City Guide : Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is the city that has spawned major TV shows and been the set for dozens of movies. As a result, it is often what outsiders think of as quintessential Southern California. And honestly, that’s not entirely inaccurate: the beaches are beautiful (as are most of the people), there are plenty of eclectic and unique stores and dozens of restaurants to choose from serving anything from pizza to fine dining. There’s a lot of options to keep you coming back to Laguna Beach time and time again; it also makes for a really nice getaway weekend. Here’s the one guide that you will need to plan that date night or weekend and to tease through it all to find the true gems of Laguna Beach.

Where to Eat & Drink

The Loft at the Montage

The Montage is well known for its sweeping vistas and expansive property but not to be overlooked are the restaurants they have onsite. With a beautiful setting overlooking the ocean, The Loft is a fantastic place to have a seat and take in the view. However, it’s what comes out of the kitchen that makes The Loft a must for fine dining in Laguna Beach. Chef Michael Campbell came on board just under a year ago and brings his own new style to the menu. He came to The Loft with over 20 years experience in the culinary arts from traditional mid-Atlantic fare in Virginia to a fish house in Barcelona. How best to understand his style now that he’s in Southern California? “Just try the food,” he says, “although there are certain flavor profiles that I tend to work with, there’s nothing that’s off-limits.” Which means there’s always going to be something unexpected and new at The Loft.

The menu changes frequently because as Campbell says, “I get tired of making the same thing. I like the Montage because there is a lot going on and there is always something new to create.” And create he has with a menu full of interesting options:  there’s a roasted beet salad served with a whipped ricotta, garlic, and then a surprisingly delicious savory granola or the chef’s favorite, a duck served with a candied quince & potato gratin. Guest favorites here include the coffee-crusted New York strip steak but my personal favorite is the crispy Brussel sprouts with green peppercorns and garlic. Even the most die-hard carnivore won’t be able to stop themselves from reaching for them all. Green peppercorns are the same berries that are processed to make black pepper but in their raw state, they make the Brussels sprouts irresistible. Once the main meal is over, there’s no reason to stop eating because, with their own in-house pastry chef, dessert is equally amazing.

Mini-Interview with Chef Michael Campbell at The Loft

Q: What’s the one kitchen tool you couldn’t live without?

MC: I’m kind of a knife junkie. I have my old faithful, the one knife in particular that I couldn’t do without.

Q: What are some popular items on the menu?

MC: The coffee crusted steak which has been on the menu for years. People also really seem to enjoy the scallops that I pair with French lentils. I like a really hard sear on one side of the scallops and then served with the lentils for a nice, warm dish.

Q: What do you see as the next food trend?

MC: It depends on the area. When I came down to Southern California and started using sunchokes, which are one of my favorite vegetables, people were like, “what is a sunchoke?” I love them. In a lot of my soups, I’ll use a sunchoke or cauliflower as the base of the soup to get it creamy without making it heavy.

Q: What’s the last thing you cooked for yourself at home?

MC: I smoked a lamb shoulder the other day. I was craving gyros and so I made tzatziki with some warm pita and cucumber salad.

Q: Where do you like to go to eat out?

MC: I like everything. I love Greek food. I just really crave the stuff sometimes. I like going out to fine dining also but then I love just going out for ban mi too. Really anything.

The Loft
30801 Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

The Deck and Driftwood Kitchen

Head off of PCH down a seemingly private road called Sleepy Hollow Lane towards the water to pull up along two a couple of multi-story beach houses. Until a just a few years ago, these beach houses were just that but now they’ve been remodeled and transformed into a fantastic outside deck bar and restaurant. One of these three story houses still shares its top floor with a private vacation rental but the rest of the house has been repurposed.

The bottom floor is an open air deck with a full bar and food menu appropriately called The Deck. Then up a flight of stairs and into the adjacent home is Driftwood Kitchen, an upscale restaurant. The effect is more like you are visiting your friend’s awesome beach house where they just happen to be cooking up some fantastic food. The private setting seems so far removed from PCH and the rest of the busyness of Laguna Beach. 

The menu at Driftwood Kitchen is American Coastal with influences of French cuisine brought in by head Chef Rainer Schwarz. Even though what’s on the menu changes seasonally, always included are some guest favorites like the lobster carbonara (with pecorino cheese and tarragon) as well as the housemade gnocchi. Personal favorites are the grilled Spanish octopus which is served on a bed of chickpea puree and drizzled with a tomato-caper vinaigrette and lemon agrumato. Agrumato isn’t something you see all the time. It refers to an olive oil which is infused with oils directly from the fruit in order to create a flavored olive oil. Using the oil directly from the citrus creates a robust and bright flavor that is unlike the lemon flavored oil you may buy in the grocery store which is typically produced with natural additives or chemical extracts.

Also, not to miss is the housemade potato ricotta agnolotti with fresh mint and a tomato-saffron sauce. And of course, there is always room for dessert. You can make a whole night of it here at these beach houses on Sleepy Hollow Lane - drinks and appetizers at The Deck, dinner at Driftwood Kitchen, and then head up another flight of stairs to the Stateroom bar for after-dinner drinks. It’s all connected together as part of two neighboring buildings and it’s like you’re moving from one room to another in someone’s home, which in this case, is actually true.

