There may be no more romantic town on the Southern California coast than Santa Barbara. From the palm tree-lined beaches to the Spanish Colonial-style architecture to the colorful parks and gardens, romance seems to be in the air everywhere you go.
But beyond the beauty visible to visitors and residents alike are dozens of lesser-known spots ideal for stealing a kiss or just setting the mood for … whatever.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, many sweethearts will be heading to Santa Barbara for a day or two of coastal closeness. If you’re among them, consider checking out these somewhat off-the-beaten-path places that are sure to stir, if nothing else, fond memories of the town some call the American Riviera.
Santa Barbara County Courthouse Clock Tower:
One of the most beautiful public buildings in America, this city treasure completed in 1929 is the embodiment of Spanish-Moorish architecture. Take the elevator to the third floor and walk up a few steps to the clock tower for a stunning 360-degree view of bright-tile adobes, the Santa Ynez Mountains, palm-fringed shoreline and the Channel Islands. It’s very private and secluded, and a great vantage point for spectacular photos. Free.
Douglas Family Preserve:
The 70-acre city-owned preserve features more than three miles of trails, some providing gorgeous views of the Pacific coastline. This undeveloped open space offers plenty of recreational opportunities including hiking, dog walking, wildlife viewing, and bicycle riding. Watch hang gliders soar off the bluffs, or take to the sky yourself if you have the gear and license. Free.
Knapp’s Castle: High above the clouds sits a stone ruin reminiscent of a Grecian temple. Built in 1916, the remains of this elaborate sandstone mansion command a rocky point with awesome vistas in all directions. The ruins — rock arches, fireplaces, rock stairways and chimneys — inspire a romantic backdrop for blooming love. Free.
A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden:
Created as a fragrance garden for the blind around the turn of the 20th century, this magnificent park with Mission Santa Barbara as the backdrop is drop-dead dazzling. More than 1,500 varieties of roses soar skyward in a sight that would set even Cupid aquiver. Free.
Channel Islands Helicopters:
For a bird’s-eye view of the city and surrounding coastal sights, this Oxnard-based tour operator’s yellow choppers will get you high above it all. A variety of tours are offered, taking in Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary, Santa Barbara wine country, beaches, movie star homes and more. Channel Islands Helicopters is the only tour operator authorized to fly around the park and over the sanctuary, including Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and San Miguel islands.