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Despite its reputation, Santa Barbara is more than just wine country. It features beaches, fascinating history, and unique small towns, too. A 76-mile cruise from Ventura to Solvang is the perfect way to experience all of the fun and excitement Santa Barbara has to offer. You'll get to see adorable seals, re-live the Wild West days, view ancient art, and even take a side trip to Denmark along the way.
Start with a taste of Ventura's history at Mission San Buenaventura. Established in 1782, it is the 9th and last mission founded by Father Jinipero Serra. It has survived earthquakes, war, and fire during its history. Masses are still held daily in the church, which was built between 1792 and 1809. Visitors also come to the so-called Mission by the Sea for its garden and museum. Make sure to stop by the statue of Saint Kateri Tekawitha. Although she lived in New York State, the statue was dedicated to the local Native American Chumash people who helped build and sustain the Mission until the 1840s. Self-guided tours are available daily.
As you cruise up the coast, make a quick stop at the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Preserve and Rookery. It's one of the last four remaining harbor seal rookeries left in Southern California and is home to about 100 seals who come to the beach to give birth to their cubs each year. It's just off the Coastal Vista Trail, and the best viewpoint on the bluff above the water is easy to find. Pro tip: Bring binoculars for the best view of the baby seals. And please be respectful of the wildlife.
Santa Barbara has tons to see and do, but one of its most unique attractions is the Santa Barbara Carriage & Western Arts Museum. Established in the 1970s, this free institution displays beautiful collections of watercolors, dioramas, etchings, stagecoaches, saddles, and more. In addition to restored vehicles such as hearses and Army wagons, the museum also houses ornate gear from icons like Cisco Kid, Will Rogers, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart. Kids particularly will love the Western town facades in the gallery.
The coast is irresistible, so take a break to dip your toes in the water and relax on the sand at Goleta Beach Park. This 29-acre day-use park boasts 4,200 feet of beach, a fishing pier, and a restaurant with a tackle and bait shop. If you're looking to get active, the beach has a volleyball court and horseshoe pits as well. It's also a good place for birdwatching. This is one of Santa Barbara County's most popular parks and it offers plenty of parking.
The Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park preserves a unique piece of Native history. The park's main feature is a shallow sandstone cave, covered in rock paintings, made by the Chumash People over a span of several hundred years. It is one of the few locations where one can view Chumash Rock Paintings and is still sacred to the Chumash People today. Visitors are asked to respect the sacredness of the site and refrain from taking flash photography.
Once in Solvang, Paula's Pancake House is the solution to all of your breakfast, brunch, and lunch needs. Solvang's Danish heritage heavily influences the menu and decor at this eatery, opened in 1986. You'll find burgers, salads, omelettes, and sandwiches available, but if you're looking for something you won't find anywhere else, try the medisterpølse sausage and eggs or the light and thin Danish pancakes.
End the adventure with a tour of Solvang's Hans Christian Andersen Museum. It's a tiny little hidden gem located above The Book Loft that displays information and artifacts from the legendary Danish author, who penned some of the world's best known fairy tales such as “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “Thumbelina.” You'll learn about his life and his hobbies, and you'll be able to browse volumes of his work from across the globe. Save time to browse the independent bookstore below, too.
Santa Barbara is a magical place, and its vineyards are only a small part of that. There aren't many places in the world where you can immerse yourself in Spanish, American Western, Native American, and Danish history in the course of one afternoon. There's a lot to learn, see, and do between Ventura and Solvang, making it a perfect day trip.
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