Story and photographs by Greg Aragon
For those who love the beaches and beauty of Santa Barbara, but want a slower paced, less touristy atmosphere, the small town of Goleta is only a couple miles up Highway 1, on the same stretch of coast known as the American Riviera.
The family and I recently snuck away to Goleta and discovered a charming, boutique hotel and a compact and walkable beach community with everything we needed for a three day, two-night stay.
Our getaway began at The Leta Hotel (www.theleta.com), where I enjoyed a free local beer upon check-in and then stepped into room 154, a light and airy California beach-inspired unit. Covered in earthy, eccentric textures and fabrics that give a nod to surf-culture nostalgia, the room was welcoming and efficient. It came with a comfy king bed, mini-fridge, large TV, table and chairs, and huge windows overlooking the property’s pool and winding paths lined with tall palm trees and rich vegetation.
After unpacking, we hit the pool area where we swam and lounged against a beautiful backdrop of swaying palms and the majestic Santa Ynez Mountains. It was a gorgeous Goleta day and we could feel the cool sea breeze coming from the ocean about a mile away as the crow flies.
From the pool we explored the hotel. Formerly known as the Kimpton Goodland, The Leta is an easygoing, California-cool hideaway tucked between the Pacific Ocean and rolling mountains.
“If your idea of the ultimate Southern California retreat is longboards, poolside cocktails and coastal cuisine, you’ve found your place in the sun at one of the best Santa Barbara hotels around,” reads the hotel website. “Here at The Leta, we have a Golden State of Mind attitude, surf-inspired décor, and eclectic accommodations, plus a passion for music shared through our vinyl record shop and live music scene. All of our eccentric, laid back touches will no doubt have you enjoying the good life, one day at a time.”
Besides the pool, the 158-room hotel features a small fitness center, a restaurant / bar, 6,000 sq-ft of meeting space, free beer at check-in, and free record players for guests to use. There is a social hour each evening with complimentary wine.
In front of the lobby there is a classic old Woody station wagon and an iconic, silver Airstream trailer. One of the property’s best selling points is its fantastic location, within walking distance to great food, and a couple miles drive to the ocean, Santa Barbara Airport, and hidden gems such as Lake Los Carneros.
We heard about Lake Los Carneros from Barry Dorsey, general manager of The Leta. He said if we were looking for a nature walk, with beautiful scenery and animals, and lots of history then the lake was a must-see.
Located two miles from the hotel, the 136-acre Lake Los Carneros recreation area boasts numerous trails, small forests, and a bridge to explore. Los Carneros Park Trail is a 1 mile moderately trafficked loop trail that is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
Lake Los Carneros (https://www.santabarbara.com/activities/parks/lake-los-carneros/) is also great for bird watching. There are migrant Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds, warblers, tanagers, and grosbeaks, who are attracted to the fruits of the shrubs planted along the pathways and around the lake. The lake itself is frequented by Soras, Great Blue Herons, Virginia Rails, and more. Anytime of year you will find raptors hunting for prey. This is a great place to watch the many varieties of ducks that migrate here in the winter.
If this isn’t enough, the lake also boasts an 1873 Victorian home named Stow House, an old Southern Pacific box car, and small train rides for kids at the nearby Goleta Depot.
After enjoying the lake, we headed back to The Leta Hotel for an afternoon swim. We then walked across the street and found Nikka Fish Market and Grill (www.nikkafish.com) for lunch. This popular local eatery serves up an exciting and eclectic seafood mix, with touches of Mexican, Japanese, Thai, and Sri Lankan spices.
For our lunch we split a bowl of Nikka Cioppino with sautéed salmon, mahi-mahi, shrimp, crab leg, scallops, clams, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, and bell peppers, in a tomato basil sauce. Served with fries or salad, the dish was delicious and memorable. We also sampled the spicy and tasty Pasilla peppers, stuffed with shrimp, brown rice, zucchini, bell peppers, and onions.
After lunch we drove 5 minutes from The Leta Hotel to Goleta Beach Park (www.santabarbara.com/activities/beaches/goleta/goleta-beach-park/). Here we found a lovely, sandy beach, with lots of free parking spots right next to the water. We also found plenty of room to toss our blanket down, relax in the sand, build castles and play in the water.
Besides great surf and sand, Goleta Beach Park features 29 acres of grass, with numerous grills and picnic tables. There is also a paved bike path at the park that goes all the way to Santa Barbara and 1,500-ft-long Goleta Pier that is perfect for fishing and strolling.
For wine lovers, The Leta Hotel is also close to Santa Barbara’s world famous wine country (www.sbcountywines.com) a region known for some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Santa Barbara County vineyards produce more than 70 varietals, primarily Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Cabernet, in seven approved AVAs (American Viticulture Areas). More than 275 wineries speckle the landscape in rural northern Santa Barbara County and line the streets of cities, towns, and villages.
The Leta Hotel is located at 5650 Calle Real, Goleta, CA 93117. For more information on staying at the hotel or current specials, call 805-964-6241 or visit: www.theleta.com