California, land of fresh fish, fresh fruit, and so many avocados, is known all over the world for its fantastic food. And there may be nowhere in California that taps into that bounty better than the enclave of Montecito. This Utopian beach town just south of Santa Barbara is renowned for its world-class hotels, its pure-perfection shorelines, eucalyptus trees everywhere, and more delicious food than you could possibly cram into one weekend. But that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t try (via goop.com).
CHECK IN: SAN YSIDRO RANCH
Fresh off an extensive remodeling, San Ysidro Ranch looks…exactly the same. And that’s the point. Devoted guests check in throughout the year expecting that familiar home-away-from-home feeling, and the remodel respects that. Then again, the place was perfect to begin with: romantic cottages cloaked in ivy, leather armchairs conveniently placed next to potbellied stoves and crackling fires, sublime farm-to-fork meals, and what feels like thousands of lavender bushes covering the 500-acre estate. But fairy-tale charm aside, what really gets us behind the wheel and up US 101 in Friday night traffic is the wine cellar. Wine director Todd Smith spent a year hunting down unique vintners and wooing private collectors to rebuild the significant stash lost in the mudslides. The result is one of the few spaces that is different from its predecessor. Rich walnut shelving and a state-of-the-art temperature-control system have replaced what looked more like an unofficial storage space than a swanky cellar. After several courses on the Stonehouse restaurant’s terrace, settle into one of those fireside armchairs for a final glass from the trove—this is the true essence of San Ysidro.
BREAKFAST AT MERCI
Before she opened Merci in the lovely Montecito Country Mart, chef and owner Elizabeth Colling cut her teeth at the Ritz Escoffier School in Paris. She followed that with stints at Spago and Bastide. And now, every Saturday, dozens of locals line up to indulge in Colling’s resolutely French brown-butter-soaked waffles Suzette. The café itself is a blush-colored cocoon of wicker seating, marble tables, and the welcoming scent of fresh bread hot out of the oven. Roll up early, commandeer a table, and slowly work your way through the patisserie case alongside what feels like half the town—if you’re lucky, the orange-blossom cinnamon rolls will still be warm. Our standing order: Merci’s Cali spin on breakfast brioche (they add nut butter) and runny eggs. Even the toast tastes better here—served with a French smear of herby cheese instead of plain old butter.
LUNCH AT JEANNINE’S
Jeannine’s has been an institution in Montecito for three decades, and its brunch-y menu is as all-American as the handmade apple pies it serves. Syrupy waffles come with fresh local berries and cream. Streaky Nueske’s bacon, cheesy burritos, plates piled high with fresh fruit, and strawberry scones stream out of the kitchen to loyal Montecitans who spill out onto the street-side tables. A lazy hour or two at Jeannine’s people-watching over a scone before the eggs arrive at the table is Montecito perfection.
NEAPOLITAN PIZZA AT BETTINA
Saturday nights are ripe for pizza and a beer, so Montecitans tend to agree. Bettina’s white subway tile and olive-green shiplap interior hums with chatter and a low-key raucousness that half convinces you you’re in a hipster pizzeria in Brooklyn. (The owners are New York transplants, and the vibe follows.) Call us purists, but we’re partial to the simple margherita pie. Blistered edges, sweet-sour tomato sauce, flecks of basil, and a drizzle of grassy olive oil is even tastier with a green salad and robust glass of Brunello. In our book, a restaurant is only as good as the sides and snacks (or, in this case, spuntini) on the menu. No meal at Bettina is complete without an order of the cacio e pepe arancini to get the Saturday night going.
SUNDAY BRUNCH AT CARUSO’S
A leisurely Sunday feed at Caruso’s embodies the breezy, upscale but casual vibe Montecito is known for. Brunch is an Italian-inspired affair, which means prosciutto and melon, lasagna, and cannoli are on the menu. But this is still Santa Barbara country (i.e., $$), so everything that can take it—the ricotta pancakes, the scrambled eggs, even the omelets—comes with dollops of caviar. After all, this is the Miramar, and it’s all very old-world. Take the opportunity to get dressed up and hop in the hotel’s pink car for a spin around the property before sitting down to a brunch feast that has the potential to stretch into dinner.
A LITTLE WINE TASTING
A local friend let us in on this cute tasting room in Montecito’s Lower Village, a short walk from the Miramar. We like to drop in for a glass after lunch. The family-run Folded Hills winery grows its vines—organically—in the Santa Ynez Valley. Staffers are just as charming as they are knowledgeable, and after you’ve tasted a flight or two, signing up for the Folded Hills wine club (expect two six-bottle shipments annually) seems like an entirely reasonable idea.
THE LAST SUPPER
Honestly, we wish Oliver’s would open a second location, in Los Angeles, if only for the kombucha-infused cocktails. First impressions after a meal here are generally in the “I can’t believe how outrageously delicious that was” range, and the fact that the entire menu is vegan is as shocking as it is delightful. Every bite is so damn tasty. Spicy kung pao cauliflower, truffle-oil fingerlings, and jackfruit tacos sneak into our order every time and feel hearty and satisfying. However, on a recent visit, we decided to go rogue. We ordered the veggie burger. It turns out that while vegan cheddar and coconut bacon make a perfect marriage, the toasted pretzel bun smeared in secret sauce seals the deal. It’s a burger to drive for.