Visit Splendid, Sensibly Priced Santa Barbara

Article excerpt

Byline: Jacky Runice Daily Herald Correspondent

So the queen of England lives in a palace. Would that stop you from traveling to London for fear of not being able to afford it? Likewise, Oprah Winfrey, the queen of Chicago, has a $51 million estate in Santa Barbara, Calif. Should you consider a trip to this American Riviera? Families can, indeed, do Santa Barbara on a shoestring and feel like royalty.

Located 100 miles from the closest metropolis (Los Angeles), Santa Barbara is an ideal choice for families seeking to bond without breaking the bank, escape from the world's troubles and get cozy with Mother Nature.

From the Pacific shore to the Santa Ynez Mountains, you'll find offbeat treks, nature preserves, ocean adventures, recreational lakes and skateboard parks to explore under 300-plus days of annual sunshine. The city of Santa Barbara is pedestrian-friendly and conveniently linked by a trolley system so families can pop in and out of museums, zoos, parks and the beach.

Most attractions and hotels are close to one another and the beachfront. You'll find very affordable accommodations, such as the original Motel 6, Casa Del Mar Inn and the Franciscan Inn, a mere two blocks from the beach.

After a few days of the beach, take an easy drive to some of the area's offbeat farms. Remember that pony you wanted for Christmas? Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch features 34-inch horses prancing amid meadows on a 20-acre high-tech training facility. Kids will adore the lovable equines and you'll appreciate the fact that admission is free.

Upon appointment only, kids can get up close and personal with nearly 150 potbelly pigs at Little Orphan Hammies, a five-acre farm that rescued the little oinkers when they fell out of favor as pets. Just outside Solvang, Calif., the farm offers free admission.

Then there's Ostrich Land, a 33-acre breeding farm and shop selling fresh eggs, feathers and egg art. After you get a load of the fascinating inhabitants, pack a lunch and enjoy Nojoqui Falls, a 100-foot waterfall accessible via an undemanding, 15-minute walk that follows the creek line. As you head back to town, stop by the Coronado Butterfly Preserve. From November through March, 100,000 butterflies hunker down along Santa Barbara's shoreline in Goleta. So far, so free.

Older kids and teens might need some action at this point and Santa Barbara's 18 beaches offer adventures such as kite boarding, scuba diving, sailing, parasailing, whale watching and kayaking in family-friendly dual kayaks. Carpinteria State Beach Park, 12 miles south of Santa Barbara, is an idyllic spot for overnight camping, surf fishing and tide pooling and the nearby Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary features hundreds of the sweet-natured animals frolicking along the shoreline from January to May. Rent a six-person surrey, inline skates or single and dual bicycles to travel on the paved 3. …