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Celebrity Living in Santa Barbara

May 12, 2020

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inside a home theater, illustrating Celebrity living in Santa Barbara

The Santa Barbara-Montecito area, also known as the “American Riviera,” has been a magnet for the rich and famous for over a century. Celebrities living in Santa Barbara, as well as those visiting, can stroll down the street here without being ogled or hassled for an autograph or photo. In general, Santa Barbarans have an insouciant attitude toward celebrities, which is one reason why the town – and especially its most celebrity-filled enclave, Montecito -- have been such favorites among A-listers for generations.

A Wealth of Enticements for the Wealthy

Of course, those aren't the only reasons why everyone from Hollywood luminaries to captains of industry find this particular stretch of California's Central Coast so appealing. The wealth of other reasons includes the charming predominately Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, long stretches of south-facing beaches, Mediterranean climate, exceptional upscale dining and shopping options, cultural and recreational activities, and much, much more.

READ: Montecito’s 93108 Zip Code: Consistently One of Forbes Richest

A Lengthy List of A-Listers

So, the fact that celebrities choose to live on the American Riviera is not so surprising. What might be surprising though is that Santa Barbara and Montecito are said to be home to more celebrities per square mile than Beverly Hills: that bastion of the well-known and well-heeled that lies just 90 minutes down the Pacific Coast. In fact, Santa Barbara has earned the moniker “Beverly Hills North.”

It isn’t just Hollywood stars that have chosen to make their home in Santa Barbara. The area has also long been a haven for quite a few literary luminaries as well. You might run into famous author T.C. Boyle, for example. The late Sue Grafton, who lived here until she passed away in 2017 at Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital, was a well-known local. Crime fiction author Ross Macdonald was also a Santa Barbarian, as was his wife, the novelist Margaret Millar. Other literary-minded folks who’ve made SB their home at one time or another include Pico Iyer, Fannie Flagg, Gayle Lynds, and Arianna Huffington.

If you’ve spent time in the area, you’ve probably already had a celebrity sighting or two. The list of property owners here can read like a veritable who’s who of movers and shakers in the entertainment industry. Many have purchased Montecito homes.

Among those who maintain, or have maintained, homes here are Oprah Winfrey, Kirk Douglas, George Lucas, Carol Burnett, John Cleese, Drew Barrymore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Kenny Loggins, Kevin Costner, Rob Lowe, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, to name just a few. Oh, and we can’t forget “The Dude,” Jeff Bridges.

READ: Harry and Meghan: Montecito's Newest High-profile Residents

Silent Movies and Santa Barbara

old photo of Flying A Studios in Santa Barbara

Flying A Studios c.1920. West Mission St., Santa Barbara, CA

That breathtaking backdrop can also be found in countless movies and TV shows dating back to the silent film era of the early 20th century. In fact, there used to be more than a dozen studios in town; the largest of which was Flying A Studios. Stars like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. were frequent visitors.

READ: The Richness of Santa Barbara History

Around 1,200 movies were produced here back then, though only a fraction of those have survived. Movie titles such as Perils of Pauline (1914), Diamonds from the Sky (1915) and Rivers End (1919) were all filmed here.

And the Cameras Keep Rolling

Even after film production moved south to the Los Angeles area after the 1920s, the industry’s movers and shakers kept coming back to Santa Barbara – as they still do to this day. With its iconic look and unbeatable climate, Santa Barbara is still a top choice for movie productions today.

From Stearn’s Wharf, the Mission and State Street, to the rolling vineyards of the nearby Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country, Santa Barbara County is an exceptional place for film productions.

For example, just off the Santa Barbara coast you will find San Nicolas Island, where Colonel Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) saved his daughter in Commando (1985). Did you know that scenes from the Pirates of the Caribbean III: The World’s End (2007) was partially filmed at the beaches near Santa Maria? Or that both Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) as well as Friday the 13th Part III (1982) have scenes filmed in Santa Barbara?

You Al Pacino fans might not be aware that the actual location for his character Tony Montana’s Miami home in the hit movie Scarface (1983) is actually located at 631 Para Grande Lane in Montecito.

Not many communities can say they had a soap opera named after them. Santa Barbara aired on NBC from July 30, 1984, to January 15, 1993. The soap showcased the eventful lives of the wealthy Capwell family living on the American Rivera. Since then, The Bachelor, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and many other popular television shows have filmed in Santa Barbara.

Then there is the annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Today, SBIFF is known as one of the leading film festivals in the United States.

