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June 14, 2022

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5 Hidden Spots to Get Your Al Fresco On

July may be National Picnic Month, but in Santa Barbara, it’s always time for a picnic, especially during the summertime. There's nothing better than enjoying some fresh air on a warm day—especially when delicious food is involved. A relaxing picnic doesn't have to be a big, planned event. Just fill a basket with your favorite treats, grab a friend, and head outside.

When it comes to the best places for a Santa Barbara picnic, everyone is familiar with the obvious choices, like Leadbetter Beach, Miramar Beach, Tucker’s Grove, Toro Canyon Park, and Shoreline Park. Still, there are some hidden gems here that are more secluded. So, pack your picnic basket and discover some of the al fresco secret gems of Santa Barbara.

A white snowy egret dancing on a lake in santa barbara

By Channel City Camera Club from Santa Barbara, US - Dancing Snowy Egret, CC BY 2.0,

Andree Clark Bird Refuge

This 42-acre open space park is a rarely visited hidden gem unless you count the 200 species of birds who call this refuge home, like the Snowy Egret dancing on the water pictured above. The lake is surrounded by lush woodland with three small wooden platforms that jut out over the water, the last being over a small bridge not far from the Santa Barbara Zoo. Picnickers can access these platforms through a path that circumscribes part of the lake. You can set up directly above the water and allow the cool breezes from East Beach to wash over you as you dine al fresco. The park is close to Coast Village Road in Montecito making a stop at Montecito Gourmet by Village Cheese & Wine easy. Try a delicious gluten-free, Keto-friendly sandwich piled high with gourmet meats and cheese or one of their famous Charcuterie Cheese Platters.

A rainbow at Elings Park, one of the best places to picnic in santa barbara

Elings Park

Elings Park is the largest community-supported non-profit public park in America and it’s located right here on the American Rivera. Cedric Grove atop Elings Park is well known as a popular spot for weddings, but when there’s no ceremony happening, it’s the perfect spot for an impromptu picnic. Throw your picnic blanket out on the circular lawn or set up on the picnic tables surrounded by majestic mature oak trees. If you take the road all the way to the top and turn left on George Bliss Rd. you’ll find The Wells Fargo Amphitheater with plenty of graded seating and benches flanking both sides of the hill with views of the park and the glittering ocean. Pack some goodies from Tino’s Italian Grocery in your picnic basket and head out for an afternoon in the fresh air.

Park sign with the beach behind it

Lookout Park
Those who are lucky enough to call Santa Barbara home probably drive past this spot all the time without realizing it’s one of the best places for a Santa Barbara picnic. Located in Summerland right off Highway 101, Lookout Park is a small grassy bluff above the beach. There are benches, picnic tables, and barbecue stands across from a children's play area with swings and slides, a volleyball net on a sand base, horseshoes, and beach access. All this fun adds up to an ideal spot for a family picnic. Plus, it’s only two blocks from Lillie Avenue, where restaurants like Summerland Beach Café will happily fill your picnic basket with sandwiches like their decadent triple-decker club.

The sandspit in santa barbara

Sandspit Beach

The only north-facing beach in Santa Barbara is usually empty except for flocks of pelicans and seagulls. That is unless the surf break is excellent, or a few tourists decide to take the quarter-mile walk to the beach park at the Santa Barbara Harbor. Take your picnic blanket and basket and head across a short rock outcropping near the harbor. To the right, you’ll see Stearns Wharf; to the left, boats moored in the harbor; directly in front of you is the city, and behind you are the soft waves of the Pacific. That makes this spot the best of all worlds. Take it all in, feel the gentle ocean breezes and hear the sea lions resting on the green buoy marker. Order food from On The Alley Santa Barbara (OTA), a more casual sister venue to the famous Brophy Bros, and voila! A picnic, Santa Barbara style.

Franceschi Park

This 15-acre urban park on Santa Barbara’s Riviera offers unsurpassed vistas of downtown, the harbor, ocean, and Channel Islands. Once the home of famed botanist Francesco Franceschi, today the park is mostly secluded and quiet. Part botanical garden, part city park, you’ll find some picnic tables and benches facing the ocean. Stop at the Santa Barbara Public Market and pick up some delicious fare produced by some of the best chefs in Santa Barbara. Yum!

If you want to relax and let someone else do the picnic planning for you, Santa Barbara Picnic Company is here to elevate the picnic experience. The party professionals can create picnics styled to the vibe or occasion you wish to celebrate in and around the American Rivera.

Another secluded place to add to your list of the best places for a Santa Barbara picnic is closer than you think—your own backyard. If you’re considering a move in Montecito, Hope Ranch, or any of Santa Barbara’s upscale communities, please call me at (805) 886-9378 or email me at

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“After considering our many choices, we are grateful it was Cristal Clarke of Sotheby’s International who represented the sale of our Montecito cottage. We are familiar with Cristal’s reputation of hard work and dedication to clients, but it was her attention to detail that made our experience so positive. She offered suggestions for staging the property, worked in harmony with potential buyers and was even able to secure back up offers. The sale of our cottage was completed much sooner than we expected, due in great part to Cristal’s professional skills and support. We highly recommend Cristal as a first choice for anyone needing representation with real estate.”

- Michael & Nancy Lee

“Our experience in working with Cristal Clarke resulted in the successful and discrete acquisition of a property which was not yet on the open market. Her knowledge of the Montecito/Santa Barbara area and vast expertise blended with her passion for real estate and architecture, provided us with the very highest level of professionalism and personalized services. Cristal exhibited a rare combination of excellent communications, attention to detail, creativity and patience.”

- Richard and Catherine Frinier

“Cristal really breaks the mold. She knows every nook and cranny of this real estate market, understands value, and follows up on everything, all the time. She was incredibly patient with our two year quest to find the perfect house. Every house hunting trip from across the country was well planned, and our time was never wasted. On top of her professionalism and expertise, she is delightful to spend time with. We are thrilled with the home we purchased, and grateful to Cristal for so wisely advising us through this process, right through to the close and beyond.”

- Laurie Siegel

“We met Cristal first in the course of renting a winter home (for three years), then buying a house using her as our agent. She was amazingly good at listening to our wants and showing us homes that fit our needs. Her mastery of the paperwork was perfect. Most importantly, there was never a situation where we doubted her straightforwardness or integrity. If we do another real estate transaction in Montecito (which I doubt, we’re happy with what we purchased), without question we’d use Cristal again.”

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- Michael & Susan Marquart

“A little something about “our” realtor, Cristal Clarke. My wife and I came to Santa Barbara about fifteen years ago looking for a seasonal home from which to enjoy the weather and amenities of the central coast. Being in the real estate business myself I was familiar with agents and brokers so entered the market with open eyes. We “flipped” a few houses in the early years, dealing with various agents and finally ended up in Montecito. That’s when good fortune put us together with Cristal. To say we were impressed is to put it mildly. Cristal really knows the market. She is familiar with the area, its history and trends. When we have questions about a particular property she either has the answers immediately or gets back to us by phone or email. There is no waiting or wondering with Cristal. She is an agent who is “on top of it.” Her recommendations as to price points, contractors, inspectors and title agents have proven to be exceptional, showing great insight and the highest professional standards. We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to say that Cristal Clarke is our realtor and would recommend her services to any serious buyer or seller.”

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