The overall effect is a calm, cheerful atmosphere that makes it a fun place to hang out with friends. Their attention to service will make you feel like a houseguest, not a restaurant customer. And with a staff is welcoming and clearly having fun, the creative passion the chefs have for their cooking comes through to deliver a delicious meal and experience.  

Mini-Interview with Sous Chef Rodrigo at The Deck

Q: How often to you change the menu here at The Deck?

Chef: We try to change it three to four times a year and we try to go with the seasons. We won’t pick something that’s not in season and still try to make it work. We always think about the seasons.

Q: How often do you buy food for the restaurant?

Chef: We order food every day, vegetables, fish. We try not to keep anything on our shelf more than a day. Our bread comes in daily and we’ll call and adjust as needed to make sure everything is as fresh as can be.

Q: What’s your favorite thing on the menu?

Chef: I really the gnocchi. The chefs make the gnocchis by hand because you have to be precise. We also have a beet salad with fuyu persimmons that I really like.

Q: What do you think the next big food trend will be?

Chef: Something popular that’s been showing up more and more on menus I’ve noticed is the fungi from corn. It’s called huitlacoche. It’s a mushroom that grows on corn and it’s starting to make its way north on menus. It’s sautéed and used often with squash blossoms.

Q: What do you like to cook at home?

Chef: I like to barbecue. I don’t get to do it too often but when I do I’ll try and cook everything on the barbecue even things like cabbage.

The Deck
627 Sleepy Hollow Ln,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Driftwood Kitchen
619 Sleepy Hollow Ln,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

The Rooftop and K’ya Bistro

The Rooftop is THE place in Laguna Beach to watch the sunset. A casual spot for after work drinks or after a day at the beach, it’s high above overlooking the ocean with a spectacular view. Mojitos are the thing to order here and there’s a variety to choose from: strawberry, mango, or even champagne. Sit back, relax and enjoy the view with a cool drink. The happy hour is to die for offering a variety of tapas and small plates. This is a great place to come with a group, order a bunch of different items and sample them all.

There are American style tapas like avocado toast with truffle pecorino and sweet roasted tomatoes or small plates to share such as hibachi salmon with portobello mushrooms and a red Thai curry sauce (both highly recommended). Local favorites include the filet mignon but if you are in the mood for some comfort food try the fried chicken or lobster mac ‘n cheese. Chef Craig Connole works to create a menu of simple dishes that deliver; believing that you don’t need to make something crazy complicated in order for it to be delicious.

Working out of a small kitchen (the building dates back to 1929), it can be a challenge to turn out breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. And when the menu needs a change, the creative juices start flowing and what can start as a list of 50 or more dishes is gradually whittled down to 10 or so new items that can be made in their limited space. This means that there isn’t any high-tech kitchen equipment or gadgets (there just isn’t the room) so all the food that is served is handcrafted and prepared. And fresh.


Ordering has to take place every day as there is minimal space for storage. So what some may see a hinderance actually helps to drive fresh, innovative, simple dishes night after night. This is a place where there is something on the menu for everyone and at every price; a good place to hang out, chat with friends over a bottle of wine, and try a whole bunch of different food.

K'ya Bistro Bar
1287 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

The Rooftop Lounge
1289 S Coast Hwy,
4th Floor
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Gelato Paradiso

When it’s warm outside and you need something to cool you down or you are just wandering around downtown Laguna Beach, make at a stop this gelateria. Unlike many gelato shops that buy their gelato from a national distributor, at Gelato Paradiso, they make their gelato on site every morning. And the gelatoias (gelato maker), are folks who have been trained by master Sicilian gelatoias so when they say that it’s authentic Italian, they know what they’re talking about. There is an ever-changing array of flavors to choose from so there’s something for everyone. In addition to flavors added for the American palate such as cookies and cream, be sure to try the flavors more commonly found in Italy: mandola (almond), amarena ciliegia (black cherry), and panna cotta for a true Italian gelato experience. Or even better, order an affrogato, a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of gelato like an espresso float. As the sweet gelato melts into the bitter espresso, the resulting liquid is delectably drinkable. 

Gelato Paradiso
448 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Urth Caffé

This coffee and tea shop was born out a meeting the owners had with a Peruvian coffee grower. After learning how many chemicals are used in the production of coffee as we drink it today, the number of rare heirloom coffee varietals that are underutilized, Jilla and Shallom Berman decided to start a café that served organic, heirloom coffee. There are lots of places you can get organic coffee in SoCal, but heirloom coffee is uncommon indeed and definitely worth a try. Some swear that Urth Caffé makes the best lattés on the planet. Coffee aside, Urth Caffé is open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch with gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan-friendly options available. Highlights include their famous pecan sticky buns that after just one bite can easily turn into an addiction. For a heartier breakfast, order the Poach di Parma: ancient grain ciabatta, garlic truffle aioli, sautéed mushrooms, and prosciutto topped with poached eggs, wild arugula, and sage butter.  If you miss the breakfast crowd, they do serve some brunch items all day and have a lunch menu full of pizzas and paninis.