A Book of Facts and a Few Secrets

In fact, Robert L. McCullough and his wife, Suzanne Herrera-McCullough, wrote an entire book about film and television luminaries here: Where Hollywood Hides – Santa Barbara: Celebrities in Paradise. The McCullough book celebrates the Santa Barbara-Hollywood relationship; paying homage to some of the show business personalities who lived here: from Charlie Chaplin, known for building the landmark Montecito Inn, to Santa Barbara’s current most famous resident: Oprah.


Oprah’s Home

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The world’s most famous television talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, famously purchased amansion in Montecito a few years back. She bought the estate for $48 million while on vacation. It didn't take Oprah long to fall in love with Montecito. Her Montecito palace is a fully renovated estate that includes 6 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, 10 fireplaces and a modern high-tech gourmet kitchen. It also has a state-of-the-art theatre, a wine cellar, a barn, orchards, two ponds, an outdoor theater, tennis court, a 4,500 sq. ft. guest house with a pool, an outdoor entertainment area, and even a man-made lake stocked with fish. Like many homes in the area, it has both mountain and ocean views.

Ellen’s Estate

Ellen DeGeneres sitting in her Burbank office

Creative Commons

Another famous talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, along with her wife, Portia di Rossi, bought a 13-acre estate in 2013 for $22.5 million. That was quite a deal for the two-story property listed for $26 million. Built in the late 1920s using locally quarried stones, the 10,500 square foot home has nine fireplaces and a Roman column standing in the garden that dates from 200 B.C. In fact, Ellen has purchased, renovated and sold several homes in Santa Barbara County, including in Montecito, Carpinteria and the Santa Ynez Valley.

George Lucas

George Lucas doing an interview sitting in a red chair

Creative Commons

“Star Wars” creator George Lucas plunked down about $25 million for his spectacular beach house in Santa Barbara. With an estimated fortune of $3.25 billion, he snapped up the 1.7-acre estate when the price was reduced from $37.5 million. Built in 1980, the 3,540-square-foot home has 4-bedrooms in the main house, with walls of glass facing the beach. The 2-bedroom guest house also has amazing ocean views. There’s also a lap pool, exercise room and yoga studio.

Neverland Ranch

Gates of Neverland Ranch

Creative Commons

The historic landmark once owned by Michael Jackson is also located within Santa Barbara County. The King of Pop lived in the magical paradise getaway in the Santa Ynez mountains for more than 20 years. Named after the fantasy island in the story of Peter Pan, the ranch was fully staffed when Michael and his family lived there. It even had its own theme park and a mini-zoo that housed two tigers, four giraffes and three chimpanzees.

To this day, there are still several barns on the property, and a petting zoo with goats.

In 2009, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., an American private equity real estate investor, purchased this historic landmark in his conquest for distressed celebrity properties. The property hit the market again in 2015 for $100 million.


European-Inspired Montecito Contemporary Estate

The front of a Montecito home for sale

This estate was actually owned by a celebrity: revered comedian Johnathan Winters and his wife Eileen. The property sits on 3 acres and comes with countless luxury amenities to enjoy from a beautiful infinity pool and spa to a movie theater reminiscent of Old Hollywood. There are stunning views of the both the ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Very private, secure and seemingly far from the madding crowd, the estate is just minutes from Montecito’s charming Upper Village.

Other Celebrity Homes for Sale

There are many other celebrity-worthy homes for sale in Montecito, Hope Ranch and other upscale communities in and around Santa Barbara. Call luxury agent Cristal Clarke at (805) 879-5000 or email her at

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Client Reviews

“Cristal Clarke has conducted numerous real estate transactions for me beginning 13 years ago with the purchase of a Lemon Ranch. She has handled both large and small purchases and sales with equal dedication. As a negotiator, you can’t find anyone better. Her transactions are always conducted in the most appropriate and professional manner. Cristal has considerable knowledge of the Santa Barbara market.”

- S.N. Decker Ph.D.

“Living in Europe, we were to say the least, unaccustomed to the nuances of Real Estate acquisition in California and Cristal steered us through the process with absolute professionalism and personal attention to detail at every turn. Her in-depth knowledge of the market place combined with enthusiasm and drive was the only reason we secured the property of our dreams and will be forever grateful. If you are looking for personal discrete and private representation of the highest quality we suggest you look no further than Cristal Clarke.”

- Johan and Paula van den Berg

“Cristal is very straightforward, cheerful, helpful, professional and trustworthy….we felt very lucky to work with her.”

- John and Lacey Williams

“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.”

- Ken Saffir

“Susan and I just want to thank you for your efforts in the sale of our home. You are really quite amazing. Your competence, persistence, optimism and humor made the entire process effortless. Every problem that arose, you somehow fixed; any obstacle, you overcame. We have bought and sold many homes. It has never been such a painless and enjoyable process!”

- 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.”

- Rob & Judi Kelch