Guide to Santa Barbara & Montecito (+ a Packing List)

We no longer live in LA full-time, but rather in denial that our life is not at least bi-coastally filled with palm trees, surf and skateparks. (More on that move here). When our new poolhouse flooded and needed to be gutted to the studs, I comforted myself by modeling it’s decor after the Beverly Hills hotel, Martinique wallpaper and all. We live in a farmhouse and barns, so the juxtaposition may be unexpected, but it works from both a design perspective and an aesthetic coping mechanism. My own version of hygge.

Whether Mike or I fly out for work or the whole family needs a west coast fix, Lola included, we are lucky enough to have the most generous friends-who-are-family living in our old west side of L.A. neighborhood and I thankfully still have the keys to their house. For all eight of us (ten including the dogs), the Santa Barbara, Montecito & Ojai area is our Cali happy place. When we lived in Cali full-time, its where we spent both of our 30th birthdays, where we went to rejoice when the day after we found out that I was finally pregnant with Sweetlips & The Bean, where we spent our first Anniversary with the boys and the place we set off for on any weekend that we need a little rejuvenation. These days, we still head up the coast on every trip, sometimes for a few nights, other times for just a jam packed day. When we’re back east, those amazing friends, along with their twin girls (our precious goddaughters), are on the ground reporting on the latest and greatest there. But no matter what we discover, our original go-to spots from skateparks to scones to sand are forever sacred...so here they are:

 Where to Go, What to Do and How to Get it Guide:

Santa Barbara & Montecito 

 

Lucky's Steakhouse

Lucky's Steakhouse

EAT: Drop in for a scone at favorite Montecito brunch spot Jeannine’s (my must-have is raspberry. Just sayin’.) Our friend Josh (see saint above) turned me on to Hoppy Poppy IPA from the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. Visit their beer garden in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone where you can order salads, sandwiches and pizzas from the Lucky Penny restaurant next door. Eat under the stars at the romantic and rustic-chic Plough & Angel at tony hotel San Ysidro Ranch. Rori’s Artisinal Ice Cream at the Montecito Country Mart is essential. The “3 Itty Bitty Scoops” for five dollars is a game changer for those that don’t like to choose — I go with Brown Sugar Banana, Nutella and Strawberry Cheesecake. Enjoy dinner at Lucky’s Steakhouse in Montecito. It’s our families’ favorite restaurant. Please order the mac n’ cheese.

 

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

SLEEP: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa — A bit South of Montecito in Ojai, we often stay here in their Mediterranean villas amongst the lavendar. 

Four Seasons The Biltmore Santa Barbara — Just across the street from our favorite beach with access to their famed pool, Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club. If you can snag a cottage, make it happen.

When we want to zen just the two of us (and Lola, of course) with ocean views, we head to Bacara for utter relaxation. 

San Ysidro Ranch will set you back, but this retreat in the Santa Barbara foothills where John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned is simply dreamy. Save it for an anniversary or birthday treat (hint, hint).

 

Sunset at Butterfly Beach

Sunset at Butterfly Beach

GO: Hit Santa Barbara Skater's Point Skatepark to see real Southern Cali skaters in action. The park is closed on Saturdays year round from 9-11 am for free lessons for the kiddos. Visit the lovely and very manageable Santa Barbara Zoo with your family. Make sure to get there in time to feed the giraffes. Head to Butterfly Beach directly in front of the Four Seasons Biltmore for a dog day afternoon (your pup will make many friends) or soak in the spectacular sunset over the Pacific. Off the beaten path, take a drive to Los Olivos for wine tasting and a little shopping. Sides Hardware and Shoes - A Brothers Restaurant, will make you glad you did.

SHOP: Browse William Laman for beautiful antiques and exceptional accessories. You won’t want to leave. While you are here by San Ysidro Village, check out House of Honey for glam home goods and Jenni Kayne for minimalist Cali girl designs. Wander the Montecito Country Mart where you will find Co, a pop-up shop by one of my favorite cult Cali designers, as well as chic tabletop shop Hudson Grace and swimwear favorite Malia Mills. My amazing friend Kerri (again, see saint above) introduced me to Raoul Textiles on State Street in Santa Barbara, the showroom for the company’s exquisite hand-printed textile designs, as well as select furnishings and accessories from favorite California based companies. 

 

Packing List

Days can be chilly in the shade and in the evening or quite warm in the sun. This time of year, I choose pieces that still work for summer and warm weather holidays, but can easily transition into layering for fall. 

For a Day of Shopping and Wine Tasting

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DRESS/BOMBER JACKET/SHOES

For Afternoons at the Beach

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None the Worse for Wear

(from the archives and updated with a new "Get" list below)

 

No matter where in the world we travel, be it Botswana or Belize, Baja or Boca, there is always one setback that I can count on and, regrettably for me, it’s not delayed flights or lost baggage. To my unbridled discontent and even preemptive stern warnings, my husband will, without humility or even self-awareness, wander the hotel’s grounds and enjoy the property’s amenities clad in nothing more than his complimentary hotel bathrobe.

