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Montecito: Best Place to Live in the Santa Barbara Area

February 26, 2020

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Beautiful homes are a reason this is the best place to live in the Santa Barbara area.

Those of us who call Montecito home know it is one of the best places to live in California, the nation and maybe even the world. The popular website Niche agrees, naming Montecito the best place to live in the Santa Barbara area. The website, composed of a unique blend of data scientists, engineers and parents, does the research to help the public discover the schools, companies, and neighborhoods that are right for them.

Most of the affluent community’s almost 9,000 residents own their homes and enjoy the small-town ambiance. Many are well-known and well-heeled entertainment and corporate professionals. The community is consistently ranked by Forbes as one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. Residents include a number of A-list celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe, and Ellen DeGeneres and many more.

Weather Made for Enjoying Nature

Montecito, Spanish for "little mount," is located in the eastern portion of the coastal plain south of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Parts of the community are built among the lower foothills of the range. The area’s proximity to the ocean means onshore breezes and significantly moderate temperatures, resulting in warmer winters and cooler summers compared to communities further inland.

With its gentle Mediterranean climate, Montecito has long been a desirable location for horticulturists, which means we have many beautiful gardens to visit (or to create at home), including Lotusland: One of the World’s 10 Best Gardens.

March and April are the months to watch gray whales migrate north from Mexico through the Santa Barbara Channel. In fact, the nutrient-rich water is home to hundreds of species of marine life as well as a wide variety of seabirds. Spotting dolphins is a daily occurrence, along with seasonal appearances of migrating whales.

Education is a Top Priority

Schools are a number one priority for a large percentage of homebuyers when deciding where to move. Here, nearly three-quarters of homeowners have college degrees, and more than one-third have advanced degrees. It’s no wonder the public schools here are highly rated. For example, Niche ranked Montecito’s Cold Spring and Montecito Union schools numbers 1 and 3 in Santa Barbara County, respectively.

There are no fewer than two public and six private post-secondary schools nearby. The largest is the University of California at Santa Barbara, one of the most popular schools in the entire University of California system. Santa Barbara City College is a highly rated 2-year college in the U.S. For a complete list of schools in the area, check out the Schools page.

History of Montecito

The site of present-day Montecito, along with the entire south coast of Santa Barbara County, was inhabited for more than 10,000 years by the Chumash tribe of Native Americans. The Spanish arrived in the 18th century, but left the region largely unsettled while they built the Presidio and Mission Santa Barbara.

In the middle of the 19th century, far from being the best place to live in the Santa Barbara area, Montecito became known as a haven for bandits and highway robbers who hid in the oak groves and canyons, preying on traffic on the coastal route between the towns that developed around the missions. By the end of the 1860s, the bandit gangs were gone, and Italian settlers arrived. In their eyes, Montecito was reminiscent of Italy. So, they built farms and gardens similar to those they had left behind.

Around the end of the 19th century, wealthy tourists from the eastern and midwestern United States began to buy land in the area. It was near enough to Santa Barbara for essential services while still being secluded. They were drawn to the area due to the desirable weather combined with the availability of affordable land.

I recently sold the perfect example of what drew the wealthy to the area, Palmyra: A Grand Montecito Estate. The estate was showcased in the Wall Street Journal "Behind the Listing" section. The new owners are enjoying the Mediterranean home, lovely guesthouse and vintage pool house that rest on the grounds of historic El Mirador.

Montecito Hot Springs

In addition to the mild climate and soothing ocean waters, the region boasted a number of mineral hot springs, the most famous of which were the pools just above Montecito. Travelers from the world over came to Santa Barbara seeking a cure for their aches, pains, and illnesses.

The Chumash believed the waters had curative powers and used the springs for a number of purposes. During the Spanish and Mexican periods, the Californios would journey up the canyon to do their laundry in the warm waters. Today, the Montecito hot springs are located about a mile above the end of Hot Springs Road.

Montecito Architecture

The architect George Washington Smith is noted particularly for the residences he designed around Montecito, and for popularizing the Spanish Colonial Revival style in early 20th century America. At any time, there are amazing homes for sale in the area, including the Quintessential Mediterranean-style Montecito View Estate pictured at the top of this blog. Designed by Award-winning architect Don Nulty, AIA, the privacy, serenity, and security of this estate are paramount as it sits on nearly an acre, with unobstructed ocean and mountain vistas from most rooms.

