Scent o’ Santa Barbara

Welcome to Santa Barbara!

On board the Golden Princess, lingering high fog had draped the world in a grey but glittering scent, like dew sparkling on the tips of grass in the morning.  Now, on the tender (the lifeboat that takes you to and from the ship) there’s the scent of sea salt and diesel.

As we rock our way across the choppy waves, even inside the tender, we could tell when we were getting close to the dock because the pungent scent of seaweed, fish, and seabirds fills the crowded cabin.  Then, walking along the dock between sailboats, sheds, corrugated tin buildings, we pass through the luscious scent of maple syrup, pancakes and bacon.  Someone is serving breakfast.  Good thing I ate on the ship, otherwise I would be tempted to follow that scent.  The dock is lined with heliotrope, reminding me of one of my Grandmother’s favourite perfumes.

The usually sunbaked but today the windblown beach


Once we hit the beach, a wild wind has blown away the fog and now we can smell the dust and upset sand blown along Santa Barbara’s long, beautiful beach.  The locals are complaining of the chill but promise it will be warmer in the town.

State Street heads to an underpass, the sides lined with cascading, multicoloured bounganvillia.  It’s like walking though a flower canyon.  In the shadow of the tunnel, you get a whiff of a combination of baby powder, lilac, and lemon.  It is the distinctive signature of jacaranda tree.  Sure enough, as we head out back into the sunlight, there is a corridor of purple blooming trees awaiting us.

Now we reach streets that are almost musical in their names: Cota, Ortega, De laGuerra, Carrillo, and Figueroa.  Santa Barbara was originally a Spanish missionary town and this history is still present in the architecture, flowers, and names.  The sidewalks are bright and clean.  In fact, there is the summer smell of drying concrete.  They knew we were coming and washed the sidewalks for us!

Interestingly enough, the first real restaurant scent that greets us once we reach the downtown core is not Spanish but the multilayered spiciness of the Indian Curry House.  This is followed closely by the instantly recognizable roasted garlic of the Italian restaurant, Bucatini.

Jacaranda and Palm Tree

And we do get pulled in, not by food but by the bright colours and incense of the Indian Market.  We find Nagchampa Dragon Blood incense that evokes the images of black light posters.  I buy a pair of shiny earrings.  

Continuing on, butter and the distinctive odour of popcorn heralds a movie theatre.  It is an absolutely lovely building with curlycues and spirals worked into the plaster.  In contrast to the historic architecture, they are playing the Avengers, both 2D and 3D.  I have to laugh at the irony.

What’s that?  A cigar?  Oh, absolutely!  A gentleman near us has just lit one and now I can hear the crinkling as the outer layer turns red and then blackens and greys.  He gazes back down at the cigar, kind of like Jim after he takes the first sip and gazes back down at the label on the wine bottle in appreciation.  Makes me almost wish I liked cigars… almost.

I am completely astonished by the variety of ethnicities represented in these cafes.  Here’s the jam and baked flour scent from Hampstead British Teahouse.  There’s salt and yeast aromas from Wetzel’s Pretzels.  Cilantro, lime and chilis from many Mexican restaurants.  

Finally, we are close to our destination, the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market.  We were there last year.  I helpfully point and say, “I think it’s the white one.”  Which I quickly realize is quite redundant.  Most of the buildings are white plaster, so I offer up the clarification, “Spanish colonial.”  As if that is any better!

Even so, we manage to follow our noses and now?  Now, don’t bother me any more!  I’ve got the chocolate aroma’s of King Harbour “Abel Brown” Ale on one side and the warm smoky, almost meaty scent of freshly grilled swordfish.  One whiff and I am transported back to Portugal.

Travelling to Santa Barbara?  Makes scents!

The Courthouse- Just one of the beautiful Spanish colonial buildings of Santa Barbara



About diwanderer

I love to travel! I love food and wine and learning about new cultures. Come and explore with me!
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4 Responses to Scent o’ Santa Barbara

  1. Suzie says:

    Wonderfully descriptive! Is Jim with you on this cruise?

  2. diwanderer says:

    Absolutely! He helped me choose the scents. He loved going, “Popcorn!” or “Garlic!” It was a great way to focus our experience!

  3. Kathryn says:

    Enjoyed the article!

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