Standouts on the lunch menu include the D’Lox Pizza with smoked salmon, herbed mascarpone, red onions, arugula, fennel, and capers. Or for a different take on the ordinary veggie pizza, check out the Melanzane Pizza topped with roasted eggplant, parmigiana Reggiano, fresh basil, Castel Verano olives, and fresh mozzarella. Whether you come for a cup of coffee and a bun or a full meal, you can’t go wrong at Urth Caffé.



Urth Caffè
308 N Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Where to Shop

Rock Etiquette

The vibe here is chic yet sexy. Founded by an LA fashion industry veteran and a DJ from Latvia, this unusual partnership has created a store where edgy and beautiful meet.      

370 Ocean Ave,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

The SOUL Project

This store was founded on the concept of “socially conscious capitalism.” In a world of fast fashion where clothes are meant to be cheap and disposable, The SOUL Project focuses on carrying items that make a positive contribution to the world and the families who make the clothes. Retail with a purpose, you can feel like you did some good by stopping in here.

1516 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

The Shop

This is Laguna Beach, a beach town, so no shopping trip would be complete without checking out the fashion of the local beach girl. Beach fashion isn’t just for the summer, after all, since in Laguna Beach it’s summer year round.

1020 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

What to Do

Ritual Yoga

There are yoga studios on seemingly every corner in SoCal so it can be difficult to sort out the good from the bad. Ritual Yoga is on the right path. They lead mostly “hot yoga” classes here but differentiate themselves by their experienced instructors and by the way in which they heat the room. Most hot yoga studios use regular air heaters to introduce hot air into the room.

At Ritual Yoga, they use infrared heat which has several benefits including not circulating air which may be uncomfortable for people with allergies to dust or pollen. Also, it eliminates the noise of fans blowing and the heat is constant. There are also lighter yoga classes here including some done by candlelight so both beginner and advanced yogis can a class that meets you wherever you are in your practice.

1390 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

La Vida Laguna

If you want to head out on the water, head to La Vida Laguna for kayak tours, surf lessons, and paddleboard rental. And for an extra challenge, try SUP yoga or attend a fire dancing workshop.

1257 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651



Laguna Sea Sports

If you want to go under the water, Laguna Beach has some of the best diving in Southern California. This is due to the kelp forests and reefs in the area that keep the waters crisp and clear. Additionally, there are some great beach dives so you don’t have to worry about paying for a boat dive. The place to start your diving adventure is at Laguna Sea Sports. Shaw’s Cove is an easy dive spot literally behind the dive shop making it not only convenient but great place to learn to dive.



925 N Pacific Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Where to Stay

La Casa del Camino

This Spanish-style boutique hotel on the ocean built in 1929 is the place to stay if you want to be in the heart of Laguna Beach. Walking distance to countless shops and restaurants, the location for experiencing everything this beach enclave has to offer can’t be beaten. This historic hotel offers a variety of themed rooms.

The Spanish-style rooms are warm and welcoming and have hand carved wooden furniture reminiscent of the hotel’s opening days. However, if you dream of surfing, check out their super cool Casa Surf rooms that have hand painted or singed surfboards on the wall, plenty of underwater photos, and a definite surfer’s vibe.

You won’t go hungry at La Casa del Camino either with K’ya Bistro on the first floor and The Rooftop bar upstairs. There’s even a small bar in the lobby with live music in the evenings. Charming, quaint, and classic, La Casa del Camino is a piece of history right in the middle of Laguna Beach.

1289 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

The Surf and Sand Resort

Located along the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway sits the stunning Beachfront Hotel. The Surf and Sand Resort offers a luxury coastal esthetic with luxurious artwork, custom textiles, modern lighting fixtures, private furnished balconies and more. Whether you are looking to have a local staycation or transport yourself to a California haven, this hotel has everything you need. Their beachfront pool allows you to swim and tan while sipping cocktails, grab breakfast, lunch or dinner at Splashes Restaurant with the famous Executive Chef Ron Fougeray. The Aquaterra Spa provides you with customized massages, skincare treatments, seasonal body treatments and more. This hotel is one place you must stop at during your Laguna Beach vacation.

1555 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

The Montage Laguna Beach

If you are going to splurge, this is the place to do it. With amazing views from every room coupled with fantastic dining and amenities, you can pull in here, park your car, and never leave. This grand Craftsman-style hotel sits on 30 acres of land on a coastal bluff with charming walking paths through beautifully landscaped grounds leading to the beach below.

And there is no such thing as a bad room at the Montage: each of the 250 guest rooms come with an ocean view. Rooms and the view aside, just entering the hotel you are welcomed into an elegant lobby leading to a stunning overlook. If you want a place to relax and unwind, there is a 20,000 square foot spa on site. Or you can sit by the pool. Or enjoy a drink and watch the sunset. However you spend your time, the Montage is the place to escape to and leave the world behind.

