The first full month of spring is all about celebrating our planet. Santa Barbara is considered one of the world's birthplaces of Earth Day celebrations, where clean-earth focused events and green travel-tours pay tribute to Mother Nature's bounty each April. Here, we bring you some of our favorite ways to explore this idyllic, eco-friendly seaside community this spring.
Events to promote sustainable living take place in cities around the world each April, but Santa Barbara was one of the places where the grassroots movement known as Earth Day first took root nearly half a century ago.
"Santa Barbara has a long legacy with Earth Day. In fact, this festival is one of the longest running, consistently held community organized Earth Day celebrations in the country," said Sigrid Wright, associate director of the Community Environmental Council, which hosts the city's annual Earth Day festivities. "When I see how Earth Day has grown and continues to grow … it says to me that we need this opportunity to gather with other people who care about the environment, to share stories and ideas … to take inspiration for ways we can create a healthier lifestyle."
This year the Community Environmental Council hosts its 42nd annual Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival (www.sbearthday.org) at Alameda Park on April 21 and 22. The free festival features an eco-marketplace of more than 200 exhibitors, live music, food and beverages, free bike valet parking and a Kids' Corner for the children.
The festival also includes the Green Car Show — the longest-running show of its kind in the country, with the largest collection of efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Celebrating Earth Day in its hometown is just one reason to head up the coast to Santa Barbara this spring — the city provides plenty of options for leaving few carbon footprints.
"From exploring car-free to eating locally sourced foods, sustainable-minded travelers can experience something close to 'Ecotopia' in Santa Barbara," said Gena Downey, director of communications with the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission.
For instance, kids can learn about the natural world at attractions such as the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Santa Barbara Zoo, where the California Trails exhibit features threatened and endangered California natives like California condors, Channel Island foxes and bald eagles.
Food lovers can elevate the eco in their eating and drinking habits with the help of Market Forays, a culinary experience that incorporates trips to local farmers' markets into cooking classes and private tastings for leisure travelers, private parties and corporate groups. Or opt for a one-of-a-kind tasting tour by Sustainable Vine Wine Tours and indulge in the rich history of Santa Ynez Valley's eco-conscious wine making.
The Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers adrenaline junkies the opportunity to get up close and personal with Mother Nature by kayaking around the Channel Islands or mountain biking an all-downhill country trail overlooking the Santa Barbara coastline. These, in addition to rock climbing, paragliding and horseback riding, are just a few of the outdoor adventures they offer.
Being easy on the earth should be easy on the wallet too, so the Santa Barbara Car Free Project is offering "Cool Car Free Discounts" — savings up to 50% off at more than 50 hotels, attractions and restaurants. An exclusive 20% Amtrak discount is also available at www.santabarbaracarfree.org for travelers who truly want to leave their cars behind.
And what would spring be without flowers? The sight of blushing tulips and proud crocuses is reason enough to explore Santa Barbara's city parks and gardens, which unlike the famous beaches, remain relatively undiscovered.
"Thanks to city-planning advocate Pearl Chase, horticulturist Francesco Franceschi, wealthy plant collector Ganna Walska and many more flora-and-fauna-loving residents, Santa Barbara's secret gardens offer visitors a slice of solitude while surrounded by the history and natural beauty of the American Riviera," Downey said.
Meander through the manicured paths of Alice Keck Memorial Gardens or soak in the sunset from the Old Mission Rose Garden. Tour Lotusland, a 37-acre estate in Montecito filled with rare plants and exotic gardens or discover native California at the 65-acre Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and spot more than 200 species of birds — including ducks and geese — at the 32-acre oceanside Andree Clark Bird Refuge.
Whatever you choose, Santa Barbara is serving up the best of spring in a big green way.
—Becca Blond, Custom Publishing Writer
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