Santa Barbara? That’s a familiar face and place for a weekend escape. Or is it?


Think you know Santa Barbara? Spanish-style buildings with red-tile rooftops, charming boutiques and restaurants on State Street, the wharf, and wide, sandy beaches. Correct on all counts. But dig beneath all that and you’ll find there is more to be discovered in this favorite destination: The city is evolving in cool new ways; older properties in unexpected locations are being revitalized and repurposed. The tourist staples are still a treat — my husband and I had a lovely lunch at a charming bistro on State Street — but do yourself a favor and get off the beaten track. On a recent trip we found some delightful gems in an up-and-coming industrial area.

The tab: We spent $285, including taxes and fees, for two nights in December at the Castillo Inn, and about $200 for food and wine tasting.

The bed

The Castillo Inn at the Beach (22 Castillo St.; [800] 965-8570 is a small, classic motel half a block from the oceanfront and a short walk to Stearns Wharf (with its school of fish restaurants) and the foot of State Street. The rooms are well maintained and have nice touches: Italian granite and mosaic vanities, flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and refrigerators. Parking is free, and a small continental breakfast offers strong coffee, juice and pastries to eat in your room.


The meal

If you like barbecue with all the fixin’s, swing on over to Wildwood Kitchen (410 E. Haley St.; [805] 845-3995) at the new Mill complex. The restaurant opened in 2015 and filled a need for more ’cue in Santa Barbara; the specialty of the house is smoked meats. The vibe is rustic with exposed brick, reclaimed wood and an open kitchen. We had smoked brisket, which came with a slice of plain white bread and pickles; house-made bratwurst; grilled carrots; fries; and coleslaw.

The brisket needed more flavor; the spicy barbecue sauce saved the day. On the west side of town, Food Network fans may want to hit up Mesa Burger (315 Meigs Road; [805] 963-7492), a casual, lively spot that opened in December. If you’re lucky, co-owner and Iron Chef Cat Cora might be the one who serves you your griddled goat-cheese burger and waffle fries.

The find

The Mill (406 E. Haley St.) is the latest proof that there’s new life in old Santa Barbara. It’s in the heart of an industrial area slowly morphing into a hip design district. Kirsten and Darrell Becker, who own the on-site Becker Studios, restored the 1904 feed mill and added a modern spin. The Mill’s collection of businesses has a distinct artisan flair. Besides Wildwood Kitchen, there is Potek Winery, Third Window Brewing Co. and a boutique design showroom, Millworks. It was a chilly Saturday evening when we dropped into Potek Winery. The wine tasting warmed us; my favorite was the 2014 Rancho La Vina Pinot Noir. We returned Sunday afternoon to grab a beer at Third Window and to browse through Millworks, which showcases furniture, home accents, jewelry, handbags and other work by local artisans.


Lesson learned

If you have a large group or family and want to splurge, you can stay at the Mill itself. The Loft accommodates six people in a spacious, modern, two-bedroom, two-bath “penthouse-style apartment” for $799 a night on the weekend.