30801 Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Written By: Susan Krupa

Santa Barbara City Guide

     Santa Barbara is a destination vacation. This vacation can either be a quick weekend trip, a staycation, or your next romantic getaway. I drove up to this beautiful American Riviera to experience amazing wines, culinary extravaganzas, and hotels that made me never want to come back home. Santa Barbara is known for the place to soak up some rest and relaxation, and that was exactly what I got to do. Experiencing downtown SB, living the coastal life at The Goodland, meeting a culinary genius at The Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara, watching beautiful sunsets from my balcony at The Canary, drinking local wines at The Finch and Fork, this City Guide provides you with a detailed itinerary of how to plan your next getaway.

The Goodland

    Upon my arrival to one of Kimpton’s hotels, The Goodland, I was transported to a retro beach retreat. This pet-friendly property is close to everything you need, including staple landmarks such as Goleta Beach and State Street, but I found myself never wanting to leave my new home away from home. I excitedly walked the entire premises looking at all the unique art displayed, exquisite beach design, music inspiration, the Ramen Fest by the pool, and of course the restaurant and bar. Inside the lobby is one of the most intricate and beautiful interior designs I have seen. Everything is so uniquely placed and perfectly paired that you feel you’re in the comfort of your own home. The lobby has multiple lounge areas, a light brown leather s-shaped couch that sits perfectly beside the warming fireplace, a backgammon table kid and adult friendly and one of my favorites, VNYL the record shop. To note, one of my favorite things about The Goodland is their love of music and what they offer because of that. This small dark room with neon signs transports you to an underground club full of amazing albums ranging from Black Sabbath, Journey and Pink Floyd all the way to today’s top hits. Feel free to put a record on the record player, throw on those headphones, and enjoy your new music haven powered by Sono’s. The art decor brings about the perfect balance of beach, history and ambiance. With surfboards hanging from the ceiling, photos catering to bohemian and beach aesthetic, rural tapestries hanging on the walls and vintage cars on display in the driveway, The Goodland encompasses everything beach, boho and cool.  

    Meeting my new best friend at check in, sadly knowing this will be ending in a few short days, he shared with me information about the second annual RamenFest happening at the pool. Restaurants from all around Santa Barbara, and one from Huntington Beach all participated including; Outpost, Finch and Fork, Zimzala, The Hungry Cat, Wildwood Kitchen, The Black Sheep and Empty Bowl. Who was to be the next “Ramen King of Santa Barbara”? I was sure to help figure that out! I walked each tasting booth trying out multiple ramen dishes until I found my favorite, The Empty Bowl (sorry everyone). I couldn’t possibly eat all that ramen without some libations, so I found myself making friends with the bartenders. Outside the pool was a picture perfect Tiki Pop-Up bar serving original Sake creations created by Outpost Lead Bartender Chris Burmeister. Besides the amazing food, live DJ playing sick beats, and the incredible sake buzz, this event all started to support a great cause, No Kid Hungry.  

     I was able to check out all the rooms offered at the property, The Deluxe, The Courtyard Deluxe, and The Courtyard Premier, but lucky enough to stay in the Courtyard Premier room. All their rooms offer hardwood floors and coastal wood finishes, flat screen tv’s, record player with three album options, complimentary yoga mat, luxury Atelier Bloem bath amenities and top reading list books for when you want to lay by the pool or cozy up in bed. Lucky for me, I am a sucker for a pool and a patio. My room, perfectly located 10 walking steps from the pool entrance, offered a quiet patio where I could drink my morning coffee and enjoy my social hour wine from the lobby. When putting away the items from my suitcase I notice a sign on my bathroom sink that says, “Forgot It? We’ve Got it!”. The Goodland offers you a large variety of essential travel items in case you forgot to pack that extra razor, toothpaste, toothbrush, or even for us ladies… a curling iron. I won’t tell you what I forgot, but I will say that I called the front desk and within five minutes my item arrived.

     Now, those of you who are looking for either your long vacation get away, a local staycation, or just want to get out for a night The Goodland provides multiple unique activities. On Mondays, the property offers roasting S’mores by the outdoor fire pits and lounge couches. I recommend pairing with an Irish Coffee from Good Bar. On Wednesdays, they have trivia from 7pm - 9pm. Every Thursday from 7pm-9pm they have live music where different artists from different genres come serenade you with their tunes. For this, you’ll have to check the property’s calendar, but on specific Friday’s they hold outdoor movie screenings. This is great for a romantic date, a family outing, or just want a relaxing night on the property. One of my favorite activities is the Saturday and Sunday morning yoga class from 930am to 1030am. I headed out to the pool to get my morning zen on and then nama-stayed there for a few hours after class. If yoga isn’t quite up your alley, there is an amazing state of the art fitness center open 24 hours or feel free to hop on one of the public bikes available at the front desk and cruise over to the beach.

