Weekend Escape: In Goleta, not-so-distant adventures

The word "Goleta" must mean "diverse" in some non-English language. Visitors can experience a posh resort, a serene hiking trail and a town center all within four miles. It's like getting three vacations in one without having to battle jet lag. The tab: A room at Bacara begins at $451. Lunch for two can be had at Isla Vista Food Co-op for less than $15, while dinner and drinks for two at Hollister Brewing Co. come to about $40. Parking, hiking and sunbathing at Ellwood Beach is free; general admission at the West Wind drive-in is $7.50 a person, $1 for kids ages 5 to 11 and free for children younger than 5.

The bed

Goleta has much to offer, so it would be a shame to visit Bacara Resort & Spa (8301 Hollister Ave.; [855] 968-0100, http://www.bacararesort.com) and never leave the premises. Or would it? With five restaurants, a stylish bar, on-site shopping, hiking trails and two miles of natural beach (with easy access from anywhere on the property), you don't have to leave to find comfort. A bottle of wine awaits guests upon entering one of the 354 guest rooms and luxury suites, but save the vino for later. Instead, begin your day by taking a walk and watching rabbits dash across the grass. Next, grab a racket and play tennis at one of four lighted courts before hitting the spa and wellness center. Weather permitting (and usually it is), waste the remainder of your day in a lounge chair by one of three pools and enjoy the Mediterranean climate. During the evening, have a glass of red on the outdoor patio and another in a soaking tub conveniently facing a flat-screen television. Then wake up and do it all over again.

The meal

For a quick lunch, head to the Isla Vista Food Co-op (6575 Seville Road; [805] 968-1401, http://www.islavistafoodcoop.blogspot.com) for fresh fruit, prepared sandwiches and curry. Although the selection of edibles is more than plentiful, it's the outside tables and chairs that make this location a must-see in the heart of sometimes-fractious Isla Vista. On the flip side, Hollister Brewing Co. (6980 Market Place Drive; [805] 968-2810, http://www.hollisterbrewco.com; no item more than $14) appears to be where everyone dines in Goleta who isn't attending UC Santa Barbara. With indoor and outdoor seating, television screens, signature cocktails, an impressive beer selection and affordable entrées, it's no surprise why.

The find

Save this one for later: The best time to visit the Goleta Monarch Butterfly Grove (Hollister Avenue between Storke Road and Winchester Canyon Road; http://www.goletabutterflygrove.com) is between November and February. Take the trail for about 15 minutes and you'll discover secluded Ellwood Beach, which is populated by rocks, caves, students reading books, birds, sea lions and dogs soaking in the water. At night, drive to West Wind (907 S. Kellogg Ave.; [805] 964-9050, http://www.lat.ms/1h6ErY9) for a drive-in double feature. During intermission, place a gentlemen's bet on how large the screen is. Losers walk to the snack bar to buy nachos, hot dogs, churros, pretzels, pizza or a $5.50 large popcorn that comes with free refills.

Lesson learned

When the rest of the world thinks of the idyllic California — serene beaches, beautiful people, bicycle rides to nowhere, gorgeous sunsets, near-perfect weather — they're more than likely thinking of Santa Barbara County.


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