Santa Barbara, you have my heart.

What do Mandalay, Da Nang and Santa Barbara all have in common? I fell in love with a place that I wouldn’t be spending much time. I knew in those destinations that more time would leave me at a loose end with not enough to do, but the beauty of the place begged me to stay. Santa Barbara begged me to stay forever.

I came up from Downtown Los Angeles on the Greyhound which snaked its way through the San Fernando Valley, passing by the city infamous for its abundance of Kardashians – Calabasas. I resented knowing that fact as much as I resented feeling glad about driving past. After the hills and valleys of the 101 move towards Ventura, the pacific coast unfolds in front of you with splendid ocean on the left and mountains on the right. On these buses, you want to be on the left heading North. 

It’s a two hour bus, and the fact it dropped me minutes from my hotel would be remarkable if the whole town were not so very very small. The Wayfarer Inn is next to the Amtrak and Greyhound station, a funky little stay decorated exactly to my tastes. Faux fur, mermaid wallpapers, tacky cushions and plush carpets. And a heated pool. There is also a team of spritely concierges who will oblige your need and respond to your solo female traveller flirting vibes. Vincent, you’re a darling.

My camera lens had come apart in my hand in Santa Monica, and I had thirty minutes to run to Samy’s Camera before it shut. It really takes a lot of adjustment to realise that not everywhere is open until the deep night like London. I picked up my new lens in time and strolled down the long stretch that is State Street.

Santa Barbara’s Spanish influence is undeniable. Not like Los Angeles where the bilingual signs remind you of the proximity to Mexico, but Spanish like an island in the Balearics. Spanish like white painted buildings with blue and yellow tiles. As Spanish as falling in love immediately with a place.

The paved streets prettied with mosaic vases, the palm fronts and abundant flowers, it all felt like the place was playing at being a city, but the bars and restaurants were buzzing with life and the shopping mall, designed like a city plaza, had all the regular favourites. I took a plate of fettuccine alfredo and watched the city go by. I chatted with a beautiful French girl from Toulouse and took her picture. I walked back down State Street, snapping my camera at everything that delighted me and then I arrived at the beach.

It’s a small stretch of beach, defined on one side by a long pier jutting out into the ocean leading to a restaurant on the left, and a pretty boat harbour on the right. I sat snapping selfies and enjoying the laid-back vibe of the city. In one distracted moment, I turned to look behind me and saw the setting sun illuminating the sky in orange and pink, against a backdrop of palm trees and turrets and mountains.

 I found some white chalky stones to take with me as souvenirs and took a walk along the harbour and back to state street smelling the seafood dinners, flowers and summer. 

The sunset was in front of me and my heart was so full. I knew this feeling was what it was like to find a place that is home. I returned to my hotel for a rest by the pool, and to my room with the plan to sleep for the night. 

In actuality, I met two women. We chatted until 11PM and the younger of the two women and I went out again. I hadn’t had enough of this city. We walked down State Street and although many places were closed or had closed kitchens, a few small dive bars were open selling pizza by the slice. We found one pretty little neon and black establishment where we spoke until nearly half one in the morning, the time passing without us knowing and the noise of the bar becoming progressively louder. 

For the first time on my trip, I walked home in the dark without fear of how safe I would be, and climbed into the softest bed I had ever known.

Santa Barbara is Californian beauty, drenched in something so quintessentially hispanic. It was like a perennial resort town, and I felt so peaceful there. I can’t think of a circumstance that would mean I don’t return and if I call California home some day, I hope Santa Barbara is the city.

Favourite sights: State street, the harbour, the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Centre

Hostel: The Wayfarer Inn

Positives: Very beautiful, luxurious and feels like a hotel. Clean and an excellent breakfast. Group events. Near to the station

Negatives: None at all. One of my favourite places I’ve ever stayed.

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