I have stumbled upon him enjoying the open view of the bush in the lobby of a South African lodge in this getup, jovially greeting stunned new arrivals as they checked in. I have found Mike in his man-robe, enjoying a snack by the pool in Florence while sophisticated Europeans enjoyed Prosecco nearby. Most recently I witnessed him dressed for a bubble bath while reveling in a nightcap at a quaint boutique hotel in the Berkshires. The other couples still wearing appropriate cocktail attire were at least inebriated enough at that hour to be easily amused.

Mike firmly insists, “That’s what the robe is there for.” I cannot imagine that the other guests who enter the business center to find Mike tapping away in terrycloth would agree. We have never stayed at a nudist colony.

To add insult to injury, he wears the plush wrap tied low, Tony Soprano style, and balances out the show of misinformed masculinity that is the chest hair peaking out of the over-exposed neckline by completing this well-edited ensemble with the equally flattering, and also complimentary, bedside slipper mules. I mean, he can’t wander Ojai barefoot, right?

I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same person who has coined the phrase “No Pants Tuesday.” You see, Mike spends this day with our toddler boys, taking them out for a “Dudes Lunch” and then to a wild afternoon of bonding at the playground. Just envisioning my three men together out on the town truly warms my heart, which is what I like to focus on. Because when I arrive home at the end of the day, eager to see my crew, and even though Mama has curated an enviable wardrobe for Sweetlips and The Bean, no one is ever wearing pants. Because it’s “No Pants Tuesday.”  (He swears that everyone leaves the house fully clothed.)

So, when despite my earlier protests, I do inevitably encounter my husband swathed in his jetsetting finest and chatting up other fully clothed patrons who are trying to engage in polite conversation while praying that this affable guy has boxers under there, I try to take a photograph to document my plight. When it comes to marriage, always have proof.

I like to send these displays of mortification to my mother-in-law. Why do I bother to involve her? Because she made this bed and now I have to sleep in it. You see, it is my opinion that this sort of blissful oblivion to basic human protocol had to be ingrained as either acceptable during childhood, or at the very least it was consciously overlooked. So while this may seem like a coping mechanism, I blame my mother-in-law for all of her son’s shenanigans, and if I have to suffer through them now, I’m not going to let her retire and take a cruise. As she always says, “Hey, you married him.” Yeah, well you made him.

Yet, we’re still traveling.  The truth is, against my better judgment, I can’t help but laugh. I’m literally an enabler of the inane. When I give a stern warning, it’s simply because I fear that we won’t be allowed to return, not because I want to change him. As his co-parent, I’m glad that Mike is showing the boys to take life seriously by making the details more fun. And I can only hope that one day Sweetlips and The Bean’s partners will continue to bring me in on the joke. Even in our darkest moments, I believe that we pressed through because we’ve been able to unearth even the slightest morsels of humor or levity. Or, in the case of the bathrobe, which my husband truly believes that the hotel has offered for his all-inclusive comfort, I’ve learned to just let certain things go for the sake of my sanity.

The bottom line is, he has no shame and for fourteen years this has been good for me who has plenty. While he’s lucidly padding around a resort in a bathrobe and slippers, you can be sure that I am meticulously accessorized within an inch of my life. We balance each other.

What can I say? Love is blind.

_____________________

Since this essay was pulled from the archives, I've added my new wishful packing list for an upcoming summer getaway...and a little something for the hubby too.

what's in a name

(From the archives with an Africa Where to Stay list)

I have a confession. My name is not really Nicole Mann Novick. At least not legally.

Every time we have attempted an articulate discussion about the weighty subject of my name, no matter how Mike approaches the inevitable, “But why?,” all I can come up with is a somewhat daft, “Because that’s not my name.”  And, once in a while, I throw in a, “How do you just change your name?,” for good measure.

Who the heck is Nicole Novick? – It’s not me.  Nicole Novick has never been asked if her family likes to be referred to as “The Men,” while the asker waits with anticipation to see if that stinger really got her, like no one has ever asked that before.  No one has ever called Nicole Novick, Nicole Wo-Mann, stressing each syllable for what the jokester believes is the necessary punch to really make it a good one.  Nicole Novick was not the precocious eight-year-old on the tennis courts given the nickname Nicole Ineeda Mann by an older, trés cool counselor – an epithet that stuck for all of her camping years.  