   The last meal of my stay at The Goodland was brunch. Brunch on a weekend at The Goodland isn’t just a meal, it’s an experience. I thought about doing room service but when you see all the guests and restaurant patrons guzzling down hair of the dogs, eating griddle pancakes like they’re going out of style and seeing show stopping Benedicts, I had to get involved. Guests see dishes coming out left and right and turn to their neighbors to ask what they ordered. The brunch favorites were Market and Traditional Benedict, Chilaquiles, and the Cast Iron. Of course, the tables had sides of bacon, chicken sausage, and the original Pop-Tart.

Good Bar + Outpost Kitchen

     Centrally located at Kimpton The Goodland holds two culinary destinations, Good Bar and Outpost. Outpost Kitchen offers ingredients sourced from local farms with a menu catering to coastal California cuisine. When looking through the menu, I thought, “How do I decide?”. But my answer was simple, try everything. If you are someone who loves the Raw section on a menu, go for the west coast Oysters with pickled chili, and apple mignonette. They are great whether you are doing lunch or dinner or even a quick drink. I also ordered the Ceviche for one of my poolside snacks. It was fresh and cool and paired with the plantains, was a creative palette sensation. For lunch, I ordered the Good Burger that came with beer mustard, aged cheddar and fries, but of course, I added the sunny side up egg. What is a burger without an egg?

     My go to salad pick was the Kale Salad tossed in a pomegranate vinaigrette, sprinkled with spicy peanuts, and flavored with red onions, cranberries, and queso fresco. I’m someone who eats Kale way too often that when I see it done in a different way I must try it. For dinner appetizers, I recommend the Bone Marrow and Burrata. The Bone Marrow was a perfect portion that included salmon rillettes, cilantro chimichurri, salmon roe, watercress and toast. The Burrata hit the coastal mark paired with roasted beets, nori, sprinkled sesame seeds and drizzled with a miso-honey vinaigrette. Outpost has a section called For the Table which is great for sharing, but of course, I’m not much of a sharer and will order off that section anyways because it has the word Guacamole in it. This isn’t your ordinary Guacamole. Outpost brings you a plethora of ingredients to make your own Guac! You can choose from mango, walnuts, tomato, cilantro, jalapeño, and tomatillo. For my main dinner course, I ordered the White Bass and Flat Iron Steak. When I see the words “cashew mole” on the menu I have to try it. Beautifully plated, the White Bass was perfectly paired with red quinoa, cashew mole, red peppers, and fava beans. To me, this is by far one of the best items on the menu. How could anyone end a meal without dessert? Not I, so I moved over to the fire pits outside the Outpost Patio, ordered myself a nightcap and waited for the Mexican Spiced Chocolate and Kaffir Lime Flan. The Flan had a chocolate crumble and marinated strawberries on top that just sent it to the next level.

      Let's talk drinks. Good Bar has a variety of wines, beers, and cocktails to cater to everyone. Whether you’re looking to play a round of pool, sit in Good Bar’s patio, or indulge yourself in the dimly lit bar, Good Bar is perfect for any occasion. For example, their signature cocktail Buckshot which is Bullet rye whiskey, ginger, honey, fresh lime, and IPA is great for happy hour paired with their grilled chicken oyster skewers. When wanting to relax by the fire, I recommend their Honey Ryder made with Herradura Blanco, solemn blood orange liqueur, singani 63, angostura, and flamed orange peel. My favorite of the trip were the Wild Horse Pinot Noir, Municipal Winemakers Riesling, Madewest Brewing Pale Ale, and Mexican Air Patrol.


Cielo Spa

     Cielo Spa is a boutique day spa tucked away off State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara. Winning multiple “Best Day Spa” awards it is known for its custom spa packages, relaxing body treatments, and of course, primp and pampering. If you are on a romantic getaway, I recommend going for the Couples Massage including candlelight and fragrant oils to fuel your senses. If you just want to treat yourself, go for the classic Swedish massage. This is perfect for the person who likes light to medium pressure and just needs to work those tension knots out. If you’re looking to revitalize your skin, Cielo Spa offers oxygen-infused facials, eco-friendly facials, and a Vitamin C Facial. Each facial is custom catered to your skin type and the type of results you are looking to achieve, outside of utter relaxation. In regards to Primp and Pamper, treat your body to an Eifelfango Mud Treatment. This mineral clay is from the volcanic region of Germany and promotes circulation and muscle relaxation. Warm compresses are applied and warm mud is massaged onto your body, followed by a wrapping in a Mylar blanket. This treatment leaves your skin purified and detoxified.


