Taking the Train to Santa Barbara, Packing Light

My husband and I have been to Santa Barbara a number of times over the years, but have never taken the train. In an attempt to travel “light” with a 15 month old, we decided this would be our challenge over the Labor Day weekend. Ditch the car, stay in walking distance of State Street, and (this one’s for me) not pack too many clothes or shoes. We loaded up one duffel bag, the umbrella stroller, a backpack for my husband, and the diaper bag for me, and off we went!

The Train

Two adults plus a child under age two can take Amtrak roundtrip from LA to Santa Barbara for as little as $120, but we opted for business class which tacked on an additional $30 to each ticket. As you can see, our section was very open, so we were able to snag two seats facing another two seats, perfect for keeping Paloma happy and wrangling her. There’s a dining cart, and some gratis snacks in business class. Going north the trip is about two-and-a-half hours (return is closer to three), and once you get to the water, it’s a beautiful ride. Nick was so happy and relaxed not to have driven.

The Food

The one place we find ourself every time we go to Santa Barbara is Pierre Lafond WineBistro. We’ve only gone during the day – it has a laid back atmosphere, bright, high-ceilinged (slightly industrial) interior, solid food, and very generous pours. This time, I ordered this fantastic Bistro Bruschetta (left) with fried eggs, prosciutto, pesto, mozzarella, and marinated tomatoes. And, if you can believe it, the right image is from the kids menu – one egg, sausage, fruit, and toast for $6.

Dining at Wine Cask is quite elegant. There’s a clubbier interior dining space, but we opted to sit in the courtyard and enjoy the Santa Barbara dusk. We started with a really lovely, smooth Kenneth Crawford Syrah. My main course was amazing – Duck Cassoulet ‘Trio’ with duck leg, braised pork cheek, sausage, and white beans. My chocolate and chevre doughnuts were a noteworthy dessert, but I enjoyed the glass of port even more.

Considering we live in Los Angeles, we don’t eat all that much Mexican food, so we thought Cielito would be a nice change of pace. An upscale affair with lively courtyard and spacious deco interior, the overall vibe is festive. Our blackberry margaritas, a special that night, were truly delicious and refreshing, I only wished I could’ve made myself drink it slower. The menu consists of small plates served family style – we ordered four for the two-and-a-half of us: pork belly quesadilla, Kobe beef skewers, tacos al pastor, and halibut tacos. Each was very good, but the pork belly and tacos al pastor were standouts for me. I think this may have been Nick’s favorite meal. Wine Cask and Cielito are different experiences, but I enjoyed them equally and would highly recommend.

Kids Shopping

What can I say, you have a kid and this gravitational pull to kids clothes just takes hold. There are two spots I can’t resist in Santa Barbara: K.Frank if you’re up for spending a bit more money (Splendid, Pink Chicken, shown above, Kissy Kissy, Petit Bateau); and Peanuts Maternity & Kids for topnotch consignment, as well as new offerings. K.Frank also sells clothing for men and women.


P had an absolute ball running around Alameda Park, very close to the thick of things, but its own scenic world. We loved the beautiful trees that provided much-needed shade from the heat and the endless grass. P’s a bit young but there’s an 8,000-square-foot playground that will likely be in her future.

The Stay

When you walk out the front door of the Harbor View Inn, this is what you see. Our room (contemporary, nice) had everything we needed – a separate living area with portable crib for P, a refrigerator for milk, and a great big tub and separate shower. We could easily walk everywhere, and there was a handy book with all the restaurant information and photos in the lobby. The hotel restaurant, Eladio’s, had a stellar breakfast sandwich and another great meal for P. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the pool.

Last-Minute Wine Tasting

What to do when you have about an hour to kill before your train? Since it’s Santa Barbara, there are a couple wineries right across the street from the train station. Kalyra felt more like a bar, so we dipped into Giessinger Winery. We left with a bottle of red and a chocolatey port with plenty of time to hop on the train and head home a little heady.

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