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The Hidden Gems of Carpinteria: Avocados, Orchids, and Polo by the Sea

May 3, 2014 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

A charming town nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and Pacific Ocean ten miles south of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria has a lot to offer for such a quaint beachside community. Many people are unaware of the many draws including great food, unique shopping opportunities, and festive traditions that make Carpinteria the perfect getaway.

Carpinteria, CA; photo by Jay Sinclair

First Fridays each month in Carpinteria bring out the best in local businesses. Restaurant deals, shopping steals, art openings, and live music make it the prime time to shop and dine. Cruise down Linden Avenue and discover the picturesque downtown comprised of family-run businesses, surf shops, and eclectic boutiques. First Fridays are the perfect opportunity to live like a local and experience the charm of Carpinteria.

In October, these same streets are lined with festival-goers during the renowned California Avocado Festival, when the town celebrates its native fruit with all kinds of avocado-related food vendors, local artisans, and family-friendly activities held over three days. Not only are avocados a native delicacy, but Santa Barbara County is the third largest avocado producer in North America. Avocado ice cream, giant vats of homemade guacamole, and even Avocado Honey beer served at a local brewery prove that if you’re a fan of avocados, you’re in the right spot.

Another fun fall event is the annual Carpinteria Triathlon. Each year, over 900 participants race their way through the Olympic or Sprint Courses. It’s no wonder why people are eager to participate in a day of swimming in the cool Pacific, riding bikes along foothills with scenic ocean views, and running through picturesque Carpinteria neighborhoods.

In the summer, don’t miss the lively events Rods & Roses or Surf ‘N’ Suds. Rods & Roses is a free event showcasing hundreds of classic cars, motorcycles, race cars, and antique tractors—not to mention the thousands of flowers that are on display. Stroll through downtown Carpinteria and admire the eclectic collection of colorful cars, while kids can be entertained in the arts and crafts area. Surf ‘N’ Suds is a beer festival that encourages fun in the sun, serving beer and wine from over 50 craft breweries. Held in Carpinteria State Park’s Linden Field, live music, food vendors, and surfboard shapers make this a beer fest unlike any other.

Nature lovers shouldn’t miss Franklin Trail, as the first two-mile stretch of the ten-mile trail is recently reopened after three years of reconstruction due to overgrowth and erosion. Now the first phase of the trail is better than ever, offering majestic views of the valley, salt marsh, ocean, and Channel Islands. The ongoing project will eventually complete reconstruction on the remaining 8 miles of the trail. Once finished, the trail will stretch from Carpinteria High School all the way into Los Padres National Forest.

Locals and visitors alike enjoy visiting the Harbor Seal Preserve, where dozens of seals can be seen year-round, lounging on the beach or diving into the ocean in search of fish. Each spring, a hundred adult seals give birth to their cubs on the Carpinteria shoreline. Rookery visitors are welcome to observe the playful animals from the bluffs above, as the beaches on either side are closed to preserve the seal’s natural habitat.

Families with young children who want to experience nature without getting dirty should look no further than Tomol Interpretive Play Area for a unique play experience. Lively marine animal statues, ocean-inspired slides, and a Chumash-inspired children’s village put a fun and historical twist on the playground. Its convenient location to local shops and the beach make it the perfect place for parents to unwind while kids explore. In fact, the beach is another great place to allow the kids to roam free, as Carpinteria Beach is deemed home to the “World’s Safest Beach”—appropriately named for its gentle slope and calm waves.

Orchids are another Carpinteria claim to fame. The delicate flowers flourish here, attracting visitors with green thumbs from all over to visit the many orchid farms. Each nursery has its own unique story and many offer tours and special events on the beautiful grounds. Once a year, the Carpinteria Greenhouse & Nursery Tour gives visitors the chance to get a complimentary behind-the-scenes look at the farms. Some have been around for decades—such as Westerlay Orchids and Gallup & Stribling, the latter of which was featured on The Martha Stewart Show. Most have visitor centers or retail stores featuring several different species of orchid for anyone wanting to take home a souvenir.

Perhaps not such a secret, the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club is another Carpinteria attraction. Even Prince William and Kate Middleton have paid a visit to these lush grounds to view a match. From April to October, tournament finals are held on Sundays on one of the four fields and are open to the public for a small fee. If you’re feeling fancy, rent a luxury field side cabana for prime viewing—just keep in mind that they tend to fill up quickly as this is a popular weekend event.

The Carpinteria culinary scene offers more than meets the eye. One example is Chocolats du CaliBressan, a little-known secret of the Central Coast. Le CaliBressan was created in 1996 by Jean-Michel and Jill Carre in France. The two then decided to move back to Jill’s native California, and now Carpinteria offers the world-famous chocolatier’s delicacies in his storefront. Tours of the chocolate-making process are offered every 3rd Saturday of each month, complete with champagne and delicious truffles to try. Also in downtown Carpinteria, GiannFranco’s is another European culinary experience worth the trip. Italy’s finest dishes are made to order at GiannFranco’s Trattoria, which has been putting pasta palates to the test for more than six years. With a menu featuring everything from paninis to piccata, GiannFranco’s has every base covered for any occasion. The restaurant is noted for its delicate indoor lighting and quaint outdoor seating, providing a great space for a birthday or date night.

Another unexpected find is Corktree Cellars. A wine bar and bistro with a relaxed and inviting atmosphere downtown, Corktree features rotating wine flights, tapas, and burgers that are sure to satisfy any palate. The goal of Corktree is to feel like you are at a friend’s house, and it accomplishes this nicely. An array of seating options including an outdoor patio, pub tables, bar seating, lounge-style couches, or booths make it as comfortable as can be for any occasion.

Mass produced and tasteless breads are a thing of the past with creative and carefully crafted loaves by Crazy Good Bread Co. This boutique bakery prides itself on a great variety of locally baked breads, high quality ingredients, and even offers a Bread of the Month Club to those wanting to stay up to date with the newest creations. Having opened in November of 2013, Crazy Good Bread Co. has already opened 2 other locations in the surrounding area to supply the bakers’ many fans. Crazy Good Bread Co. aims to get a rise out of Carpinteria residents with original recipes including “Lavender Country Loaf” and “Orange Chocolate Loaf.”

From cultural festivities to outdoor adventures to culinary surprises, Carpinteria features plenty of family-friendly activities for any traveler. Whether you need a change of pace from the big city or simply a weekend escape, this pleasant coastal town is full of hidden gems to discover and explore.

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