The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

     Overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean, I walked onto the patio seating of Bella Vista at The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. Engulfed in decadent decor, roaring firepits, and the sound of the waves crashing onto Montecito’s Butterfly Beach, I was ready for a dinner I would never forget. Executive Chef Marco Fossati truly encompassed the art of culinary cuisine and top chef. Bella Vista, being the only restaurant in Santa Barbara (1 out of 12 in California) licensed to cure its own meat, being a farm to table restaurant, and having everything made in house, I knew my taste buds were in for a treat. To start the evening I was brought a variety of bread in a basket, a bottle of wine, and Formaggi E Salumi (selection of artisanal cheeses and house-cured meats). I felt as if I left Santa Barbara and escaped to Europe. For appetizers, I was lucky enough to try the Insalata Mista, Polpo, and one of Chef’s new creations he was trying out an Ahi Tuna Tar Tar. The Insalata Mista is a bed of organic greens topped with crunchy vegetables, garnished with Drakes Goat Cheese and drizzled with a walnut sherry vinaigrette. If you have never had octopus before, I recommend driving to Santa Barbara to try this dish. It is beautifully plated grilled Octopus, roasted tomato, taggiasca olive and red pepper. My first introduction to Chef was his delivery of the Ahi Tuna small plate. He let us know that he liked to bring out some dishes that aren’t on the menu yet to get a sense of the guest’s response. Chef didn’t just bring this dish to my table, he brought it to a few other tables as well. I watched him interact with the guests and it was so lovely to see this type of environment. You could tell the guests truly appreciated getting to meet the man behind their meal. This was something that went on a lot through the night and it was a beautiful moment every time.

     The next item on my agenda were plates of pasta. Let me tell you, the Tagliatelle Vongole is life changing. Manilla and Littleneck Clams sautéed in Garlic, White Wine, and sprinkled with Parsley. The Short Ribs “Ravioli Del Plin” made with spinach, brown butter, sage and sugo d’arrosto was rich and distinct. Of course, I couldn’t skip on the Secondi and Sides. The Chicken was juicy and rich with flavor. The roasted carrots, chicory and carrot top puree really added for the October seasonal taste. My second choice was the Pan Seared Salmon with parsnip puree and farro salad. For side dishes, I ordered the roasted beets, brussels sprouts and roasted cauliflower. A few glasses of wine later, it was finally time for my favorite part of the meal, dessert. All night long I had seen this decadent and stunning chocolate soufflé walking past me and the scent was unbelievable. Now was my turn to have it. Every chocolate morsel and sauce that poured out of this cake was worth every calorie. I would have ordered two if I could have.

     My one hour planned dinner turned into a multi-course four-hour event that I will always remember. The food tasted so fresh and left you feeling so light. It’s truly amazing how different food truly tastes when eating everything made from local ingredients and in-house.

I was so inspired by Chef and his passion for food and the culture that I sat down to do an interview with him.


How does your Culinary background in Europe inspire your Santa Barbara menu?

I come from the Italian Riviera and Santa Barbara is the American Riviera.  I grew up a 5-minute walk from the ocean, and Santa Barbara is on the ocean.  The climate is similar, the lifestyle is similar, i.e. going to the harbor and buying fresh fish from the fishermen.  We used to go down to the harbor and buy the Gamberoni Rossi from Monterosso (red prawns) but here in Santa Barbara we have the spot prawns. Besides all of these similarities, working in Italy, Paris, London, and Berlin to name a few, taught me the love of using fresh herbs, spices, a good rich fatty butter for cooking and an outstanding extra virgin olive oil for finishing dishes.  We are trying to not use more than 3 ingredients per dish to keep them simple and always using what is in season, connecting as much as possible with our local sources and this can be done in Santa Barbara.


What are some of your favorite items on the menu and why?

Ravioli del Plin "beef short rib ravioli, brown butter and sage, fresh 24th month aged parmesan. It is an adaptation for the classic "del Plin”, a typical dish from Piedmont where half of my heritage is from. It is an example of an earthy/meaty dish with an elegance in their simplicity. Another dish soon to come is the Aghiotta fish stew, typical from Sicily, tasty and rich in flavors thanks to the black olive from Taggia (Liguria), a soffrito of celery and fennel, and to add the saltiness the Pantelleria Lilliput capers.


Where do you get your creative inspiration from?

It comes from working in different parts of the world, working with different chefs, and acknowledging that there are different ways to see and manipulate the same ingredient. I love to learn about different cultures and people, and thinking in my mind "what if"...I use this method or that ingredient or condiment to change an old way to prepare a dish.


Why did you want to become a chef?

I love cooking because it makes me feel free. Cooking is an art you do only if you are passionate and willing to sacrifice time and youth for a purpose. Is a never ending emotion.


Who inspired your passion for food?

Mia Famiglia, specifically Nonna Teresa (grandma), the classic old style Italian woman. Growing up I watched her get up early every morning, go to church, go to pick up the essentials; fresh baked bread and focaccia, fresh Milk, fresh fish on Fridays, and return home to cook for the family.  I would watch her cook in her cast iron pan (that no one could touch or clean, but her). She used that pan for specific things from roasted potatoes, fish, and Milanese. She taught me how to cook a roasted chicken in white wine, stuffing sardines with a mixture of bread, egg, parmesan, marjoram, and garlic, then pan frying them, as well as, making homemade pasta and ravioli.  I loved staying up with Nonna and my Papa into the early hours of the morning making ravioli. But most important even if very simple her fantastic marinara sauce. Till now used for different purposes.  


What are your next culinary goals with The Four Seasons?

