Category Archives: California

Santa Barbara | Jesusita Trail

Jesusita Trail starts in the lower elevations of the hills east of the Santa Barbara then climbs up to about 2300 ft.,  affording beautiful pans of the city, surrounding coastline and Channel Islands further afield.

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Its not too difficult to find the trailhead, although you traverse a residential neighbourhood first before landing at a water treatment plant, which is your landmark to stop and park at the few scant slots in a dirt parking area.  The trailhead is just beyond the plant and its clearly marked.  If for some reason the makeshift parking lot is full, as was the case for me, you can circle back to the residential neighbourhood which is less than a 1/4 mile away.

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I’d characterize this trek as medium difficulty. Of the 4.2 mile path, the first half is wide paths and not very challenging since the elevation changes come is small doses over large spans. The second half is more challenging because the paths are narrower, switchback, riddled with rocks and tree roots and the elevation changes are notable and continuous. One way took me 2 hours but I was stopping frequently to snap some shots. When there were forks in the path they were accompanied by a ‘trail’ sign which was small but it was also white with blue lettering so it stood out. There was one stretch taking me through private property, which seems odd but completely OK, the only judgement I received was from the resident horse who followed me from one side to the other.

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This trail is heavily traveled with trail runners and trekkers alike; an occasional mountain biker SB-Jesusita24_LReswill appear but they are very courteous with vocal warnings of their approach.

There are no services on this trail so bring some water and snacks.

I passed a guy on crutches doing this trail. Eventually he would reach the top while I was perched on a rock having a snack. It took him 4 hours, but he made it – so can you.

Santa Barbara | Lucky Penny

Walking the beachfront one day I ran across a skate park. I asked a few of the sidelined skaters for their favourite restaurant in Santa Barbara. I know, its not really a good idea to get restaurant recommendations from a group of teenage boys, however I did add the restriction that it couldn’t be a fast food chain. Minutes and several hundred ‘like dude’s later they agreed on one place, Lucky Penny.

Its a little challenging to find since it takes up a small space in a cluster of structures and there isn’t any street signage. You will however notice that one side of the building is glimmering with copper- pennies, go figure!

Its all outdoor seating at wooden picnic benches. Its small, I doubt 20 people could wedge in at once. Despite that, its a pleasant, casual space filled with interesting artwork and creatively placed plants. I noticed most people come in for coffee or takeaway; the stream is constant and seemingly the locals.

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Mostly locally crafted beers,  pizzas and sammies but not the usual fare. I didn’t have to look down the small menu too far before choosing – Spicy Lamb Meatball Sandwich. The Middle Eastern in me goes straight for lamb when its on the menu. The ciabatta roll was crusty on the out but pillowy and absorbent on the in. That was good since it soaked up quite a bit of the harrissa-spiked tomato sauce. If you don”t know harissa, its a hot pepper based spice mix. If that was not enough heat, they had also added roasted chili. Arugula added bite and herbal flavour and shaved Pecorino added some saltiness and creaminess to the mix. Delicious!

I didn’t know any of the local beers but the girl at the counter gave me a sample of the Paso Robles Peach IPA; I liked. It was definitely a West Coast IPA, heavy hops,  which surprisingly paired well with the subtle dried peach undercurrents. It definitely was a good, soothing companion to the fiery sandwich.

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Its a counter-order, table-delivery setup and delivery seemed to happen almost instantly, of course I was somewhat distracted by the artwork and potted plants hugging the walls of the small outdoor space. Everyone here is very friendly and helpful.

Its about average. Spicy Lamb Meatball Sandwich – $10, Paso Robles Peach IPA – $6

Lucky Penny is only a few blocks from the beach. The other bonus to its location is that the next block north, Yanonali St., is wine alley – many winery outposts and wine bars focusing on Santa Barbara’s local production.

Lunch: November 2014

Lucky Penny | 127 Anacapa | Santa Barbara CA 93101

Santa Barbara | Arts And Letters Cafe

I started out to one restaurant but it was booked for a private party. Phone. Click. Read. Walk another block; does anyone remember how we located restaurants in the pre-Google era?

Arts and Letters Cafe does not have any signage from the street and its actually  a covered courtyard located within an art gallery which only has a small sign on the door. When I finally did figure out where it was I almost expected the hostess to ask me for the secret code. Marble cafe tables, fresh cuts flowers, filtered light and a fountain;   I’d characterize it as a casually sophisticated and secluded environment.  While the rest of Santa Barbara seems shorts and hoodie clad, Arts and Letters is a little more dressed up and the clientele more mature.

Regular menu and lunch specials menu. I looked over both but the specials menu hooked me early with Pumpkin Soup. And once again with Egg Fettuccine. The Pumpkin Soup was a beautiful burnt orange color, rich but surprisingly light on cream; I picked up the earthy flavours of roasted pumpkin with a little nutmeg zing and herbal thyme notes. What I didn’t pick up was any trace of chicken stock so likely a veggie stock base.

I know it sounds odd to be excited about egg pasta but I rarely see it anymore with the more trendy whole-wheat and even brown rice and quinoa versions crowding out other entries. Egg pastas, to me, are more flavourful and more silky in texture. This particular version was extraordinary with roasted grape tomatoes, charred asparagus, andouille sausage, fennel, and smoked salmon all tossed in dill-spiked cream sauce. Odd on paper but the smoked salmon and dill immediately paired up in their usual fashion. The sausage was toothy, salty and juicy counter balance to the earthy, crunchy asparagus. Fennel, which I was totally prepared to pick out since it did not seem to belong, actually added a pleasant,  bright flavour to the mix. The Egg Fettuccine was definitely the thread weaving together what was my most memorable dish in Santa Barbara.

