Carpinteria loves to call itself the "home of the world's safest beach" and although that may be true, my wife and I discovered that Carpinteria, on a blustery spring day, had much more to offer than choppy surf and blowing sand. The tab: One night at the Best Western Plus Carpinteria Inn cost $219 plus tax. Lunch at the Spot and breakfast at Crushcakes & Cafe totaled $57 plus tax and tip. Visits to Seaside Gardens and the Island View Nursery were free.
Carpinteria is known for its beach cottages and vacation rentals, but everything we looked at required three nights or longer. Our schedule permitted only a one-night stay, so that left us with the choice of the Holiday Inn Express, the Best Western Plus Carpinteria Inn or — count 'em — two Motel 6s. We chose the Best Western and were pleasantly surprised. The room was spacious, clean and comfy, if a bit lacking in charm. Ask for a room on the courtyard. These inward-facing rooms are much quieter than those that back up to U.S. 101.
No trip to Carpinteria is complete without a visit to the Spot, a hamburger stand that has been serving burgers and fries for more than 50 years. There's nothing fancy about the burger: ground beef, American cheese, crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, a dill pickle and thousand island dressing. But there it is — the classic beach burger. For breakfast, locals flock to Crushcakes & Cafe. Cupcakes are the specialty, but the kitchen is open for breakfast and lunch until 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and until 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
The Carpinteria Valley is the largest producer of cut flowers in the country, and it's filled seemingly end to end with nurseries. Although many are strictly wholesale, two open to the public make the drive to Carpinteria worthwhile. The first is Seaside Gardens, which specializes in drought-tolerant plants from California and around the world. The grounds include a spectacular three-acre botanical garden where Asian, Australian, South African and Mediterranean plants are featured. The other is Island View Nursery, which specializes in "a little bit of everything," according to a gardener we encountered. This includes indoor and outdoor plants, containers, fountains, garden art and statuary. Looking for an 8-foot-tall sculpture of a Tyrannosaurus rex? This is your place.
Carpinteria is a charming collection of antique shops (Whimsy), specialty shops (Robitaille's Fine Candies) and restaurants (The Palms, where locals have been grilling their own steaks since 1968). It even has a liquor store (Beach Liquor) that serves the best tacos in town. Don't wait for summer to visit the home of the world's safest beach. Carpinteria is open and ready for visitors.
Best Western Plus Carpinteria Inn, 4558 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria; (805) 684-0473. Wheelchair accessible
The Spot, 389 Linden Ave., Carpinteria; (805) 684-6311. Wheelchair accessible.
Crushcakes & Cafe, 4945 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria; (805) 684-4300. Wheelchair accessible
Seaside Gardens, 3700 Via Real, Carpinteria; (805) 684-6001,