Yes, I know, names shouldn’t define us.  But, I feel like the shrink that came up with that was thinking more along the lines of “Fat,” “Lazy” and “Stupid,” not what appears on our birth certificate or social security card. And I don’t give a hoot if I am referred to as “Mike’s wife – Nicole.”  You can just call me, “Mike’s wife” – I’d be proud of that.  I just don’t know who “Mike’s wife, Nicole Novick” is.  I am not concerned about carrying on the family name either.  I have a brother and a cousin that will inevitably produce tortured young women to carry on the tradition of being referred to as “The Mann Eater,” often accompanied by a chorus of “Whoa, here she comes, watch out boys she’ll chew you up.”

Mike doesn’t want to hyphenate Sweetlips and The Bean. I don’t want them to have a hyphenated last name either. Secretly, as a child, I always felt bad for those tykes during standardized tests as they shaded in the bubbles for their double name with a no. 2 pencil. There were never enough bubbles or a place to mark a hyphen. At the time I remember feeling that parents should have thought things like that through and I promised myself I would keep that in mind when I grew up.

Sometimes completely unrelated and benign incidents offer up revelations, ones that couldn’t be found or justified by love or sensibility alone.  I found mine at the dermatologist.  I have a very distinctive mole just at the inner edge of my right eyebrow.  Growing up my mother has always referred to it as a beauty mark, “because you’re beautiful” – you understand.  But, it’s a mole, nonetheless. Because of this mole I have decided not to completely change my name.  Some people reveal that it is my defining characteristic.  While I often forget that it is noticeable, a friend recently admitted that it is the first thing people see.  They stare at it during our entire first encounter and then they move on.  Yet, the mole would be my incriminating feature if I were ever to be put in a lineup of petite blondes. A dermatologist recently told me that she would like to remove the mole.  While it is completely healthy, she felt that my beauty mark is actually quite ugly and (I’m quoting here), “Whenever anyone looks at you they can’t even focus on your face. All they are seeing is that horrible mole.”  I wasn’t offended.

I recently brought up the mole removal to Mike.  All I nonchalantly inquired was, “Should I remove my mole?”

“No!,” he exclaimed, quite passionately for someone that thinks replacing all forms of my present identification is no big deal. “You wouldn’t be you if you remove it. Everyone knows you as having that mole.  You can’t remove it,” Mike pleaded.  And here’s the clincher: He added, “It’s who you are.”

So, let me get this straight – I can’t remove a mole, else lose my identity, but I can change my name?  It just doesn’t make any sense.

As it stands, I am not changing the moniker on my driver’s license or my Loehmann’s membership card. That will remain as Nicole Mann for now. My marriage license reads Nicole Robin Mann Novick, and I will continue use Nicole Mann Novick as my editorial byline and for Garland Collection. If “the kids’” teachers refer to me as Nicole Novick, so be it.  As for Mrs. Novick, I will do my best to remember to respond.  

Clearly, we haven’t sorted out all the details. (I can never remember what name I make dinner reservations or doctor’s appointments under, so I always offer at least three options when I arrive.) But, I love Mike and I wanted a family with him in theory and in name, so it’s a compromise with myself. I have decided that Sweetlips and The Bean will have nothing to do with it – they will be home free with the utterly harmless Novick (although Mike has recently informed me of what little rugrats can do with just the switch of a letter).

I, on the other hand, will have two versatile last names, sometimes using one and when it pleases me using the other, often penning both.  While my incredibly generous and understanding Mike insists that I should do whatever makes me happy, he frequently affirms, “It sounds ridiculous.”  Trust me, I know. But, hey – what’s in a name?

The moral of the story? Traveling with a husband, a dog, two kids and multiple last names continues to be a logistical nightmare and when someone books my flight for family trips under the name Nicole Novick, the only point it proves is that I am not allowed on the plane.

_____________________

We honeymooned in Africa after the name changing indecision decision and traveled back again with Mike's family. Here are a few of our favorite hotels and lodges in South Africa and Botswana, including Royal Malewane, where I took countless pictures of the decor, down to the bathroom floor tiles, knowing that I would one day want to recreate the look in our bedroom at home.

Photographed from our canvas enclosed suite at Zarafa camp in Botswana

Photographed from our canvas enclosed suite at Zarafa camp in Botswana

 

CAPE GRACE HOTEL 

 

 

 

Cape Town, South Africa

Charming, welcoming and iconic.

(photo courtesy of Cape Grace)

ROYAL MALEWANE

 

 

 

Kruger National Park, 

South Africa

 

Expert guides, out of this world game drives, and a luxurious lodge and suites perfect for honeymooners.

(photo taken by NMN)

ZARAFA CAMP

 

 

 

Selinda Private Concession, Botswana

 

With only four tented campaign-style suites, this intimate camp amongst big game is reminiscent of Hemingway's journeys to Africa. Stunning in decor and awe-inspiring in setting, it was developed by National Geographic film makers Dereck and Beverly Joubert.