Santa Barbara

The Times

By admin In Features, Journalism

Harry and Meghan have bought in Santa Barbara? I know why

‘The Beverly Hills of the North’ is the choice for those who want the quiet life and wholesome pursuits

Kate WillsThursday August 13 2020, 12.00pm, The Times

Santa Barbara is known as the American Riviera
Santa Barbara is known as the American RivieraGETTY IMAGES


Congratulations to Harry and Meghan for making it on to the property ladder. The location for their first “starter home”? Allegedly the moneyed beach enclave of Santa Barbara, where the biggest estates can top the $100 million mark.

I spent a year living in this picture-perfect Californian city as an exchange student studying at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). It’s a town dominated by wealthy retirees, party-hard students (UCSB is also known as the University of Casual Sex and Beer), oh, and more celebrities than any red carpet.

Situated between Los Angeles and San Francisco, it has long been a popular choice with Hollywood heavyweights (Gwyneth Paltrow, Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg and Brad Pitt have homes there) as well as tech billionaires and their families. But despite being the “Beverly Hills of the north’’, the well-known residents are never hassled for selfies, they rub along with everybody else as part of the insouciant laid-back beach culture Santa Barbara is famous for.

Harry and Meghan with Archie

Harry and Meghan with Archie

When I arrived I was shocked by how immaculate the town is. Squeaky clean, safe streets, a tram line, homely mom-and-pop stores on State Street and barely a homeless person in sight (quite the contrast to LA in that respect). Tell any Californian that you live in Santa Barbara and their typical response will be: “Wow, niiiice.” It’s become a byword for understated success.

In many ways it’s not surprising that Harry and Meghan have chosen to live there. Less sprawling and showy than LA, Santa Barbara is the choice for those who want the quiet life and wholesome pursuits such as hiking, horse riding, surfing and yoga dominate.

Known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara has Spanish colonial architecture, rolling vineyards, a Mediterranean climate and miles of broad sandy beaches where you can spot whales.

As a student, I spent most of my time at the cheap bars and taco trucks of Isla Vista. But a part-time job I had, working as a PA for a high-powered sports agent, gave me an insight into the type of world Meghan and Harry will be stepping into. His estate was in the hills of Montecito and had a lake, a guest barn, tennis courts and a yoga studio. He would occasionally conduct meetings on his sailing boat. His “office attire’’ was deck shoes, navy shorts and Tom Ford sunglasses.

The interior design scheme was neutral on neutral: wicker furniture, white cushions, marble coffee tables — and lots of billowing white linen drapes (people love “drapes” in Santa Barbara). This was not your average seaside chic.

It’s also a popular choice for wine buffs — Meghan named her blog, “The Tig’’, after a mispronunciation of her favourite red wine and the Sussexes will no doubt be regulars at the Funk Zone (or as locals know it, the Drunk Zone’) where more than 20 wineries offer “tasting flights’’ to showcase their vineyards from the nearby Santa Ynez Mountains. Although it’s not unusual for the biggest homes in Santa Barbara to come with their own vineyards set within their many acres. Maybe an easy-drinking Château de Sussex is on the cards?

Polo fan Harry will feel right at home when the Santa Barbara Polo and Raquet Club hosts matches from May to October. The city’s well-to-do residents rent field-side cabanas for people-watching and ponies.

No doubt their nearby neighbour Oprah Winfrey (who has become a close friend to the couple and has a $90 million estate there in the Montecito mountains) will be coming over for the housewarming party. Ellen DeGeneres, and Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis (who live down the road in Carpinteria) might also get an invitation.

In the meantime, Harry and Meghan can take Archie to one of the many beaches, or stroll around some of the famous farmers’ markets. The super-luxe Coast Village Road is the place for independent boutiques, bakeries such as D’Angelo Bread and yoga and Pilates studios. Natalie Portman and Jason Segel have been seen at the tapas spot Loquita as well as Helena Avenue Bakery, which has the best croissants in town.

For a night out, the couple could start at Mexican restaurant El Paseo, which has hosted parties for Quentin Tarantino and Jennifer Lopez. And then there’s the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, where the Olympic-size-pool deck is populated by Victoria’s Secret models. Membership costs $300,000. While Malibu — where Meghan and Harry were once rumoured to be putting down roots — is more yoga pants and flip-flops, the uniform in Santa Barbara is chinos and linens.

There is trouble in paradise, however. In 2018 a mudslide devastated the Montecito region and forest fires are a persistent problem. In 2015 a ruptured pipeline spilt more than 21,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean just off the Santa Barbara coast leading to a massive clean-up mission.

Even now there is occasionally a whiff of tar in the air, and patches of the black sticky stuff on the beach. Very difficult to get out of your Lululemon yoga pants. And although it’s rarely talked about by the locals, Michael Jackson capitalised on the privacy of the area by building his Neverland Ranch there.

On the whole Santa Barbara offers a slice of the good life, the glossiest version of it possible. Harry, Meghan and Archie will fit right in, immersed in that particular brand of relaxed, carefree positivity that only comes with a multimillion-dollar price tag.