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For those who love the beaches and beauty of Santa Barbara, but want a slower, less touristy atmosphere, the small town of Goleta is just a few miles off Highway 1, on the same stretch of coast known as the American Riviera.
The family and I recently snuck into Goleta and found a lovely boutique hotel and compact, walkable beach community with everything we needed for a three-day, two-night stay.
Our getaway began at Hotel Leta, where I enjoyed a complimentary local beer upon check-in, then entered Room 154, a bright and airy unit inspired by the California beach. Covered in earthy, quirky textures and fabrics reminiscent of surf culture nostalgia, the room was welcoming and efficient. It came with a comfortable king bed, mini-fridge, large TV, table and chairs, and huge windows overlooking the property’s pool and winding pathways lined with tall palm trees and rich vegetation.
After unpacking, we reached the pool where we swam and lay back against a beautiful backdrop of swaying palms and the majestic Santa Ynez Mountains. It was a gorgeous day in Goleta 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 Kimpton Goodland, The Leta is a laid-back California hideaway nestled 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 Santa Barbara’s finest hotels,” reads- on the hotel’s website. “Here at The Leta, we have a Golden State of Mind attitude, surf-inspired decor and eclectic accommodations, plus a passion for music shared by our vinyl record store and live music scene. All of our quirky touches and laid back will undoubtedly have you enjoying the good life, one day at a time.
Besides the pool, the 158-room hotel has a small fitness center, a restaurant/bar, 6,000 square feet of meeting space, a free beer at check-in, and free turntables for customers. There is a social hour each evening with free 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 of great dining and a short drive to the ocean, Santa Barbara airport and hidden gems such as the Los Carneros lake.
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, the lake was a must.
Located two miles from the hotel, the 136-acre Los Carneros Lake Recreation Area has many 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 bird watching and is accessible year-round. Dogs can also use this trail but must be on a leash.
Los Carneros Lake (https://www.santabarbara.com/activities/parks/lake-los-carneros/) is also great for bird watching. There are migrating rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds, warblers, tanagers and grosbeaks, which are attracted to the fruits of the shrubs planted along the trails and around the lake. The lake itself is frequented by Soras, Great Blue Herons, Virginia Rails, etc. At any time of the year, you will find raptors looking for prey. It is an ideal place to observe the many varieties of ducks that migrate here in winter.
If that’s not enough, the lake also features an 1873 Victorian home named Stow House, an old South Pacific boxcar, and short train rides for kids at nearby Goleta Depot.
After enjoying the lake, we returned to Hotel Leta 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 restaurant serves an exciting and eclectic mix of seafood, with touches of Mexican, Japanese, Thai and Sri Lankan spices.
For our lunch, we shared a bowl of Nikka Cioppino with sautéed salmon, mahi-mahi, shrimp, crab leg, scallops, clams, tomatoes, onions, zucchini and peppers, in a tomato sauce with basil. Served with fries or salad, the dish was delicious and memorable. We also sampled the spicy and savory Pasilla peppers stuffed with shrimp, brown rice, zucchini, peppers and onions.
After lunch, we drove 5 minutes from Hotel Leta to Goleta Beach Park (www.santabarbara.com/activities/beaches/goleta/goleta-beach-park/). Here we found a beautiful sandy beach, with plenty of free parking spaces right next to the water. We also found plenty of room to throw our blanket, relax in the sand, build castles and play in the water.
Besides the surf and sand, Goleta Beach Park has 29 acres of grass, with plenty of barbecue grills and picnic tables. There is also a paved bike path in the park that goes all the way to Santa Barbara and the 1,500 foot long Goleta Pier which is perfect for fishing and boardwalking.
For wine lovers, Hotel Leta is also close to the famous Santa Barbara wine country (www.sbcountywines.com), an area 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 (US wine-growing areas). More than 275 wineries dot the landscape of rural northern Santa Barbara County and line the streets of cities and towns.
Hotel Leta is located at 5650 Calle Real, Goleta, CA 93117. For more information on staying at the hotel or current promotions, call 805-964-6241 or visit: www.theleta.com