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The service here is very polished. They are not exceptionally personable but they are friendly, knowledgeable and very efficient. Order to delivery was an unhurried 20 minutes and there were two stopbys to gauge my reaction to the meal.

Its a little high but the quality, innovation and service were at a point where I thought it was justified. Soup, pasta, espresso – $35.

Arts and Letters is very close to the Courthouse and Library, if you are doing an architecture afternoon, and its right off State St, which seems the main artery through town.

Lunch: November 2014

Arts and Letters Cafe | 7 E Anapamu | Santa Barbara CA 93101

Santa Barbara | County Courthouse

A County Courthouse sounds like a dull, if not depressing sight to see but it was one of the highest ranked sights on Trip Advisor. After sampling a few of the tourist photos, I decided to give it a drive by after lunch. Very glad about that, since it is one of the more architecturally interesting buildings in Santa Barbara. The 360 views from the bell tower lookout spanning hills to ocean are a bonus.

If you decide to pop by here and you’re interested in photography, definitely allow at least two hours and try to catch it in the mid morning hours.

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Santa Barbara | Mission

It started out as a walk to get a few things I forgot to pack. The store was closed so I walked to another. I realized I had gone a few miles out of my way and landed fairly close to Mission Santa Barbara so I kept going another few miles to see it. Glad about that.

Mission Santa Barbara is a beautiful example of the architecture permeating the city. The structure and grounds are immaculately maintained and the park across the street is both very active, with people flying model airplanes and pop-up picnics and very tranquil in the nooks created from small hills and tree density.

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While the inside of the Mission is beautiful and in perfect condition, its an active church and its small, so playing tourist can be problematic. And probably annoying to the churchgoers.

If you do make it to the Mission, don’t overlook the parking lot. Right, what did he just say? Yes, the parking lot. Look at every single space, each has been appointed with some street art. While not at all visible from the street or even to those standing on top of them but looking upwards and gawking at the bell towers,  the parking lot art is a must-see point.

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Even if you are staying near the water, I still recommend the several mile walk out to the Mission, taking State St. all the way before hooking right. State St. is a main artery through Santa barbara and you’ll find plenty of interesting architecture, restaurants and people watching. Get ready to cross from one side of State to the other as sidewalks are merely staging areas for what seems an unusual number of construction projects.


Santa Barbara

A $135 round-trip ticket to LAX prompted a last minute trip to the left coast. I wasn’t interested in seeing more of Los Angeles so I randomly chose Santa Barbara as a destination. Glad about that for several reasons.

First, the drive from LAX to Santa Barbara allowed me to complete driving the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway); the stretch running through Malibu. Its a beautiful drive and I highly recommend. It might take a little more time than traversing the 405 but what would you rather look at while stuck in traffic – the cars in front of you or the Pacific Ocean? Tough call.

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Secondly, Santa Barbara is a beautiful and relaxing city. Ocean to the left, hills to the right, Mission and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture everywhere and  demographics that seem bimodal – college kids and the affluent 65+ crowd. Like many coastal California cities, the ocean takes center stage and everyone walks, skates, bikes and jogs. People are happy and chatty in the land of eternal sunshine.

Highlights coming.

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Golden Gate Bakery

Sugar and I don’t get along, so I rarely seek out desserts. There is one though that I’m able to tolerate and oddly, that is the Chinese egg tart. The filling is a little bit sweet but teeters on savoury, the consistency is a little lighter than a custard, the crust is of the standard buttery, crunchy variety. Growing up I snacked on these whenever I wandered through Chinatown, so I drug my travel mates up the Grant Ave. hill from Union Square to seek one out at what is arguably the best source, Golden Gate Bakery.

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Its not much from the street, small and innocuous, but inside almost all of the requisite Chinese baked goods are crammed into cases hidden behind the constant crowds of people yelling in Chinese, pointing maniacally at items and  holding up counts with their fingers.

My travel mates were not so impressed with the taste of egg tarts, however they did like the red bean cakes, which were waay too sweet for me.

If you happen to find yourself wandering through San Francisco’s Chinatown in the mood for something a little sweet, pop by and grab an egg tart at GG Bakery; just tell yourself  you’ll need the carbs to make it up and down the hills.

Snack: September 2014

Golden Gate Bakery | 1029 Grant | SF 94133


Grandview Park

You’ve figured out the maze of Muni subways and boarded the N-Judah westbound to 16th Ave. You’ve located the small staircase seemingly innocuous from afar but on closer inspection you realized there was some serious artistic talent applied. You’ve climbed the hundreds upon hundreds of tiny steps in the sleepy residential neighbourhood to finally reach the top.

Super. Now what?

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Its not often in San Francisco you can view the Bay, the Pacific, Twin Peaks, TransAmerica Pyramid, Golden Gate Park and Golden Gate Bridge by merely turning your head. I think the last time I did that I was coming in for a landing at SFO. The tiny horizontal swatch of green in the upper left and lower right, that’s Golden Gate Park.

16th Ave Mosiac Steps

I’m still impressed with the many things I didn’t see and do while living in San Francisco. I never once visited the Inner Sunset District; no reason I suppose except that I didn’t know anyone who lived there.

The community in this area decided to take several sets of otherwise dull concrete steps and turn them into something artistic. Its a beautiful addition, somewhat distracting the viewer from the unmentionable number of stairs to climb to get to the top. What’s at the top? The little-known Grandview Park. There isn’t much there – a few benches, a few big trees, a well-worn dirt path. Oh, and what is arguably the best 360 degree view of the city.

I highly recommend the short jaunt on the N-Judah train to 16th Ave to see and navigate the steps to the top of Grandview Park. Yes, I will post some Grandview scenes next.

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