Escapes: Keep the cost of a Santa Barbara trip in check

The Boathouse restaurant at Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara serves a great meal and spectacular sunset views.
The Boathouse restaurant at Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara serves a great meal and spectacular sunset views.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Years ago, a budget columnist suggested taking a small George Foreman grill on your trip to cut dining-out costs. The website descriptor of the appliance says it “delivers fast grilling and delicious results for steak, burgers, chicken, veggies and more.”

Thanks for the idea, but no. I’m not above sandwiches in the cooler, but I also don’t want my hotel room to smell like hamburgers and chicken — never mind that I don’t want to cook on vacation.

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the penny-pinching travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. This week, here was our challenge: making Santa Barbara a budget destination without in-room grilling. Jessica Roy details exactly how you can put the American Riviera within reach without feeling deprived.


In other stories that turn what we think we know on its head, we talk about why Zion National Park may have eclipsed some of its brethren, including Yosemite, in popularity. We also ruminate on the return of Marilyn Monroe and her new look for Howard Johnson’s (remember HoJo?), help you avoid two California tourist destinations at their busiest times and embrace a haunted house — just not the commercial kind. And this week’s End paper, continuing the theme of counterintuition, talks about fear and travel. Step right up.

Cheap Santa Barbara? You gotta be kidding me

Not at all, although cheap is relative, because Santa Barbara can extract a pretty good price for your pleasure. Cutting costs or calories can be a drag if you are left unsatisfied, but this trip will fill you up. Read about how writer Jessica Roy made hers work.

“The trick was doing tons of research beforehand and figuring out what other people had done that they loved and didn’t spend too much on,” she said in an email. “We stayed at a more expensive hotel one night and tried a couple of pricier restaurants and didn’t enjoy them as much; they weren’t as good a value, and we knew paying for them would eat into what else could be done on the final trip itinerary. Basically, the thrill of a good deal carried me through.”

Feast on her suggestions, then let us know if you have other ideas of ways to save. Write to

No skirting this issue

You must remember this: Kitsch is just that — kitsch. If you feel guilty about loving Seward Johnson’s skirt-billowing Marilyn Monroe sculpture — at 26 feet, larger than life, like the actress herself — cut yourself a break. Sometimes the heart wins out over the head. In any case, the statue is coming back to Palm Springs, its home for a couple of years, for good, Mary Forgione writes.

Five years ago, L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight called it a “grotesque colossus.” It is what it is. And if you don’t like it, don’t look.

Seward Johnson's statue of Marilyn Monroe is returning to Palm Springs.
Seward Johnson’s statue of Marilyn Monroe is returning to Palm Springs.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

What goes with turquoise?

Answer: orange. At least if you’re Howard Johnson’s, the midcentury motor lodge that capitalized on its restaurants (which are now gone, Mary Forgione notes). The chain, with 23 locations in California, is undergoing a re-do. Take a gander and see whether this ranks among the best cosmetic surgeries of this century, Kardashians notwithstanding.

Think of popular national parks, and Yosemite and Yellowstone are apt to come to mind. Time to rearrange some brain cells and welcome Utah’s Zion National Park to the popular kids’ clique, Jay Jones writes. Of course, it’s gorgeous, but its proximity to Las Vegas doesn’t hurt. Take that, Yosemite (sixth most visited) and Yellowstone (fifth).

Zion's many multicolored canyons, mesas and towers frame its first-rate scenery. The park's most popular formation is Zion Canyon.
Zion’s many multicolored canyons, mesas and towers frame its first-rate scenery. The park’s most popular formation is Zion Canyon.
(Trent Nelson / Associated Press)

And speaking of well loved, who doesn’t love San Diego and San Francisco? Lots of people do — so much so that conventions are big business. That’s good news for city coffers but bad news for the visitor who doesn’t want to get elbowed aside by the badge-wearing hordes. Christopher Reynolds looks at convention calendars and recommends when to stay away.

Fright delight

Get into the spirit and go to Ione, about an hour southeast of Sacramento. Mike Morris’ weekend escape takes you to the beautiful Ione Hotel (haunted) and Preston Castle (also haunted) and a restroom (maybe haunted). Shivering.


What we’re reading

Here’s a piece that fits nicely with the counterintuitive nature of this newsletter. When we think of Oklahoma (if we think of it at all), we might think “oil” or “football.” But “socialist revolution”? In Smithsonian magazine, writer Richard Grant and photographer Trevor Paulhus tell the story of the Green Corn Rebellion — the “last armed and organized insurrection against the U.S. government,” a serious 1917 event that’s been largely lost to the mists of history. The photos are gorgeous, and the writing puts the reader at the center of this uprising.

Also in Smithsonian — we’re not playing favorites, but these are great articles — is a wide-ranging story on John Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez journey (which is also the basis for an article in the Oct. 6 Sunday Travel section). The headline on the Smithsonian article, also by Richard Grant, may lead you to think, “Tell me something I don’t know,” because the topic has been well-covered. But this one is different, delving into Ed Ricketts’ life and examining the ultimate fate of the craft that carried the two men along the way to producing “The Log From the Sea of Cortez.”

And finally, here’s a cautionary tale about why one should be extra careful at even the best-known tourist spots, Doha Madani reported for NBC. A 48-year-old man visiting Old Faithful stumbled and fell into the thermal pool, suffered severe burns and was taken to a hospital in Idaho. A beer can was found near Old Faithful, the park service said.

What you could be reading

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End paper

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and it’s not even December. But it is baseball playoffs and probably the best weather we’ll have all year.

And then there’s Halloween, which continues to make me wonder why people like being scared. Don’t they drive the freeways? Those are about as bad as having giant spiders crawling all over your house — a decorating scheme I saw on the way home the other night.

Fright seems to be a basic human need, but why? Christopher Dwyer, writing for Psychology Today, notes that for some people, it’s curiosity, while for others, it’s experiencing something scary but safe. (Think watching a movie, which may be frightening but safe if you’re in a controlled environment.) There’s the rush of fear countered by the knowledge that you’re really OK.

The phrase “scared silly” may seem ideal for describing some of this. Being frightened feels somewhat foolish if it’s those giant spiders on the side of a house.


Some fear isn’t rational, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fear. If it stops you from doing things you’d like to do, it’s also not fair. Through the website of Nomadic Matt (Matt Kepnes), I read Lauren Juliff’s account of overcoming the fears (and panic attacks) that might have held her back from traveling. It’s a great read and a great comfort to learn how some anxiety might be addressed and largely vanquished.

Also take a look at her blog, Never Ending Footsteps, to read how she dealt with her anxiety disorder. It reflects the theme of this week’s newsletter — that life is often counterintuitive. (“To my great surprise, it was forcing myself out of my comfort zone — the thing I feared most — that helped me conquer my anxiety,” she writes.) Great stuff here for anyone who has ever had as much as a mild OMG moment before hitting the road, which has to be many of us.

No matter where you are, travel safely and well, and remember that we’ll be here to welcome you home, wherever that happens to be.