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USA Radio
June 20, 2014

Santa Barbara, Malibu, Santa Monica

We were eager to get to the beach on this sunny morning. Mornings are a wonderful time to wander the wide beaches of the Pacific, catch the morning sun, or look for sand dollars. We took an invigorating walk before exploring some of Santa Barbara’s history.

Where Californians go for the weekend
Santa Barbara, California is considered by many to be the gem of the Central Coast and is often referred to as the American Riviera. Its Mediterranean architecture, vivacious but laid-back college-town feel and floral air (that’s Jasmine, Hyacinth and Orange Blossoms you smell) draw other Californians looking to take a break from their urban hotspots. We started at one of its icons.

“The Queen of the Missions”
Founded by the Spanish Franciscan priests in 1786, The Old Santa Barbara Mission was erected on the feast day of Saint Barbara (the namesake of the city). Now more 200 years later, we were standing in the historic courtyard, as visitors took in the intricate architectural details. There is a rich history here that isn’t overwhelming to absorb, and a distinct flavor of Spanish culture that you will find throughout California. Surrounded by 10 acres of colorful, landscaped gardens, and equipped with a retreat center and conference rooms, it’s no wonder the mission is an active parish and cultural center to this day.

The Funk Zone
We wanted to check out one of the hottest new neighborhoods in Santa Barbara: the Funk Zone. Once an industrial hub, these factories and warehouses have given way to funky shops and wineries. We shopped, browsed, and enjoyed chatting with shopkeepers, surfers and locals at this alternative to the more touristy State Street (a plus if you’re looking to avoid crowds). The contemporary but comfortable vibe of the area made it difficult for us to leave. P.S.: There’s also a cluster of reputable wineries here, which makes it easy to “walk and taste.” Cheers to the Funk Zone!

Moving on to Malibu, California
Getting back on the Pacific Coast Highway made us feel like we were returning to see an old friend. We noticed that the rocky coastline of the north had given way to vast sandy shores lining the outer rim of the cliffs, now in the south. Some of the most revered beaches of the world are in Malibu. We stopped at Point Mugu State Park to take in the scenery of the wild Pacific Ocean. As the waves washed and the distant boats leaned into the wind, we snapped a picture or two, but then it was time to eat again (yay!).

The local flavor
We’ve had some remarkable meals on this trip. We were ready for the next one. Lining the road in Malibu are many vista-centric restaurants, serving food that ranges from casual to fine dining. We went with a classic seafood shack called Neptune’s Net that’s big on character, as well as tasty seafood in a basket. Part of the experience here is people-watching the gamut of characters—from bikers and surfers to families and the ubiquitous die-hard beachgoers. Oysters, fish tacos and fried shrimp later, we were revitalized. We were eager to head south for some world-class shopping and a taste of the glamorous side of Los Angeles.

Santa Monica and a Ferris wheel
We traveled a short, yet beautiful 18 miles south through the beaches of Malibu all the way to Santa Monica. At 15 square miles, this is a very walkable city. It felt good to park the car and set out on foot to the full-over-the-water amusement park on the famous Santa Monica Pier. After taking an obligatory photo with the Route 66 sign (Santa Monica is the end of the famous route which we will travel later this year), we beelined straight for the world’s only solar powered Ferris wheel. (It’s nine stories tall by the way!) Pretty impressed by the views and all of the fun rides on the Pier, we were ready for some shopping. We strolled over to the 3rd Street Promenade for a mix of well-known shops and locally owned boutiques, street performers, vendor carts and dozens of happening restaurants. Our friends thought the pedestrian-only boulevard was a great way to get to know the Santa Monica scene.

The West Hollywood scene
Also known as “WeHo,” this is one of LA’s most happening neighborhoods. Here you’ll find some of the hippest clubs, eateries and live music venues in the city. The famous Sunset Strip is here. Robertson Boulevard is a shopping destination with numerous high-end fashion boutiques. We ended our day with a fantastic seafood dinner at the new Herringbone restaurant in the Mondrian Hotel. Another exciting day behind us, we said goodnight to our gracious hosts and a lovely view of the sprawling city.

Cut to tomorrow: Hollywood, Universal Studios and the Grammy Museum!

Insider’s tip
Hit the Santa Monica Pier at night, or arrive in time to catch the epic view of the sunset. Stay for bit and you’ll see why people linger to see the park lights over the wide waters. It’s so enchanting!

Read more about this Road Trip
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