Travel Tips

Postcard to Peter: Santa Barbara Shopping

Locations in this article:  New York City, NY Paris, France Rome, Italy San Diego, CA Santa Barbara, CA

stamped letterMeet Suzy Gershman. World traveler, author, journalist, and the consummate “shopping goddess,” Suzy and Peter go way back (farther than either of them would like to admit!). But in the interests of full disclosure, they went to elementary school together in Manhattan.

For years, as they each circled the globe, Suzy and Peter found that they would often miss each another in a city by days or weeks.

“Oh, Peter said hello,” would say one concierge when Suzy showed up in Rome; “Suzy sends her best,” said another when Peter appeared in Singapore. And so began their long tradition of leaving notes for one other at hotels as they criss-crossed their way around the world.

Suzy began publishing her “postcard series” in Condé Nast France while living in Paris from 2000-2005. Now a California Girl, she’s picking up where she left off—sending postcards to Peter again, but this time relying on the world of electronic communication instead of leaving notes with hotel staffers around the globe.

Postcard to Peter: Santa Barbara, CA

Dear Peter,
Hugs to you across from … up the coast. I’m in Santa Barbara!

In the brave new world of the “staycation,” or the tour on a tank (of gas), I tore outta my driveway in San Diego and headed north to Santa Barbara for the weekend. It’s only 200 miles, but if you don’t want to drive, you can fly into LAX and rent a car for the two hour drive or even to right into Santa Barbara, although that could mean changing planes at DFW.

Suzy Gershman on Train There are several regional carriers that have non-stops from assorted California cities; you can even take the train—now that’s entertainment.

THE GREATER WHOLE: Santa Barbara no longer means just Santa Barbara—there’s an entire daisy chain of beach communities that make up the whole. Each has its own personality. I flipped for Carpinteria, which is very funky and just now getting some serious restaurants. On the other hand, real estate isn’t as expensive here as elsewhere and you aren’t that far from Oprah’s house in Montecito.

Montecito is, of course, where the serious money (which is no longer old) is holed up in mini-mansions behind gates; most are not that ostentatious and feel more English or even country French than Spanish Hacienda. Indeed, the outlying communities pay as much tribute to the area’s hippie past as to its Spanish heritage. The town of Summerland is now a string of adorable shops (mostly antiques).

SHOPPING SANTA BARBARA: The main retail thrust is still in Santa Barbara and it is among the strangest combinations of price points and brand names I have ever seen. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, it’s just oddball because of the range.

First off, there must be some city ordinance that makes chains hide their trade dress because even Ralph’s, the California chain of supermarkets, is a white stucco, red tile roof hacienda with only a teeny, tiny name plate.

clothing displayedThe main drag is State Street which runs from the beach toward the hills. The closer to the beach you are, the more touristy the shops. This is where college kids hang out and hook up. Tourists like the Sunday arts and crafts fair on the beach.

I like the fact that hidden off the edge of State Street is even a branch of Tuesday Morning, although it’s not a great branch—shopper beware. I also like the mom-and pop-stores that make for real destination shopping.

There’s everything from glitzy designer brands in small boutiques to department stores (Macy’s, Saks and Nordstrom’s) to multiples (Old Navy, World Market just came to town) to stores like Tiendo Ho. Despite that screwy name, this store sells ethnic and North African clothing and housewares; there’s nothing at all that’s South of the Border. Upfront in the store are crazy wild prints that could send you back to the street in a glance, but deeper in the store there’s solid colors in woven and knits and items along the same lines as Eileen Fisher, Oska and Eskander … for much less moolah. Prices are under $100. There’s also some sale racks, up to 50 percent off!

Perhaps my favorite discovery was So Pretty, a twist on Claire’s or those low-cost jewelry places you know from every mall in America. This one is much more sophisticated (much, much, much more) and even has Van Cleef wannabe chains and ‘diamond’ engagement rings. There must be 10,000 pieces of jewelry here, all of it at bargain prices.

going shoppingHIDDEN AWAY: When it comes to the truly upmarket goods, you want to shop in Montecito, Summerland or the side streets and strips of downtown. Good stores are in strip centers, but you have to know where to look. Try the small strip center at 1324 State Street which house, among other resources, Treat, a day spa and beauty maven perch for hard to find brands (805-966-2336, Travel buffs will get off the main drag and head to West Sola Street (#110) and the offices and retail outlet for Magellan’s travel supplies (805-568-5408, You probably know them from their famous catalogue, but the store has gadgets galore.

Among the most interesting areas is downtown Montecito. Check out Maison K (1253 Coast Village Road; 805-969-1676, This is a home style store that has enormous flair and many gift items at affordable prices. In Summerland, you don’t want to miss Just Folk (2346 Lillie Avenue; 805-969-7118; a magnificent gallery selling Americana and folk art, much of it museum quality. There’s a fair amount of Tramp Art (an old woodworking style), among other things.

Should you truly be into the spirit of hidden away, then you might want to get yourself invited to a Carlisle party. Carlisle is a knit line for ladies who lunch; it is sold exclusively in the homes of their representatives. Sizes go from 0-18 (this is a good thing); you must call for an appointment at 805-969-4893.

LUNCH MUNCH: While you’re out there doing your thing on State Street, you need to try The Habit, a locally-owned mini-chain of old-fashioned hamburger joints. You just head to the walk-up window and order; you can dine alfresco. Actually, State Street is over-flowing with eateries, as are the side streets.

If you want to be in with the “in” crowd, then you’ll be eating at the Pierre Lafond Bistro (516 State St.; 805-962-5999), owned by the most famous fashionista couple in town, Wendy Foster and Pierre Lafond. As for me, well, I’m hanging out at the harbor at Brophy’s, where the weekends are so crowded that you have to line up for dinner at 5 p.m. But that’s OK, because it’s casual dining on the fresh catch of the day. Yum.

Salt Taffy Kisses from here,

For 25 years, Suzy has written the popular “Born to Shop” series, now published by Frommer’s. Her most recent book, Where to Buy the Best of Everything, is available now. She also hosts international tours several times a year. For more information, visit

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