Celebrities, beaches, wine, red tiles and beautiful gardens are just some of the things that made the relaxed town of Santa Barbara famous. Most visitors coming to Santa Barbara spend their time near the fancy boutiques and restaurants along State Street. But there is a lot more to this beautiful coastal town nestled in the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains than just State Street.
Visiting the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is quite a pleasure (as long as you are not the defendant). The courthouse has been the place of the local government since 1850. Completed in 1928, the complex epitomizes the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture that can also be seen throughout the city. Its majestic archways, colorful gardens and intricate tile mosaics make it one of the most beautiful buildings in California. Adjacent to the Roman-style triumphal arch at to the main entrance there is a sandstone fountain called The Spirit of the Ocean, symbolizing Santa Barbara’s connection with the ocean.
Many of the courthouse visitors come here to get married it its famous Mural Room, which was originally as the assembly room for the County Board of Supervisors. The room is quite impressive, with a 30-foot tall ceiling, golden painted beams and surrounded by a 6,700 square feet mural painting representing the early history of Santa Barbara.
You can also climb the stairs or take the elevator to the 85-foot “El Mirador” clock tower for a spectacular 360º panorama.
The courthouse is located at 1100 Anacapa Street in Santa Barbara and is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. It can also be visited and from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends. Admission is free.
At the bottom of State Street in Santa Barbara is Sterns Wharf, a popular spot among the locals. At the time when it was built, in 1872, this was the longest deep-water pier between Los Angeles and San Francisco.Today the pier is home to some souvenir shops and restaurants where you can grab a bite while enjoying the view of the ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Also on the pier you can find the Ty Warner Sea Center, a beautiful natural history museum where visitors can observe and interact with sea stars, urchins, jelly fish, limpets, and other interesting creatures that live in the waters of Santa Barbara Channel.
The Old Mission
Nicknamed “Queen of the Missions,” the Old Mission Santa Barbara was the 10th mission founded by the Spanish Franciscans in California. The mission was built in 1786 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, the successor of the Padre Junipero Serra who founded the first nine missions. This is the second most beautiful of the 21 California missions, after San Carlos Borromeo Mission in Carmel.
The original buildings were made of adobe clay but as the years passed they have been destroyed by fires and earthquakes. The present church at Mission Santa Barbara was rebuilt with thicker walls and was completed in 1820.
The purpose of the Mission was the christianazation of the Chumash Indians who occupied the area between Malibu to San Luis Obispo. The Chumash were hunters and gatherers but they also had advanced woodworking and basket-making skills. They even had their own trading and monetary system. It is somewhat surprising that Chumash Indians agreed to live on the mission lands and work for someone else when they had their own culture. But as it appears, the Chumash were fascinated by the European musical instruments and the objects that the Spanish ships were bringing from Spain. They also liked the lifestyle of the Spaniards who farmed and made wines. At the Mission they learned to make adobes, tiles, shoes, and woolen garments, and even play the instrumental music.
Today, more than 200 years after it was established, Mission Santa Barbara continues to serve as a parish church with a large and active congregation. The mission is also home to a community of Franciscan friars. Santa Barbara Old Mission is open for visitors between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Admission is $8/person for a self-guided tour.