California road (and eating) trip – Santa Barbara

I’m just settling back in after a fab two-week road trip around Southern California.  We’d never been further south than LA so we can now say we’ve been almost all the way down to the bottom of this huge state.  I’ve fallen in love with the So Cal laid back lifestyle and the amazing beaches.  Having grown up watching Baywatch, there is something so familiar about the beaches down there and I did get a little obsessed with the life guard huts.  I used this trip to finally get myself on Instagram so I chronicled our travels on there too.

For me holiday (vacation) has always been very much about eating things alongside locals to get a feel for the place. I love trying foods local to the area, prepared to local recipes. I usually spend time before we go away doing a bit of research to work out where will be good to try.  Yelp proved invaluable on this trip for finding places.  Now we have two small side kicks with us, we have less time to aimlessly wander to find somewhere good to eat so I tend to plan a lot. I do like to have some spontaneity though so I love to ask around when I get somewhere to uncover any hidden gems. We knew this trip would give us chance to eat out more easily than we have in the last 3 years as our boys are better at staying up late and being flexible with what they eat and when – joy!

The other bit of the trip was that we’d be staying in self catering rentals. I love a nice bit of self catering – more time to cook, access to new ingredients and coping with the challenge of cooking without my usual kit.  That said, I don’t ever go to a self catering rental without my knives (theirs are never sharp), chopping boards (I’m squeamish about other people’s boards), my Microplanes and a few silicon spatulas. In an ideal world I’d love to take a Le Creuset and my Scanpans as well as my food processor but I am not Elizabeth Taylor and do not have unlimited luggage for such luxuries.

I also picked a couple of cookbooks that I felt I’d not yet test driven. And, most importantly I took the ingredients for a few store cupboard meals so that we wouldn’t need to go food shopping straight away. These are lessons learnt from my Mum and Dad.  We were the family who drove down to the south of France every summer in a car full of my Mum’s larder essentials and treats (always a tin of her homemade short bread and flapjacks) ready for our camping trips where we supplemented our local finds with basics from home.

I loved Santa Barbara.  We arrived at the start of Fiesta week which was a total accident but a happy one.  There was so much to see and we loved the beaches.  Here are the places I loved to eat and drink.

French Press

I’m still mourning that I can’t have my daily espresso from this place every day. Why is it i only find my perfect coffee shop somewhere a 5 hour drive from home? Even I can’t justify that journey for a coffee. Why did I love it so? Let me count the ways. First, and this is a little embarrassing how shallow I am, the font on the sign outside gave me the flutter in my tummy that I was on to something good. My husband is well used to me getting excited about somewhere over the street because I like the colour of grey, or the font they have used on their signage. A relic of my past life in advertising I spose. So, once I’d calmed down over the gorgeous signage I saw inside that they used good coffee (obvs) and the barista were suitably serious bearded types but, they were also smiling – not always a given that these two traits go together in a seriously good coffee shop (blue bottle are you listening?). Then the cakes, how has it taken me this long to get to the cakes. They were serving a ‘slump’. At breakfast time.  I know.  And gorgeous scones and cookies and a peach bourbon pie. So the coffee was amazing, the cakes were as good as if they’d been made by some fabulous baking aunt and the atmosphere was perfectly buzzy but quiet enough for a lovely hour spent reading, nibbling and sipping.

La Super Rica

Everyone had told us to go here – Gwyneth had written about it in her blog. Julia Childs had loved it too. Lots of students from my classes had told me I must try it. Sometimes places don’t live up to the hype but this place was well worth the trip. Off the beaten track a bit and in a ramshackle building. Nothing at all fancy to look at. The open kitchen behind the cash desk looked totally out of control but you could tell that these people had been cooking the same dishes in these cramped quarters for years, so they were used to cooking over each other in their limited space. One lady in her 50s was churning out fresh tortillas from a huge bowl of dough – squishing them deftly on a tortilla press then flinging them straight on to a grill where another guy was cooking meat and veggies. I was obviously looking a bit confused over what to order as a couple in their 70s took me under their wing and told me what to get. They were locals and had been coming here for 30 years. Ever the control freak, I’m not great at bring told what to eat, I dithered, but they were spot on. I know I’ve forgotten things but we had – guacamole, beans, chorizo quesadilla, marinated pork and skirt steak tacos and some gorgeous watermelon agua fresca. Oh and Pacifica beers. All on paper plates, served without ceremony but totally delicious.  Just order lots, ask the guy to recommend anything you miss and enjoy.


