With each Paradise City stop, we take an artful spin around cities near and far that lure us with their sights and history, delicious and unique food, interesting happenings and (of course!), amazing art experiences! This time we explore the wonders of Santa Barbara, California!
Queen of the Missions
Santa Barbara, California, is named after the patron saint of architects, builders and masons. It’s an appropriate namesake, as this scenic seaside city offers architectural marvels that will appeal to any artist. Located 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara was a key way station along the Camino Real, the route that linked the Spanish missions in the 18th century.
Each settlement consisted of a religious complex, the mission, and a military outpost, the presidio. Referred to as “Queen of the Missions,” Santa Barbara’s mission, established in 1786 and rebuilt in its present form in 1820, is one of the grandest examples. Its facade, consisting of engaged columns supporting a triangular pediment or gable surmounted by two bell towers, could have been based on the Pantheon in Rome, which at that time also had two bell towers.
After the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad linking Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1901, the community became an important winter resort for the gilded-age titans of industry, who built lavish estates in the hills above the town. In 1925, a major earthquake destroyed much of the town’s Victorian-style architecture. Disaster became opportunity, and the rebuilding effort reflected the craze for Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean architecture then gripping California.
Harmony All Around
Civic leaders made a conscious effort to revert to the Spanish colonial past, including creating one of the nation’s first municipal design ordinances requiring the use of elements of Spanish colonial design, including white stucco walls, red tile roofs and massing and fenestration similar to that found in Southern Spain. Interestingly enough, the “look” that was legislated bore little resemblance to the style of the historic missions and was more in keeping with the architecture of Southern Spain, which was at the time spreading across Southern California, as well as other resorts such as South Florida.
Thanks to the continued reliance on careful and thoughtful design review, Santa Barbara today is one of the most architecturally consistent and harmonious settings in the world.
Local Picks — What to See and Do in Santa Barbara
Your visit should start with a tour of Mission Santa Barbara, completed in 1820. From there, stroll toward the center of town, taking in the Fox Arlington Theater, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, El Paseo and the Presidio, before continuing to the crescent-shaped beach and the harbor.
Nearby Montecito is home to most of the large estates, and two of the best of them are open to the public. Casa del Herrero, completed in 1925, was designed by George Washington Smith. Lotusland, designed by Reginald Johnson, is known for its remarkable gardens created by Ganna Walska.
After retiring in Santa Barbara, the great chef and food writer Julia Child declared La Super Rica Taqueria the “best Mexican food in the Americas.”
The relatively new Santa Barbara Public Market, behind the Arlington Theater, has an ever-changing selection of food counters and pop-up restaurants, of which the Empty Bowl, specializing in Thai noodles, is a personal favorite.
Santa Barbara’s seaside elements are an inspiration to any painter. See how to make the most of such scenery with Ian Stewart’s Painting Watercolor Seascapes video download.
You’ll learn how to use photo references to depict places you may know well as well as those spots you may not have gotten to yet. Either way, painting the mood and tone of the place you choose will be within your grasp.
Text and illustrations by Stephen Harby and first featured in Artists Magazine, the oldest art publication devoted to the sweet spot where artistic instruction and inspiration meet.