The orientation along Santa Barbara County’s coastline is a bit – well, disorienting.
Standing on Summerland Beach, 6 miles east of Santa Barbara (how can there be a beach east of Santa Barbara?) and paralleling Highway 101, we are looking across the water directly south at the Channel Islands, and the sun is setting in the west to our far right.
Despite the map on my phone, I still feel this isn’t right.
Another surprise is the beach itself. Summerland Beach cannot be seen from the 101, so you don’t know it’s there unless you are there.
And now we are here.
As a giant, orange sun-ball sinks to our far right, we have this ample stretch of clean sand nearly to ourselves, except for a driftwood village and its half-dozen inhabitants fashioned of materials that have washed onto the beach. (See photos at www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.)
Partially vegetated, columnar sandstone cliffs rise behind us, and on top of the cliffs, the aptly named Lookout Park. The greenbelt offers ample picnic tables, play structures and even a dog wash ($10) for sand-encased canines. And, oh yes, a killer view.
Though this refuge is only a 3.5-hour drive from North County, it seems like a million miles away.
We are headquartered for three nights at the Inn on Summer Hill, a boutique hotel just a 10-minute walk away from this bliss. Our room overlooks the Pacific, and on the inside, it’s obvious that innkeeper Paulette Bermant has provided for every detail of comfort and beyond. Among other things, a generous number of real cymbidiums grace both lobby and bedrooms. There even are fresh flowers in a small vase attached to our bathroom mirror.
Bermant credits her 95-year-old mother, a former hotel designer, for these touches.
“She paid great attention to detail,” Bermant said. “And she has a green thumb. She always tried to have fresh flowers in the room.”
Bermant’s parents built the 17-room inn during the mid-80s, “and my mother always went out of her way to be gracious. I was raised the same way. We do our best to make everyone feel at home.”
That has been a challenge during the pandemic, Bermant said. With regulations changing over the months, the staff has had to adapt. Their efforts are successful. We receive a full breakfast in our room at the time of our choosing, desert and a bottle of wine in the evening, and while housekeeping cannot service the room daily, visitors can request towels, linens and other needed amenities.
Our quiet, end-of-day moments on the beach were preceded by an unintended hike earlier in the day. We set off to find the Seven Falls Trail, a popular 3.2-mile, moderate trek to what appears in photos to be quite an idyllic destination — a picturesque swimming hole nestled among boulders and fed by a small-but-steady waterfall. We never found it; the trail is seriously lacking signage, and other hikers gave us varying directions.
So, without consciously changing our plans, we found ourselves on the trail to Inspiration Point. The partially shaded, 3.5-mile, moderately difficult trail took us up 1,000 feet to a perch that gave us a more-than-180-degree view of the coastal cities and Channel Islands. It was a suitable reward for our efforts. From here, all seemed right with the world.
Later we dined at The Nugget, a two-minute walk from the inn down Summerland’s main street. The restaurant looked to be popular with locals, the walls held great historic photos of Summerland, and our server was familiar with my gluten-free needs. We chose to eat inside where booths were divided by plexiglass and servers and customers were compliant with mask mandates without complaint.