Best in California: Two amazing cities influenced by the past

Traveling to California is doing many trips in one, so choosing the best in California is a tough job. The roads of California invite us to not having to choose between the sea and the mountains, between the big cities and the natural wonders.

California, the most populous state and the third most extensive in the United States, is a myriad of options for all tastes. That is why in this guide I will do my best to tell you the best in California, and I will divide it into several articles characterized by specific themes to give you the best photos of each place.

When all the articles are finished, I promise to make a summary of everything to transform it into “The Ultimate California Roadtrip”.
The theme of this article is “The Colonizing Influence”. Are you ready? Let’s go!



best in California

Walking through the streets of Santa Barbara, which is 150 miles from Los Angeles on US-101N, is almost like entering a theme park. Their bright white adobe houses, their perfect red roofs, the sea air, the palm trees, and the mountains in the background, do not seem real but rather a stage. This type of Spanish architecture that invaded absolutely the whole city arose after a strong earthquake destroyed practically all of Santa Bárbara in 1925 and its reconstruction was necessary.

Its main avenue, State Street, is a parade of businesses, art galleries, and restaurants, and is the “heart” of the city, through which you reach the sea. It can be traveled on foot or, as we did to adapt to the needs of our son, through the “trolley” whose ticket costs 50 cents and takes you to Stearns Wharf, the port area of the city. The whole city respects the same architecture, including the open-air mall called Paseo Nuevo.

Its marvelous air and feeling make it deserve being part of the list of the best in California.

best in California

But going back to the history of the city we have to know that Santa Bárbara belonged, before being called as such, to the Chumash Indians, who arrived in California more than 10,000 years ago. In the mid-eighteenth century, the Spaniards returned to California after two centuries from the first arrival. They settled in order to colonize and Christianize the natives. And in a walk through the city, we can discover that past.

These are the two unmissable places to understand that part of the story and that are definitely part of the best in California:

  1. The Old Mission of Santa Bárbara:


    best in California

    In the year 1786 the Spanish Franciscan monks settled in this magnificent building with the aim of Christianizing the Chumash. The Mission is known as the Queen of Missions and one of the best in California. Reasons are not lacking. Beyond its initial objective – which we do not agree with – it is an architectural beauty that, with its surroundings among green mountains, palm trees, and gardens, transform it into an essential visit in Santa Bárbara.
    The Mission today continues to function as such, with Franciscan friars in the residences. But it can be visited, in silence, between 9 a.m. and 4.15 / 5.15 p.m. (depending on the season) with a cost of $ 9 for adults, $ 4 for children between 5 and 17 years, and free for children under 5.

  2. The Presidio of Santa Bárbara: best in California

    Between 10 a.m. and 4.30 p.m., and for 5 dollars (under 16, free), you can visit this State Historic Park consisting of 17 buildings originally built in 1782 around what is known as the Plaza de Armas. The Presidio of Santa Bárbara was the last advanced military post built by Spain in America.

    Felipe de Neve, the first governor of Las Californias, considered that the Santa Bárbara region was vulnerable to an attack and therefore decided to build a military post. At the beginning of the 19th century a large part of the Presidio was destroyed by several earthquakes, so today only 2 of its buildings are the original ones and not all have been rebuilt due to the modern layout of the city. But it is worth at least one visit to understand the life of the settlers and the Chumash at that time.

Best in California: A 5 kms (3 miles) self walking tour of Santa Bárbara

Santa Bárbara is a city to explore on foot. Its main attractions are almost in a straight line and separated by nothing more than 5 kilometers (3 miles). And between one attraction and the other, you can appreciate the beautiful architecture of the place that makes it the best in California.

Here I leave a map with a recommended itinerary in which you will be able to discover: The Old Mission, the Alameda Park-ideal if you go with children because it has an immense playground-, the Municipal Courtyard, the Presidio, State Street, and the area of the East Beach and the attractive Stearns Wharf where you can enjoy a meal looking at the sea, the city, and the mountains.

Best in California: Santa Bárbara in photographs

I leave you some photographs for you to enjoy.

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best in California

Five windmills, half timbered houses with triangular facades and pastel colors, bakeries with Danish delicacies … entering the small town of Solvang is traveling to Europe for a day. Although the great majority of the facades were placed after the Second World War on those already existing ones in an aesthetic search to create a “Danish town” in American lands, it does not loose its charm. 

It can be definitely a place that wouldn´t be inside the best of California in everybody´s minds. But it should definitely be.

At 55 kilometers from Santa Barbara through the beautiful 154 road (a very panoramic road trip of around 40 minutes between forests, lakes, and winding roads), and 25 kilometers from the sea, you will find this totally unexpected city in California, a truly hidden gem.

It arose from the need of Danish immigrants – who had arrived in the US between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century escaping poverty – to get away from the raw winters of the American Midwest.

They bought land in the Valley of Santa Ynez and founded, in 1911, this beautiful Danish colony that today receives more than a million tourists every year attracted by its architecture and its provincial air.

best in California

Along the walk, which can be perfect for a half-day trip, you will definitely feel on the other side of the ocean (the Atlantic, not the Pacific. You will not be feeling in Japan).

If you let yourself be carried away by the houses, the flowers (the flowers! I think there is no better time to visit California than spring! Everything is in bloom and gives it a unique charm), the smells of the bakeries, you will forget for a while that you’re in the United States and you’re going to start another trip of at least a few hours through Viking lands.

It’s a great getaway idea from the California beach landscapes. The best in California is not only a “city by the beach”.

Walking its streets you will find small -and not so small- replicas of monuments and historical buildings of Denmark, such as the statue of the siren of Copenhagen or the Rundetaarn or Round Tower of the Danish capital on a scale of 1: 3, that was built in the year 1991.

best in California

Best in California: Solvang through photographs

I leave some pictures of our self walking tour of the city to discover its houses, its colors, and its particular charm. Solvang is without a doubt an obligatory stop on your way to Northern California.

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As I mentioned at the beginning, this is just the first article about the best in California. I decided to do it separately because there are many places to discover. Then I will make a summary with the entire itinerary. But in the meantime, I invite you to enjoy each place, step by step, the way we like to travel: without hurry.

Have you read why we choose to slow travel? Click here


best in California

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Written by Pie & Pata
Happy is he/she who enjoys family travel.