Santa Barbara - Off the beaten track
Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park
This small state park, open from dawn till dusk, is mostly visited for its cave, which bears vivid pictographs painted by the Chumash about 200 years ago. The cave is protected by a metal screen, so a flashlight is helpful for a good view. Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park is about 12mi (19.3km) northwest of downtown Santa Barbara. The park entrance is marked only by a small brown and yellow sign and is easy to miss; look for cars parked on both sides of the road.
Los Padres National Forest
The enormous Los Padres National Forest covers a vast tract of coastal mountain range and lowlands stretching from the Carmel Valley to the western edge of Los Angeles County. It's great for hiking, camping, horse riding and mountain biking. Before you go, check the conditions for visiting with the harbour branch of the Santa Barbara Visitor Center or with the Forest Headquarters in Goleta. If you are travelling by car, you must have the National Forest Adventure Pass in order to park in the forest.
On Paradise Rd you'll also find a famous piece of Americana: the Cold Spring Tavern, a legendary stagecoach stop that's still a popular watering hole and restaurant. A rough-hewn plank floor connects a warren of dimly lit rooms festooned with an odd assortment of Western memorabilia and framed photographs and newspaper articles. The food, alas, is mediocre and overpriced, so maybe just have coffee or some mineral water.
Paradise Rd, which crosses Hwy 154 north of San Marcos Pass, offers the best access to developed facilities in the forest. About 4mi (6.4km) up the road is a ranger station with posted maps and information. At Red Rocks (clearly marked from the ranger station), the Santa Ynez River runs into deep pools amongst rocks and waterfalls, making it a delicious place for swimming and sunning. Many hiking trails start out from here.
Santa Barbara Wine Country
For a pleasant day of sightseeing and drinking, take Hwy 154 out of town and head into the Santa Ynez Valley, the heart of Santa Barbara's wine country. Fortuitous fog and ocean breezes waft into the valley, creating little pockets of weather well suited for growing grapes. About three dozen wineries, mostly family-run, produce Chardonnays as well as Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties. Most are open for touring and tasting, and some have lovely picnic grounds. The visitor centres in Santa Barbara distribute free maps with brief descriptions of each winery, including tasting room hours. Worthwhile stops include Sunstone, just off Hwy 246, and Foley, south of Hwy 154.
If there was a Cutest Place In The World Competition one of the finalists would surely be Solvang, in the Santa Ynez Valley, about 50 minutes drive or bus-ride northeast of Santa Barbara. Solvang is a small town built in the Danish fashion, complete with windmills, gas-lit street lamps and 'gingerbread' houses. The town started in 1911 when three Danish farmers founded the Atterdag College folk school in an attempt to pass on Danish history and tradition to children who had only ever eaten a danish. The small town that grew up around the school was named Solvang (meaning 'sunny field') and today looks like a Scandinavian theme park; its diminutive streets are lined with bakeries, gift shops and galleries.
The Elverhøj Museum, housed in a reproduction 18th-century Jutland farmhouse, is the town's local history museum. It has a collection of papierklip (paper cut-out) art, period clothes and furniture, farm tools and old photographs. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum keeps a selection of Andersen's books, manuscripts, letters and photographs, and more papierklip, created by the author himself.
South Coast Railroad Museum
If you love a train, don't miss this museum, located about 8mi (12.8km) northwest of downtown Santa Barbara. It houses a huge model railroad, and a sizable collection of railway artefacts and old photographs. Children - and let's face it, adults - will get a kick out of taking a turn on the miniature train-ride. Be sure to wear a floppy peaked cap and striped overalls. Whoo-wooo!