… It keeps the riff-raffers like me away too, and I am sure that factored into their plans. No one can just casually pop in and out of Saint Barbie and make mischief, or clutter up the streets with aging Volvos, like ours.
So, here is a start on the area. In fact, I am attending a wedding up there next week (and so will not be posting until the 25th, fyi) and plan to take a new round of pictures with my new D610. There is so much to share from this small stretch of real estate, I could devote a half dozen installments to it.
And so, while I drool every time I visit, Geoffrey and I recognize that we can’t do Santa Barbara. We must be content to visit. However! We did identify the perfect place for us nearby. Drumroll. It is another beach community, qualifies as Central Cali, is just as pretty, very old (for me older is better), loaded with ethnic culinary diversity (very important to me), affordable (yay!) and exciting. More on that in an upcoming post. Lots of history, beauty and local color that typifies the entire central California littoral. A vivid, vibrant, living atmosphere. That is what I have been looking for and finally found, I believe. Meanwhile, I will be in striking (eating, relaxing, sightseeing, museum-hopping, course-taking) distance of Santa Barbara, this gorgeous, elegant, glamorous beach resort /college town paradise, that some call the California Riviera.
[A word on these photos. These were reduced for pan-computer viewability here. The higher resolution versions and many more photographs taken in Santa Barbara will be on my Flickr Photostream for the rest of September.]
Images: Chez BeBe, of Santa Barbara, California