Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Riskin

Jackie and John F. Kennedy honeymooned here.  Prince William just played polo here. Oprah, George Lucas and many other Hollywood notables call it their “second” home. Santa Barbara, with its magnificent surrounding neighborhoods is known as the American Riviera®.  According to Diana Bull, past president of both Santa Barbara Association of Realtors and California Association of Realtors, “Santa Barbara is rich in culture, beauty, entertainment, and interesting people”.


Situated just east of downtown Santa Barbara, between the coastline and the foothills of the San Ynez Mountain Range, Montecito is one of the wealthiest residential communities in the world.  Yet, its sophistication is tempered by an ideal climate which makes for a very relaxed, low-key, serene lifestyle that can be enjoyed, indoors and outdoors, year round.    

Photos Courtesy of:
Suzanne Perkins, Harry Kolb, Rebecca Riskin, Susan Burns, Sandy Stahl, Victor Plana & Kathy Winter

One of the most exciting aspects of Montecito is the stunning architectural styles that can be found in many of the fine homes here. The topography and views here can be an architect’s dream. According to Cristal Clarke, “Montecito is known for its lush landscaping and large parcels”. Susan Burns, for example, represents the estate of John Saladino, a famous New York architect and interior designer who completely remodeled his 13 acre “"half farmhouse, half villa" that is nestled on a gentle country road and hidden by a grove of mature trees.  The home was originally designed by architect Wallace Frost and crafted of local stone quarried onsite in the 1920's”. 

Harry Kolb reflects on the preponderance of Mediterranean architecture in Montecito and Santa Barbara in general. He explained that, “Architect and painter, George Washington Smith, is known for popularizing the Spanish Colonial Revival style here in the early 20th Century.  Available for the first time in over 30 years, “La Quinta” is one of Montecito’s Seven Crown Jewels. This 1924 Carlton Winslow designed 7-bedroom Italian Villa is represented by Mr. Kolb.

Rebecca Riskin enjoys representing Montecito homes “that offer distinct architectural character and unique settings”.  Her spectacular 12,000 square foot hilltop estate on roughly 20 acres features “unrivaled privacy and panoramic ocean and mountain views as far as the eye can see”, according to Ms. Riskin.

From traditional equestrian estates, to beachfront contemporaries, to hillside villas, Suzanne Perkins believes that “Montecito has matchless ownership opportunities for those with particularly discerning taste”. Dan Encell notes that, “Montecito tends to retain its intrinsic property value. With the mountains on one side, the ocean on the other and a no-growth green belt of agriculture heading down the coast there will always be an inherent scarcity of fine properties here”.   

Sandy Stahl works extensively in Birnam Woods, Montecito's gated golf course community. She says, “Montecito, with its picturesque upper and lower villages, is a small town community in a rural setting but with the cultural advantages of a bigger city in nearby Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara Bowl with its outdoor concerts, for example, may be the smallest venue of big name acts like Carole King or James Taylor, Jerry Seinfeld and Yo Yo Ma who will come to town after playing the Greek Theatre or Hollywood Bowl in L.A. just because they are in love with the area.

Beachfront Homes & Condos

According to Karen Spechler, “one of the most desirous condominium developments in all of Santa Barbara is Bonnymede, at the beach in Montecito, adjacent to the world renown Four Season’s Biltmore Hotel and the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club. It is also walking distance to Montecito’s lower village”. If you are like George Lucas of Star Wars fame, the ultra-exclusive beach estates in Montecito and Carpinteria can provide a level of security and privacy that simply cannot be matched in Malibu. Kathy Winter points out, “with miles of sandy beaches and sea walls to protect homes from wave damage there is tremendous value here if you long for a lifestyle that only a beachfront home can offer”.


Next to Montecito and the quaint town of Summerland, is Carpinteria, “the avocado capital of the world” It arguably has the some of the best surfing beaches in California. And, it is home to the Santa Barbara Polo Club where Prince William and his new bride just kicked off the 2011 season with a gala event catered by HGTV Food Network star Giada Del Laurentis.  According to Yolanda van Wingerden, “Carpinteria is a very close knit community.  There is tremendous community support for local activities and local businesses” 

The American Riviera®

Reminiscent of the Cote d’Azur in southern France, Santa Barbara is often referred to as the American Riviera®.  Chris Palme, who specializes in the Riviera itself, explains that “many of the buyers who choose this area appreciate not only stunning ocean views but also the city lights of downtown Santa Barbara in the evenings. This provides a sense of connectedness to the pulse of the city vs. the serenity and quietude that is associated with the more remote areas of adjacent Montecito”.  

Hope Ranch:

If you are seeking acreage and an equestrian community lifestyle there is no place like the private enclave of Hope Ranch, with its 25 miles of hiking and riding trails and large wooded lots. John Gough points out that “this wooded rural setting with its private golf course is just 10 minutes from the Santa Barbara airport”. “The sense of community in Hope Ranch, with only 700 households, is unparalleled” according to Linda Lorenzen-Hughes, “Where else can you find a community where families have 2-night campouts at the private Hope Ranch beach in the summer and horseback riding Christmas carolers in the winter?”

Jim and Ann Sarborough say that, “the people who live in Hope Ranch are noticeably happy. For the most part, they don’t have to live here for economic reasons. They choose to be here. As a result, there is a wonderful generosity of spirit that is demonstrated through many local philanthropic endeavors”.

The Mesa

Heading up the coast from the centrally located Santa Barbara Harbor and Marina are the coastal hills that comprise the Mesa with fabulous ocean views. According to Mike Richardson, “it is usually 12-15 degrees cooler in the summertime and conversely warmer in the winter than the Riviera area which is set back above Highway 101 that runs through Santa Barbara”.

We asked several agents to give us a quick take on the Santa Barbara lifestyle and its unique culture.  Here is what they had to say:

“It’s good comfortable living”- Kevin Schmidtchen

“It’s a veritable brain trust here with seven institutions of higher education in the immediate area. People who graduate from our schools often decide to come back here to live” --Steve Epstein

“Vacationers stop here, have lunch, fall in love with the area and feel compelled to buy here”-- Daniel Zia

“Buyers, especially from colder climates, are attracted by the ability to live an active outdoor lifestyle year round”—Nick Svensson

“With the quality of life, the clean air, clean water and the off-shore, close-by Channel Islands,  it’s the closest thing to Hawaii on the mainland”—Victor Plana

“Santa Barbara is one of the most resilient markets in the US today. We are starting to see multiple offers, again “—Alyson Spann

“As a 4th generation Santa Barbaran I have come to appreciate the sense of spiritually, grounding, and positive energy which is the heritage of the California Indians who lived here.  There is a true felling of security in this city”—Tiffany Dore 

“With all that Santa Barbara has to offer, there is a window of opportunity for buyers to take advantage of some very attractive prices”—Adam Pirozzi

“Santa Barbara is the biggest small town on the California coast and the pace of life here reflects that”—Mike Calcagno

The Santa Barbara wine country now rivals Napa and Sonoma in many ways.  Be sure to also check out our article on the Santa Ynez Valley, the area that became famous in the movie, Sideways.