Beautiful estate illustrating whyMontecito is the best place to live in the Santa Barbara area

Or perhaps you’d be interested in arranging a tour of this Ocean View Mediterranean-Style Estate. The new owners will enjoy 3 private and exceptional ocean and mountain vistas from its primary residence. Although the estate emanates a tranquil ambiance of utmost privacy, it’s just moments from hiking trails, beaches and Montecito’s Upper Village.

A beach house is one reason Montecito is the best place to live in the Santa Barbara areaamar Beach House for sale

Another of my exclusive Montecito listings is this Impeccably Renovated Miramar Beach House. It’s located on a private, gated lane just a stone’s throw from the new Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel. The home distinguishes itself as one of the few on Miramar Beach that have been so generously updated. It now offers an extensive list of modern conveniences and amenities perfect for the discerning homebuyer.

Somerset Estate. An example of why Montecito is the best place to live in the Santa Barbara area

Then there’s the Somerset Estate, combining provenance, impeccable care, skillful renovation and tasteful updating. Originally built in 1938, Montecito’s Somerset estate in the community’s elite “Golden Quadrangle,” stands ready to welcome its new owner.

If you’re considering the best place to live in the Santa Barbara area, I have many more exceptional Montecito listings here on my website. Do you already live here and are considering selling your home and moving within Montecito? If so, give me a call or drop me an email and let’s talk about your potential move. You can contact me at or +1 (805) 886-9378.

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Client Reviews

“It was an emotional experience selling our mother’s home in Montecito that we all loved so much but Cristal made the process easier on our whole family by guiding us through the transaction every step of the way. She knows the market so well and everything she recommended was on point including the asking price, painting, and staging the home, which looked beautiful and helped the buyer envision her new home. We sold it the first day it hit the market with an offer above asking! Cristal did an incredible job communicating with us and the buyer to ensure that the transaction would run smoothly. We highly recommend using Cristal, she was a pleasure to work with! ”

- J & A

“Cristal is a pleasure to work with! Her knowledge of the local real estate market coupled with her amazing listening skills resulted in her showing us an array of homes that were all excellent choices. Her low-pressure patient attitude made us feel extremely comfortable with the whole process. I cannot recommend her highly enough.”

- M.F.

“Cristal Clarke is #1 in her field - and you don't become #1 by luck. Cristal works harder, and longer, and with more charm and patience than any real estate agent I have ever worked with in the past; her calendar has no weekend, her days have no clocks, her only concern is selling your property as soon as possible and for the best price on the market. Am I a fan? You bet!”

- P.B.

“We have used Cristal now several times and cannot express how grateful we are for her expertise, dedication, and unwavering support throughout the entire home-buying process. Cristal is knowledgeable, patient and attentive. Her attention to detail is remarkable, and she consistently went above and beyond to provide us with all the information and resources we needed to make informed decisions. Cristal is a skillful negotiator and advocate. She can navigate complex negotiations with professionalism and grace and felt like a true partner to us in the home-buying process. Cristal has a genuine passion for real estate and a deep commitment to her clients' satisfaction. I cannot speak highly enough of Cristal and her exceptional service. She is a true expert in her field and her dedication to excellence, combined with unwavering support is the reason we choose to work with her for all our real estate buying needs.”

- T.C.

“Cristal is a top-notch realtor who sold my home before it ever went on the market. I had two competing offers that enabled me to get top dollar for my home. Not only is Cristal superb but her team is extraordinary. I cannot say enough about Cristal and her team. They are simply phenomenal, the consummate professionals, who took care of every possible detail, making the sale and transition period, smooth from our end. They are also lovely, caring people, who knew all the right professionals, to get the job done. Thank you, everyone!”

- D.R.

“I could list lots of cool adjectives to describe Cristal. All good by the way. But, that is not why I or anyone should hire Cristal. My reason for hiring her, which proved to be correct, is very simple. She got the job done. And, she does it time and time again and with zero issues. And, that is why she is one of the top agents in the country. End of subject. ”

- M.A.

“Working with Cristal was a complete pleasure. Cristal was extremely patient with us as we evaluated nearly 2 dozen homes over a span of 2 years. Her knowledge of the market is unmatched. Cristal provided us with exceptional counsel as we evaluated opportunities and negotiated pricing. The closing process was handled thoroughly and efficiently. We could not be happier with our purchase and even more happy to now call Cristal our friend.”

- D.K.

“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