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Citizen Enfants

An Insider Guide To Montecito, California with Hayley Bloomingdale

American mum-of-two Hayley Bloomingdale gives Citizen Enfants the lowdown on why Montecito – and California in general – is such a great place for a family trip.

Hailing from the ‘golden state’, writer and editor Hayley now lives in London with her husband and two children, but regularly flies home to see family and friends. Here is her insider guide to the chicest but most child-friendly places to stay, visit and shop in Montecito, one of California’s most stylish neighbourhoods. From playgrounds and beaches to restaurants and unmissable stores for little ones, this is all you need to know if you’re heading to this beautiful part of the West Coast.

When is the best time to visit California with children?

Year round! California is one of those special places that is generally sunny most of the time. I would maybe avoid June because you can sometimes get the dreaded fog known as the ‘June gloom’ that California people love to talk about, but overall, it’s glorious anytime.

What hotels should we check into for a family-friendly stay? 

There is no shortage of gorgeous hotels in Montecito, from the San Ysidro Ranch (stunning but quieter and slightly less child-friendly), to the Rosewood Miramar Beach (on the beach, buzzy, great for kids.) My personal favourite and where we stayed on our most recent trip is the Belmond El Encanto which I highly recommend – it is up on the hill and has glorious views of all of Santa Barbara down to the beach. They are excellent with kids and organised fantastic day trips for us, adorable kid’s beds in our room, kid friendly snacks and bathing products and even sent special treats over for Easter. I highly recommend it for a family friendly trip. If you’re travelling with older kids or teenagers, the Hotel Californian is situated conveniently downtown amid all the shops and attractions, and makes for a great spot for older ones to walk to the beach or bike on the boardwalk.

Where should we take kids for breakfast? 

Start your day at Merci Montecito for cinnamon rolls or a buttermilk biscuit sandwich. Or head to the old school San Ysidro Pharmacy – I used to go here for breakfast when I was visiting Montecito as a child and their muffins and buttermilk pancakes haven’t changed a bit!

What are the sights to see with children?

The Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the best zoos in the state. It’s smaller than other zoos so feels much more manageable for younger children and has an adorable train that runs through the property so you can be sure to see everything they have on offer. Don’t miss the Australian Walkabout Experience, our kids absolutely loved exploring the walkable habitat and seeing the kangaroos, wallabies and emus up close and personal without any cages. Stearn’s Wharf is also a great spot for kids, the aquarium is small but informative and interactive, and then down to the end of the pier for ice cream and to watch all the fishermen!

Where can we take them to play?

Butterfly beach in Montecito is perfect for any beach activity from swimming to surfing, a long beach walk or sandcastles and a picnic! We love to do a morning walk here and have the kids collect shells and beach treasures as we go. Bike rentals are also really popular in downtown Santa Barbara, biking along the path by the ocean is an excellent family friendly activity.

The place only local parents know about?

Kid’s World is an 8,000 square foot playground with a castle, swings and tons of slides -not exactly a cultural ‘must see’ but ideal for getting those energetic wiggles out, it’s a real kid’s paradise!

Your favourite family-friendly restaurants?

Without a doubt the best family-friendly restaurant is Bettina Pizzeria in the Montecito Country Mart. Absolutely delicious pizzas and fantastic cocktails, you can sit outside or in, and they are very child friendly, even taking our kids’ pizza order asap and bringing it out within minutes to quiet my hangry children. Definitely book in advance. And don’t miss La Super Rica tacos, a must-try for anyone who hasn’t had true Californian tacos!

Your favourite places to shop for children in Montecito? 

Poppy in the Montecito Country Mart is my favourite kid’s store anywhere! They have the best selection of brands and lots of great trinkets and toys that make for excellent gifts. And head to Toy Crazy for a great mix of fun and educational toys and games.

And to shop for yourself?

Wendy Foster has everything you need to fit in with the chic laidback Montecito style. If Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated (set in Montectio!) is your style role model for this trip then Wendy Foster is where you want to go. And don’t miss William Layman’s antiques, outdoor furniture and garden goods – the perfect place to go to daydream about what you’d fill your dream Montecito home with!

If mums have a few hours to sans enfants where should they go? 

Santa Barbara has a thriving wine community with no end to local vineyards and winemakers. The Urban Wine Trail is a great way to sample some of this deliciousness without taking an entire day to do so. My husband and I always do a date night at Lucky’s Steakhouse. A Montecito institution, Lucky’s has the best martini’s in town. Grab a seat by the fire for the perfect date night and if you’re up for a nightcap, head down the street to the Honor Bar. Tucked away in the hillside of a residential neighbourhood is LotusLand: 37 acres of lush gardens and succulents and amazing architecture. You need to book a tour in advance and the tours are two hours long, so this is definitely a better one to do without tiny kids in tow.

Any top tips for visiting Montecito with children? 

Chicken Little is a baby store and a great resource for renting car seats or any baby equipment or picking up any last minute kid items you forgot.

Why is Montecito a wonderful family destination?

Gorgeous beach days, incredible hotels and restaurants and endless activities for children in the sunshine, Montecito is the best place for a family getaway. Especially if you are visiting Los Angeles and need a mini break, head up the coast for an idyllic few days by the ocean.

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