Santa Barbara, California, USA

La Riviera americana

Sotheby's International Realty Affiliates LLC

West Coast meets the Mediterranean Coast in Santa Barbara.

The region’s unusual south-facing coastline contributes to the balmy temperatures and sunshine evocative of the Riviera, owing to its nickname: the American Riviera.

Situated 90 miles north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara was the original movie-making capital. Before there was a Hollywood motion picture industry, Santa Barbara was home to silent film studios in the early 1900s. These days, celebrities, writers and producers may not be making movies here but they are making homes here. The area, from the Pacific coastline to the hills of the Santa Ynez Mountains, is populated with A-listers.

The lifestyle is relaxed. Downtown Santa Barbara’s famous brick-lined State Street is loaded with sidewalk cafes, little boutiques and restored theaters. Navigating it by foot is encouraged. Foodies and oenophiles are right at home. An “urban wine trail,” located in an industrial neighborhood-turned-arts-district called the Funk Zone, features tasting rooms representing some of the county’s top wineries.

Stunning estates abound, near the beach or on a bluff. Spanish colonial revival and mission revival marked by arched facades, wrought-iron embellishments, white washed exteriors and red tiled roofs dominate the architecture.  Sprinkled among them are late 19th century Victorian homes and classic California bungalows along Santa Barbara’s downtown stretch.

Just to the east are the coastal communities of Montecito, the quiet retreat of the elite with its own private beach, and Carpentaria with its surf-town feel. Less than an hour from the coast in the Santa Ynez Valley are colorful locales like Solvang, the “Danish Capital” of North America and the cowboy town of Santa Ynez. A decade ago, the area got a huge tourism boast from the hit movie, “Sideways,” which was filmed here. It’s prime wine and equine territory. The Santa Ynez Valley is another area of Santa Barbara County that marquee names flock to--or did. It’s the site of Michael Jackson’s famous Neverland Ranch as well as Ronald Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo.