Hoffy Tours had the pleasure to lead a walking tour of California's most beautiful Spanish Colonial city: Santa Barbara.  My client was Yorke Engineering, a dynamic air quality and environmental compliance company that believes in enriching staff development activities. The downtown tour included the gorgeous County Courthouse (built in 1929), stately State Street, the Presidio (fort) - Ca.'s second oldest structure, and the romantic El Paseo - built as a romantic "Street in Spain" in the late 1920s.  Covering only ten blocks, there's a surprising concentration of history, art and architecture in a small area.  And, of course, the tour ended with wine tasting on El Paseo!

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a National Historic
Landmark with beautiful murals, tiles and an amazing clock tower.

Background - One of the reasons Santa Barbara is so beautiful is that the City decided to capitalize on its Spanish/Mexican heritage after a devastating earthquake in 1925.  Before that, downtown Santa Barbara looked like many other Victorian downtowns with brick, stone and wooden buildings.  With so much destruction, the city leaders decided to adopt Spanish Colonial as the official architectural style.  Four other cities also required Spanish Colonial architecture - San Clemente, Rancho Palos Verdes, Ojai and Rancho Santa Fe.  The result is a thing of beauty - Santa Barbara transformed itself into a romantic Spanish village by the sea.  The City flirted with the silent film industry in the early 1900s and then, decades later, tried to promote aviation industry.  But neither panned out, and Santa Barbara, with its pleasant climate, just focused on being beautiful!
The view from the County Courthouse's clock tower is stunning and shows the influence of Spanish Colonial architecture
with its red tiles and smooth white walls.

The highlight of the tour is the stunning SB County Courthouse - a structure so unique, beautiful and grand that is was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012.  The building itself is a blend of Spanish Colonial with Andalucian and Moorish (northern African) influences - the latter developed in Spain after the Reconquest from 1492.  The surrounding gardens -including the sunken grass courtyard - resemble moats, surrounded by an exotic array of palm trees and adding to the castle-like quality of the building.  Inside, even more delights await.  The clock tower has a wonderful observation deck and a newly-opened Bisno Schall Clock Gallery - showing guests the inner workings of the 1929 Seth Thomas clock and a wonderful mural on the history of time.  The second floor Board of Supervisor's Room is famous for its dramatic murals depicting the founding of Santa Barbara.  All throughout the inside, you'll be captivated by the intricate tiles - many produced locally but others in Tunisia and Spain.  No wonder the Santa Barbara County Courthouse is a favorite venue for weddings.
The tile work inside the Courthouse and along the corridors is the most extensive I have seen in California.

The murals in the Old Supervisor's Room depict "The Landing of Cabrillo", although the Portuguese
explorer never actually landed in Santa Barbara!  Look at the galleon in back - wow!

Santa Barbara is also famous for its courtyards, and our tour took in three of the best.  Along State Street, the City encourages shaded arcades with colorful banners, iron work, and, hopefully, great stores and restaurants.  These semi-public spaces are reminiscent of the narrow streets of Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada in southern Spain and add the the City's charm.  La Aracada Plaza below is one of the City's most beautiful - built around a 1929 building and featuring colorful flags, a fountain, and lots of window shopping.

The tour's next stop was California's second-oldest structure - El Presidio (the fort - 1872.   The Spanish only built four "presidios" (San Diego, San Francisco, Monterey, and Santa Barbara) along the coast to protect the missions and local populations, and Santa Barbara's is the best preserved.  The presidios were big, squarish, walled enclosures serving as a military garrisons, often including a chapel, agriculture and room for hide rendering, cooking and livestock.  Santa Barbara's Presidio was never attacked but its cannons could reach the water's edge a mile-and-a-half away.
My tour group - Yorke Engineering - posing in front of the reconstructed Mission-Revival
(notice the rounded bell tower) chapel.

A rendering of the Presidio in its early days.  Notice the double wall of protection and the Chumash Indian homes
just outside the walls.

Our tour ended, appropriately, at El Paseo - the historic passageway designed in the late 1920s that winds between State and Anacapa Streets.  Meant to evoke the intimate spaces of southern Spanish courtyards, walking this winding courtyard gives you a sense of surprise as you encounter stores, restaurants, offices, and, yes, wine tasting!  Architects Craig and Winslow artfully weaved the Paseo between the historic Casa de la Guerra abobe and a larger commercial building to create a truly intimate and beautiful public space.  By the way, our tour group had a wonderful wine tasting experience at Jami Slone's winery.  They even reserved their private tasting room for us!  First rate!

The original El Paseo has intimate courtyards, wine tasting, and restaurants and truly recreates
"A Street in Spain."

The original El Paseo is so beautiful that the City continued it on the other side of State Street. Although not as intimate, El Paseo Nuevo carries on the Santa Barbara tradition of beautiful arcades.

So, if you want to see California's Spanish Colonial Dream City, consider this wonderful walking tour.  It has history, architecture, design and food and drink.  Congratulations to Santa Barbara for preserving so much of its history and creating such a beautiful theme.  Here's a link to Santa Barbara's Downtown Walking Tour -Santa Barbara Red Tile Walk if you want to explore on your own.  Better yet, give Hoffy Tours a call and I'll organize a great day of exploring California's most beautiful Spanish Colonial city.