One of my students recommended this place. We went with our boys on our first night in Santa Barbara and had a really good night. Both boys were both on good form – they’re still pretty little for this to be guaranteed when we eat out any later than 7pm.  We were wanting to be like those families we’d seen on our pre-child holidays in Italy – the families who sit out until midnight, eating and drinking wine with their well behaved kids hanging out with them or napping in push chairs.  Well, we stayed out until 9pm so we almost got there!  This place sells Lebanese food so was perfect for us as we could order lots of little plates and all dig in. The table had a fire pit in the middle so that was pretty much guaranteed to keep the boys entertained. We had all sorts – falafel, baba ganoush, houmus, pita, lamb kibbe, lavash and lamb kebab. As night fell the fairy lights came on in the outside dining area where we were sitting making it a really pretty place for dinner.

Padaro Beach Grill

We were fresh off the beach from the stunning butterfly beach in Montecito. It was one of those evenings where you still have sand on your shoulders and have probably had a little bit too much sun, your hair is crispy from the sea and you don’t want the day to end. We rolled up to this place and once again I was taken in by the design of the entrance. It’s a burger, sandwich and salad place but done beautifully. Relaxed but with great ingredients and, here’s the best bit… You sit overlooking the sea in a grassy area full of benches with a massive sandpit full of toys. It’s ridiculous that a bunch of kids who have been on the beach all day will still go crazy over a sandpit but who were we to argue when it meant we could enjoy a bottle of Rosé with our burgers while they played. The burgers were great, the Rose was chilled, the sun was setting and then a train thundered down the line in front of us and all the kids went crazy with excitement. Everyone was happy. We were caught up in the place and went inside to get ice cream which was the cherry on the cake (or on the ice cream sundae?) local organic salted caramel, malted chocolate balls and dark chocolate ice cream from Rori’s, just around the corner. The salted caramel was the best we’ve ever had. And we have had a lot.

The Shop

My poor family are now well used to being led off into random areas of towns and cities we visit, following behind me and my Google map as I jolly them along with promises of great food in the dodgy looking areas we’re walking through. This morning we left the glitz of downtown SB and walked 20 minutes through some not so nice bits to find this place for breakfast. Well worth it. Set up in an old mechanic shop this place serves breakfast and lunch. Like a food truck gone stationary, the set up is simple and the food amazing. The boys had oatmeal but before you think I’m a mean mother forcing them to eat cereal while I stuff myself with treats, I’m not. This oatmeal was topped with caramelised pecans, bananas, mascarpone and soaked golden raisins. Basically a delicious dessert masquerading as breakfast. I had the Rolex – a gorgeous omelette (perfectly cooked unlike 90% of the ones served in breakfast places – big bugbear of mine) with a homemade chapati, a tomato and roasted red pepper spread and avocado. Oh a little bit of bacon too. The chapati was a revelation – I’m so making them for breakfast at home in future. They had fried chicken and homemade biscuits on the menu but I didn’t dare order them at 9am.  Still regretting that I didn’t brave the weird looks from my family and get it as I saw a guy on another table snaffle it down and it looked so good. They serve lunch too, all of which sounded right up my street. Their menu is going to be inspiring some cooking from me when I get home.

Persona Pizza Neapolitan
There are times in life when you need a pizza, especially when you want to keep everyone in the family happy. This place looked like a chain from outside which put me off, but the reviews on Yelp told a different story. I’m so glad we looked past the exterior as the pizza was great and the idea behind the set up is genius. I really hope this does turn into a chain as it is brilliant in its simplicity and answers the needs of so many of us – great ingredients, cooked simply and served fast. They have a pizza production line going which you walk along (Chipotle style) and create your own pizza. Non of the usual crappy cheese and thick bases with too much topping here though. The owner learnt his pizza making skills in Napoli and he brought the real deal pizza ovens back with him too. I can’t believe that more places don’t cotton onto the fact that good pizza should be made and cooked this quickly without relying on pre made bases and bad toppings. They claim that your pizza will be ready in 90 seconds and it was. Anyone with small kids knows that you will happily hug someone who gets good food in front of you fast when you’re eating out. Anyway the pizza was one of the best we’ve had outside Italy and the service was amazing.