Any hotel stay is an ideal opportunity to chillax at the pool. Especially in Santa Barbara during the unrelenting year that is 2020.
It’s late July and I’m swimming laps in the adults-only spa pool at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara. The sky is cloudless. Water temperature in the cross-shaped, saline pool couldn’t be more ideal.
A swimming pool is a swimming pool. Yet, I can close one eye, focus on the piped in music of Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra, and instinctively recognize this as a Ritz-Carlton pool. Ritz amenities are pristine, clubby, elegant and upscale. Small details matter. This pool goes to 11.
The spa pool is farther from my ocean-view suite than the larger, family-friendly main pool. I didn’t trek halfway across the property’s 78-acre, grassy grounds to avoid kids. Actually, the main pool, with its postcard-like funnel view of the Pacific Ocean, and more up-tempo music soundtrack, is an attraction.
I do want to make the scene.
The main pool is cleared to be disinfected three times a day. You have to register in advance for a chaise lounge. I’m essentially passing time at the spa pool until my reservation at the main pool.
At the appointed afternoon time slot, I stand in an appropriately social-distanced line, have my temperature taken and am led by a pool attendant to the sunny chaise of my choice.
It all works out for the best. The spa pool was conducive for a little exercise. At the main pool, it’s time for sun bathing and metaphysical reflection—to unwind, enjoy and temporarily slip out of the societal omnipresence of corona.
Downtown Santa Barbara
My wife and I have road-tripped to Santa Barbara from San Diego half a dozen times over the years. Amtrak is also a convenient way to arrive, and Alaska Air is actually adding new direct flights later this year.
Santa Barbara is a status-imbued region that holds cultural cachet. Celebs and business moguls like Oprah and Warren Buffett have mansions, second homes and yachts spread all over the county, from Goleta to Montecito.
This just in: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle just moved into Montecito!
Ahem. Still, Santa Barbara is chill. Even tightly wound Angelenos are apt to drop Hollywood pretension when stopping in for a weekend getaway.
Jules and I have sailed and hiked here. Shopped and dined. Drank fine wine. This visit, we want to survey the State Street main drag. And I want to introduce my wife to the Funk Zone.
Due to COVID-19 safety restrictions on indoor dining, parts of State Street have been converted to a pedestrian promenade. Restaurants, and bars partnering with eateries, have expanded seating onto sidewalks and streets.
State Street actually looks festive—detailed attention has gone into sprucing up the outdoor dining areas with leafy plants and string lighting.
One block of Victoria Street has been closed as a “Restaurant Row.” It includes popular restaurants bouchon Santa Barbara, Olio e Limone Ristorante, Scarlett Begonia and the entirety of the Santa Barbara Public Market.
My wife goes gaga over the Funk Zone. It’s an up-and-coming section of downtown between the ocean and Highway 101. It used to lean industrial. Now it’s contemporary and artsy—filled with boutique wine-tasting rooms, cafes and art galleries.
Outdoor dining “parklets” are buzzing in the Funk Zone. In particular, the converted parking lot between the Lucky Penny and The Lark restaurants is doing a steady business by pulling in family diners.
A fun aspect of the Funk Zone is that it continues to evolve. I was here just two years ago. Though acting as a tour guide to my wife, there are storefronts and additions to an Urban Wine Trail that are new to me.
Back to Bacara
After getting Funkified in downtown Santa Barbara, it’s back to The Ritz-Carlton Bacara. The resort is built on a beautiful, coastal stretch of Goleta, about 12 miles from downtown.
We are satisfied with safety precautions—like self-parking and checking in at a plastic-shielded front desk. Nearly every traveler, and all hotel staffers, are masked and conscientiously practicing social distancing.
Our one-bedroom suite at Bacara is fully loaded. It has a living room area and a bedroom commanded by a classic four-post bed. There are two full bathrooms, fireplace and a sizeable patio offering a romantic ocean view.
Our Bacara suite is a classy respite firewalled from the rest of the world. It’s a well-appointed cloud; a safety bubble that also happens to offer high-end Mediterranean-style décor.
We’re scheduled for dinner at the resort’s contemporary steakhouse. All dining at Angel Oak is on the outdoor patio that overlooks the ocean. Instead of paper menus, guests are instructed at the host stand how to download menus to phones.
We’re sated by herb-butter-topped filet with seasonal summer veggies, and a pan-seared bass atop potato puree with wild mushrooms. My wife and I order a chocolate-mocha dessert to go.
Finishing dessert in the room during hotel stays has become a dining tradition. Tonight, we’ll call it “something sweet in the suite.”
We take the chocolate-mocha cake out onto our suite patio. There’s a cool summer breeze. It’s dark, but swirls of light bob on ocean waves. High tide has arrived so the beach below has disappeared. The sound of the surf caressing the shoreline sounds like an ethereal backbeat to a soothing lullaby.
Dessert on the balcony becomes a glorious reality, defined only by the moment. I’m baking this memory into my brain and plan to recall it, as necessary, over the remainder of 2020. J&J