 I believe in people and helping grow and develop my team. I strongly believe that if everyone works together everyone can learn from each other.  I look to push my colleagues to be out of their comfort zone so they too are challenged and can learn.  What I would like to do is be the first Regional Executive Chef in the company to oversee multiple hotels. Being an Executive Chef is not only about cooking, but leading and managing a team and an operation.


     There is nothing more iconic in Santa Barbara than the legendary Downtown Santa Barbara. To write a Santa Barbara City Guide and not include all the intricate little coffee shops, where to find the best Acai bowls and hidden boutique gems for shopping would be a travesty. Let’s start with Backyard Bowl. With a few different locations dispersed around SB, Backyard Bowl is the go-to place for Acai bowls. They offer a variety of bowls, smoothies, and breakfast bowls. This is either a great pick me up midday exploring or a great way to start your Santa Barbara adventure. If you are looking for a good cup of joe, look no further than The French Press, Handlebar Coffee Roasters, or Good Cup Downtown. Granted, downtown Santa Barbara does have some of your everyday stores you could find at the mall down the street, but the architecture and outdoor shopping experience blow mainstream out of the water. Some of the local boutiques to stop into are Lovebird Boutique & Jewelry Bar, Diani Boutique and Dear Diary. If you are looking for a quick lunch stop, head over to Silvergreens. Everything is made with locally sourced ingredients. Grab a Turkey, Bacon & Avo sandwich, one of Kyle’s burgers, or the sunny side up bowl. If you are looking for more of a sit-down lunch head to State and Fig. This is a perfect place for a glass of wine, caesar salad and Fig and Pig Panini. Some of Santa Barbara’s staple restaurants are The Lark, Jane and Los Agaves Restaurant. The Lark is a one of a kind fine dining experience. Located in a former fish market this urbane eatery offers a new American flare. Downtown offers full day adventures, morning strolls, or a fine dining experience. It caters to everyone and anyone.

The Canary

     Escape life and travel to luxury at Kimpton The Canary. In the heart of Downtown Santa Barbara, this beautiful hotel offers world class wine, stunning views, farm fresh cuisine, a rooftop pool, and elaborate rooms. I was lucky enough to be able to stay in one of The Canary’s Premier King Balcony rooms. This picturesque suite offered views of mountains afar and the beautiful downtown Santa Barbara below. The Mediterranean-inspired room holds a king sized four post canopy bed lined with luxury linens, hardwood floors, and a luxury bathroom with a tiled bathtub and shower. The first thing I did was jump straight into that bed. I usually miss the comfort of my own bed when I travel, but I definitely called the front desk to see if I could take that mattress home with me. One great moment though was when I walked to the check-in counter and the first question asked was, “Can I offer you a glass of wine?’. I was brought over a lovely glass of red, my bags taken from me, and escorted to my room. One of the notes that really stand out about The Canary is the guest service. While unwinding in my luxurious new spot, I hear a knock at the door and when I opened it I was greeted with an assorted cheese plate, bottle of wine and chocolate covered strawberries. To quote Julie Andrews, “these are a few of my favorite things”.

     The Canary offers many different amenities and services to better your vacation. The Rooftop Pool and Deck are magical. It is also the only Rooftop Pool in Santa Barbara. The pool is accompanied with a pool bar serving cocktails all day long. The roof is great for taking photos, watching the sunset, or catching some rest and relaxation. The Canary is pet-friendly so if you do bring your pup it's only a 1.5-mile walk to the beach if you want to choose ocean over the pool. Each room you will find a complimentary yoga mat, so if you happen to stay at The Canary during the weekend, they offer Saturday morning yoga classes on the roof. If you are someone like me who loves the Spa, Float Luxury Spa is Canary’s local premium spa partner. The spa is only a block away, but they do offer in-house spa treatments. I had a morning massage before my check out and it was the best way to end my Santa Barbara trip.

Finch and Fork

     Finch and Fork conveniently located next to The Canary is one of Santa Barbara’s fresh and clean California cuisine.

     Finch and Fork play homage to timeless American dishes all while adding a modern twist. Execute Chef James Siao truly has his signature on this Menu. He is known for pairing no more than six ingredients in a dish and writes a love letter through his food. Each dish was intricately plated and created an artful aesthetic you almost didn’t want to eat because it looked too beautiful. Chef works closely with Santa Barbara farms and fisherman and it’s what makes him a community favorite.

