Every time I come to Santa Barbara, I find something new to like. Not exactly secrets, just favorite things, and I'm not talking about raindrops on roses, though they probably have those too in that golden town 90 miles up the coast from L.A. Here are some of my choices:
A night on the town
The popular, long-running UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures series ( 893-3535, http://www.artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu) gets star billing on the town's cultural calendar, bringing Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Geneva Ballet, new documentary films and talks by authors, journalists, actors and directors. These open-to-the-public events often take place at historic downtown theaters such as La Granada and the Arlington, convenient to some of the best restaurants in town. So get tickets and make a night of it, dining before or after at Julienne (138 E. Canon Perdido, (805) 845-6488, http://www.restaurantjulienne.com), a stylish little bistro that does wonders with provisions from the local farmers market, or Ca'Dario (37 E. Victoria St.,  884-9419, http://www.cadario.net), where the menu features Italian-style roasts of lamb, quail, chicken, beef and veal.
Arnoldi's Cafe (600 Olive St.,  962-5394, http://www.arnoldis.com) is the first place that comes to mind when you ask a local where to go for dinner. It's a homey place in a tile-roofed adobe built by Joe Arnoldi in 1940 at Olive and Cota streets, which used to be Santa Barbara's Little Italy. There's the obligatory mural of Lake Como, vintage wood booths, a maple dance floor, the head of an elk — affectionately known as Bucky — over the bar and two beautiful boccie courts in the back courtyard where leagues compete for supremacy. What's on the menu? Pretty much what you'd find at a restaurant in Salerno, Italy: fried calamari $12, clam spaghetti $16, and veal Marsala $24.
Namaste, Santa Barbara
It goes way beyond asanas and pranayama at Yoga Soup (28 Parker Way,  965-8811, http://www.yogasoup.com), which is more like a community center than a simple yoga studio, with reading groups, lectures and massage therapy in a sunny suite of rooms just off State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. Relax for a spell in the lobby, where there are leather couches, a water cooler, yoga books and gear, along with a friendly staff to advise drop-ins about the wide menu of classes, including Buddhist meditation, Pilates, high-energy flow and gentle, restorative yoga. I like Awakening Yoga ($12), not too intense, but full of surprising ways to tangle up your limbs. Plus, there's a Santa Barbara Roasting Co. cafe around the corner.
Los Baños del Mar
Put on your goggles and take your mark at Los Baños del Mar (401 Shoreline Drive,  966-6110, http://www.santabarbaraca.gov, easily the prettiest, best-equipped public pool I've had the pleasure of doing laps in, fringed by tall palm trees on the ocean at West Beach. Los Baños is 50 meters long with seven lanes, so it never feels crowded; it's open year-round with sparkling clear heated water that rarely falls below 80 degrees; and it boasts clean and spacious locker rooms full of friendly people of all ages with beautiful bodies. Five bucks gets you in, but not to play around; this pool is given over to serious lap swimmers, some of them members of the Santa Barbara Swim Club, which occasionally holds meets there. Spectators welcome.
Cut flowers in Carpinteria
It's a little-known fact that about half the flowers grown in California come from wholesale nurseries in Carpinteria. If you're someone like me who gets deliriously happy at the sight of roses, irises, lilies and tulips, head along Foothills Drive on the northeastern edge of town, where dozens of flower nurseries cluster. If you want to make a purchase, try Seaside Gardens (3700 Via Real,  684-6001, http://www.seaside-gardens.com), which has 11 garden vignettes — Asian, Australian, California native, Central/South American, grassland, Mediterranean, native wetland, perennial/cottage, South African, succulent and tropical — to show off plants that thrive in the Santa Barbara climate. Across the road, cut flowers raised on the premises are available at Padaro Floral (3680 Via Real,  684-6366). Once a year in the spring, the Santa Barbara County Nursery and Flower Growers' Assn. hosts the Carpinteria Greenhouse and Nursery Tour (http://www.carpinteriafarmtours.com), which is free and open to the public.
San Marcos Pass
At a little more than 2,000 feet, this pass through the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Santa Barbara isn't exactly the Karakoram. But it's a lovely drive along California 154, a back-country alternative to the 101 for those headed to the Santa Ynez Valley. Near the crest a plaque describes Col. John C. Frémont's historic Santa Ynez mountain traverse in 1846 on his way to drive the Mexicans out of Santa Barbara and also touts the beautifully soaring Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge. Cold Spring Tavern (5995 Stagecoach Road,  967-0066, http://www.coldspringtavern.com), a rustic old stagecoach stop tucked alongside the canyon, serves powerful chili and brew, with live music, as well as fancier fare in the candle-lighted restaurant.
The El Mirador clock tower in the historic Spanish hacienda-style Santa Barbara County Courthouse (http://www.santabarbaracourthouse.org), which occupies a whole city block downtown, is everybody's favorite aerie for taking a gander at red tile roofs, tall palms, canyons, mountains, sky and all the other blandishments of this place. A less well-known high spot is the observation room cum visitors center at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (113 Harbor Way,  962-8404, http://www.sbmm.org), bringing sharp focus to action on the harbor, including the unloading of sea urchin fishing boats. And though you can't go up Storke Tower, a 175-foot campanile on the Isla Vista campus of UC Santa Barbara, you can sometimes hear its famous 61-bell carillon play from the plaza below. Who knew there was a world-class glockenspiel on the Central Coast?
For more information: Santa Barbara Tourism, (888) 553-2035, http://www.santabarbaraca.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun