By Nicole Leonetti
Summerland: the name alone evokes images of a magical place you can only visit in your dreams. Lucky for us, it’s a very real place, and it could not be easier to visit! Located directly off Highway 101 between Carpinteria and Montecito, Summerland boasts beach vibes, small town hospitality, and efficient accessibility (most of the businesses lie along one street, Lillie Avenue). It was founded as a Spiritualist community back in 1883 by Ohio spiritualist and real estate speculator H.L. Williams. The discovery of oil and the building of Highway 101 may have redirected the focus of the town, but its spiritual side — and its sense of community — remain strong.
The town is maintained by Summerland Beautiful, a nonprofit organization that facilitates a number of projects, including beach clean-ups and block parties. Summerland Beautiful president, D’Arcy Cornwall, emphasizes that it is “a community where people really take care of each other.”
While there are lots of roadside stop-offs along the 101, this little community deserves a spot near the top of your list.
My first stop is Red Kettle Coffee, where you can find, you guessed it, coffee! It’s hard to miss Red Kettle, with its eight-foot gnome out front. In addition to coffee, they offer delicious smoothies, tempting pastries, and unforgettable empanadas sourced from the popular Buena Onda in Santa Barbara. Menu favorites include the Snickerdoodle Latte (espresso, brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon) — which tastes just like the cookie — and the Salty Bumblebee (espresso, pink Himalayan salt, and honey). Of course, they have seasonal options, such as the Pumpkin Spice Latte, to get everyone into the holiday mood. My go-to is the smoothies, especially the Summerland Smoothie, which has pineapple, mango, banana, and milk.
The Red Kettle has been open since 2016 and has quickly become the locals’ spot for a caffeine fix. And no wonder, with its welcoming space and cozy, dog-friendly back patio. Along with food and drink, you’ll also find an eclectic assortment of cards and gifts made by local artists. Red Kettle Coffee owner, Megan Tingstrom, spent her childhood summers in Summerland, and now loves being a resident and business owner here. “I just love our community!” she told me. She considers her staff, many of whom have worked there for years, to be family.
Speaking of family, Megan’s father owns Tinker’s Burger, which is right next door. Richard Tingstrom opened Tinker’s Burger more than 36 years ago. Open 360 days a year, this burger shop has survived fires, floods, mudslides, and rainstorms over the years, and managed to stay open to feed first responders during those tough times. Nowadays, they see a mix of locals and out-of-towners enjoying the always fresh, never frozen burgers. Tinker’s has a 50s diner vibe with counter seats and patio seating. Everything here is made to order, and menu favorites include the Double Cheeseburger and Bacon Cheeseburger. While a burger and a shake sound perfect right about now, they also have other signature items, such as chili and tacos. When asked to share his favorite thing about Summerland, Richard was quick to respond that he loves the small-town feeling and being close to the ocean.
Nearby, you will find the Sweet Wheel Farm and Flowers farmers market cart, featuring sustainable, local, and chemical-free produce. In addition to seasonal fruits and vegetables, they also have a lovely selection of flowers and dry goods.
Another great dining option for breakfast or lunch is Summerland Beach Café, located in a Victorian house built back in 1893. I love to go for breakfast and enjoy one (or two) of their mimosa flights. Popular at breakfast is the Summerland Ranch Hand, with eggs, applewood smoked ham, thick-cut bacon, a sausage patty, O.P. potatoes, and an English muffin. If you come in around lunchtime, the burgers and sandwiches will hit the spot. While the indoor seating is charming, you will find the patio packed with visitors and adorable dogs enjoying the ocean breeze!
In between meals, you can visit one of my favorite spots: Summerland Winery Tasting Room. This bright and airy boutique winery offers exceptional wine out on its dog-friendly patio. (Are you sensing a theme that Summerland is an amazingly dog-friendly place?) Summerland Winery sources its grapes from some of the best vineyards on the Central Coast. My favorites wines include the Clone 115 Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Estelle Vineyard Viognier. They have great non-alcoholic options, as well, including a Chardonnay, Rosé, and Red Blend.
My go-to spot for dinner in Summerland is The Nugget Bar & Grill, where the motto is “Stiff drinks, great company and you’ll never leave hungry!” This place has a saloon atmosphere with walls covered in photos of Summerland and of past U.S. Presidents who have visited. The original Nugget in Summerland opened in 1970, and today they are still going strong under the management of Jemal James. The Nugget is known for its famous chili, award-winning clam chowder, Prime Rib Dinner, and the Crunch Burger. You will not need reservations to dine here but be prepared for a short wait while taking in some top-notch people-watching. The Nugget also has a dog-friendly patio, so my beloved Frankie can join the fun! The Nugget has become a staple in this community over the years for generations of families and friends.
Now that you are well fed, it is time to figure out what to do
in between eating. Lucky for you, there are a bounty of options in Summerland. While I am not much of a shopper, I often find myself buying all sorts of things while in Summerland. This town has that effect on me, and I credit that to the unique stores and experiences here. One of my favorites, Field & Fort, has everything you can dream of for your entertaining needs, and as a bonus, serves coffee and light fare as well. For home goods with a coastal California vibe, you will find everything you need at Porch. If you have a new home or are looking to revitalize your living space, then Home Crush and Botanik are perfect. To liven up your outdoor living space, try The Well. And how great is it that all of these charming stores are located on the same street (Lillie Avenue)? Feel free to wander for hours fantasizing about the luxurious home, backyard, and garden that you will manifest one day.
While on the subject of manifestation, my happy place in Summerland is The Sacred Space. This is a shop, but it’s also a garden — and a state of mind. It offers everything for your spiritual journey including crystals, books, incense, candles, and jewelry, while also satisfying your décor needs with statues and artwork. The garden area of The Sacred Space has several cozy seating nooks, perfect for sitting in solace, journaling, or just sipping some tea. There are altars around the garden space, as well, where people leave different currency as offerings of abundance. There is a palpable energy about the place that leaves you wanting to return.
Jack and Rose Herschorn opened it 18 years ago and handed over the reins to Amy Cooper earlier this year. Amy had been a customer of The Sacred Space for years while owning a shop of her own in Santa Barbara. Along with investor Pete Muller, Amy is preserving The Sacred Space for the community, while also enhancing its offerings.
The Sacred Space also holds events and workshops, such as tarot readings, sound baths, and guided meditations, including free community meditations twice a month (find dates at thesacredspace.com or @thesacredspaceus on Instagram). Amy mentioned to me her favorite thing about Summerland is its many independent businesses. You will not find a chain store or restaurant in Summerland — just small-town vibes and beach views.
While on that topic, let’s talk about the beach! Just a short walk from Lillie Avenue is Lookout Park, with its beautiful views of the coastline, picnic areas, and most importantly, access to Summerland Beach. You can easily spend hours at the beach relaxing, reading, and playing with your dog (on-leash, of course). But did you know that you can also go horseback riding on Summerland Beach?
Los Padres Outfitters offers a variety of horseback riding options. Starting as Los Padres Wilderness Outfitters in 1969, the company has been owned for the last 18 years by Graham Goodfield, a seasoned equestrian and true cowboy. He and his team are available seven days a week (weather and tide permitting) and offer year-round private riding experiences for up to six riders at a time. One of the most popular options is the 90-minute beach ride, where you cross over the freeway overpass onto Summerland Beach. They also offer picnic, sunset, or customized rides. There’s even a special proposal package, which includes a photographer to capture the special moment. No experience is necessary for a Los Padres Outfitters beach ride, just make sure you wear pants and close-toed shoes. They have horses and mules for all skill levels, and you are safe in the capable hands of their knowledgeable wranglers.
After your beach-ride, you may be ready for a massage. Summerland Salon & Spa has an array of massages and facials to choose from, and every hair treatment you can imagine. You will leave Summerland more refreshed and rejuvenated than when you arrived.
If you are looking for a unique experience in Summerland, then look no further than the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary, located right on Lillie Avenue in the middle of Summerland. For a small donation, you can wander through their lush tropical gardens and visit with their 50-plus birds. You will find many beautiful macaws and cockatoos who may greet you with a “hello” or “I love you!” The Sanctuary, founded in 2004, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing unwanted and displaced companion parrots. They make sure the birds stay happy and healthy, while also engaging in community outreach and education. You can check out the birds on your own or sign up for a docent-led tour to learn more about the birds and hear their stories.
By now you’re probably tuckered out after all the fun exploring
Summerland. If you are staying the night, check in at the Inn on Summer Hill. The Inn has 16 beautifully appointed rooms and one spacious suite. Each room has a fireplace, and the balcony rooms have ocean views. Also on-site is a small putting green, a jacuzzi, and a spa room for massages. The complimentary breakfast varies daily, depending on what the chef dreams up. Hotel guests also enjoy afternoon wine and cheese, and a sweet bite in the evenings — which is a perfect way to end your day in Summerland.
The Inn was built by Paul and Mabel Shults in 1989. Mabel, an interior designer, and Paul, a builder, melded their talents perfectly to create the Inn. The New England B&B vibe at the Inn is no accident; the Shults family took a road trip vacation on the East Coast, where they picked up ideas during stays in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Nantucket.
Today, The Inn is still operated by the Shults family. Paul still works daily and handles all the accounting. His daughter, Paulette Bermant, currently runs the Inn. The family has always been very involved and insists on keeping the Inn a quaint and inviting experience. As Paulette says, the Inn at Summer Hill is a “Home away from home; we consider it to be like staying in someone’s guest room.” What they love about Summerland is the charm of a small, seaside community tucked between the mountains and the ocean. You can walk to the beach and then hike the trails nearby. “Summerland is small but has a big heart,” Paulette added, “and the community looks out for one another.”
This town — and its locals — always manage to give me the urge to pack up my bags and move to this slice of heaven along the ocean. While that might not be in the cards right now, I’m glad to know this sweet little Central Coast paradise is always there for me, just a quick trip up the 101.