     My dinner at Finch and Fork was an absolute delight from service to dessert, it was a great experience. The first item of the evening was the Smoked Skuna Bay Salmon Dip served with freshly made potato chips and an order of the West Coast Oysters. Next item of business was the Hamachi Crudo. This definitely is a fan favorite, made with celery root, granny smith apple, yuzu and dill. The theme of the night was Granny Smith Apples. The way the chef really utilizes the seasonal and local ingredients are inspiring. He takes specific fruits and vegetables such as granny smith apples and pairs them with unique herbs, spices, meats, seafood and cheeses. It really takes your taste buds to a new palette level. I truly am a strong believer in farm to table so when I see a menu full of delicious fresh ingredients it’s hard to just make one selection. Finch and Fork have a Farm to Fork section that caters well to vegetarians or looking to pair your entree with some fresh vegetables. I couldn’t decide between the caramelized cauliflower made with crispy capers, lemon and breadcrumbs, the roasted brussels sprouts with Marcona almond, shaved pecorino, and roasted in maple bacon vinaigrette, or the butternut squash soup because how can you not during Fall. My solution was to try it all! I ordered the soup to start and the rest to accompany my beautiful entrees. If you are going to pick anything off this menu please choose the Sea Scallops. They come delicately placed on a bed of corn salsa topped with avocado and marinated in a chorizo vinaigrette. My next runner up is either the Pork Chop or Rainbow Trout. Being completely satiated I mustered up the strength to order the S’more Pot De Crème and a cup of coffee. Low and behold arrived a beautifully plated house made marshmallow with a graham cracker crumble smothered in chocolate sauce. If I am to eat S’mores this is the only way I’d like to.  

     Let’s talk alcohol. Finch and Fork have a variety of craft cocktails and wines. They have a beautiful bar and ambiance that I would recommend stopping inside for just if a drink if you aren’t able to stay for a whole meal. If you are someone who enjoys Gin, I recommend The Witch’s Back. It is made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Strega, Pamplemousse Rose, Lime, orange bitters and served up. I enjoy whiskey and tequila so my picks are the Sucker Punch and House Barrel - Aged Manhattan. The Sucker Punch served in a highball glass made with pineapple, lime, agave, tiki bitters, Mandarine Napoleon and Herradura Reposado.

     I was able to experience a wine tasting during my visit to Finch and Fork with Point & Line Wine. What started as a mention of the types of wine I enjoy turned into a dinner pairing and tasting. Point and Line Wine started when four wine professionals all met by chance. They make their craft wines straight from the fruit of Santa Barbara.  It was great to experience a variety of their wines from Chardonnays to Pinot Noirs straight from the beautiful city itself.

There definitely are a variety of places to eat, drink, and stay at when visiting Santa Barbara, but I must say this is definitely one City Guide to try out.

Written by Kiley Coleman

The Whiskey Room

Q: How did the concept originate?

A: The concept for the restaurant, on the whole, was to do farm to table stuff, food that comes from a place and a person and not a factory. Sort of keeping with that idea of torroir. Obviously, whiskey isn't a seasonal thing. It's not gonna change from Fall to Spring but it is something that fits into that overall philosophy of craft spirits along with independent farmers.

Q: How do you set the atmosphere?

A: This is about as traditional a setting to drink whiskey, short of having cigars in here, it checks all the boxes of wood paneling, brick, comfy leather chairs, couches, just trying to do something that's elegant as well as comfortable.

Q:  Why Whiskey?

A: Going back to what I was saying about wanting to have things that have a sense torroir, vodka is the anti-torroir. Vodka is something that's been stripped of all of it's character to the point of being neutral. We could have absolutely done rum, mescal or a variety of other things but I think partly because that's what the owners are excited about and like to drink and also the setting we're in. In the financial district and as much as mescal might meet the criteria for all those other things, whiskey is definitely the thing when most people are getting out of the office that's what they're going for. 

Q: What are some of the most iconic whiskey offerings?

A: There are bottles in here that are super unique, just in the sense that they're from a distillery that is no longer around, so everyday there was less of it than there was yesterday and that makes them pretty special. Then you've got whiskeys that are sort of, oddball, weirdo things that you're not gonna see anybody else doing something quite like that. For instance, Brimstone, which is a smoked Texas corn whiskey, that is something that came about because they wanted to do a peated whiskey but, obviously, there are no peat bogs in Waco, Texas so keeping with that idea of toree, that we keep coming back to, they said, 'what do we have in abundance?' We've got Texas scrub oak, so they smoked their whiskey with Texas scrub oak and if I poured that for you, whether you know anything about whiskey or not, and I asked, 'where did this come from?' you'd reply, 'this tastes like Texas,' and that's really cool, so that's a fun one. 

Q: Any holiday specials?

A: Yeah, we do a bunch of tastings here, sometimes people book the room out, and we'll either do a tour of one region of the world or we'll taste through a bunch of different things that somebody picks out and they want to share with their friends, in addition to doing stuff by the half ounce or the full pour. We also do bottles, so if there's ever something somebody finds and they're totally in love with and they're afraid that it's so rare that it won't be here the next time, we let them purchase the bottle, drink as much as you want, we'll save it for you next time, also people are welcome to buy gifts for people. We had a woman who bought a Van Winkle family rye for her husband for his birthday, which was a nice present. 

Q: What does the future hold for the Whiskey Room?

A: As far as whiskeys, we're always changing the menu, whatever becomes available or if somebody calls me and something came their way and they want to pass it on, we like to bring that in. Probably, 85% of the people that come here, the first question out of their mouth is, 'do you guys have cigars in here?' and we don't, although there are some talks about getting a separate room with a vent so we can smoke in there.

Miro Restaurant
888 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 988-8880