In mid-December — that middle-of-the-road time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the start of a fresh new year — my family and I were feeling anything but fresh.
Dec. 17 kicked off my son’s three-week winter break from school. After the kid (a.k.a. Sol) and my husband walked into the house that evening, I could hear Sol dropping his overstuffed backpack to his bedroom floor with a thud. His shoes followed suit. How many times must I remind him to discard them in the entryway? But as I wrapped up a deadline at work in my office next door to his room, I refrained from yelling out my broken-record reminder, choosing, instead, to inject my tone with sweetness: “Hey, Love! Congrats on the last day of school!”
He slid in a few minutes later and gave me a peck on the cheek. I swiveled in my chair to face him. I could see the jubilance in his eyes. And I could see the fatigue, too, in the darker-hued skin beneath those eyes. He’s an 11th grader, and as a former high school teacher and college admissions advisor, I promise you junior year is the toughest year of our kids’ K-12 schooling. It’s a year piled with hours of homework and studying each night, after-school tutoring sessions with teachers and hired tutors, a steady stream of projects, AP and SAT exam prep, college research and tours…
He deserves a break, I thought. Heck, we all do. And though my husband and I will work most of the time our kid is on holiday, our plan is to squeeze in a little more rest, some decluttering and quality family time as often as we can.
Our first opportunity was the next day. I was scheduled to drive to Santa Barbara to meet with my creative writing workshop. Our group launched as a quintet of women authors who live in the L.A. area, but one of our writers bought a house in the Santa Barbara area about a year ago. Since she’s always making the trek to L.A. for our meetings, we promised her we’d spend our annual holiday workshop at her new place. Instead of a day trip, I decided to make it an overnight stay and bring my guys with me for a quick family road trip. My goals included indulging in delicious food somewhere overlooking the ocean, followed by a stroll along the water, curl-up time in our hotel, a mini writing retreat and my workshop’s holiday gathering. I had a mere 24 hours to pack all of this in, but I’m a mom, and that’s what we do.
Escaping the frenzy of holiday obligations
Since hotel check-in time wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. Saturday, we spent the morning in L.A., running around doing our usual routines, then packed our overnight bags minutes before heading out the door. As we backed the car out of the driveway, I felt a mixture of guilt, mischief and rebellion. I had not yet bought plane tickets to see extended family, a task I’d usually have completed by now. And I had not bought holiday cards or gifts, except for the white elephant gift I was expected to bring for my writing workshop’s gift exchange.
Of course, the usual obligations and expectations would greet us upon our return, but there’s nothing like a road trip to evoke a sense of freedom. Maybe, the highway whispers, you could just keep driving and driving and driving…
Google Maps estimated our drive right under 2½ hours, and I’m pretty sure it’s the longest time the three of us had been in the same place together in months. There was much to catch up on — those two teachers Sol started the school year disliking but now found redeemable; our lovely new tenant who moved into our backyard apartment earlier in the month; our worries about a troubled family member; our dreams and plans for the new year.
Our chatter faded as the ocean came into view and we slipped into the dreaminess that makes Santa Barbara the “American Riviera.” It’s the stuff of landscape paintings: the continuity of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture nestled against thick greenery, immaculate gardens, vineyards, the Santa Ynez Mountain range and beaches that feel more accessible than most.
A Hideaway in the trees
If you’ve only got a day to get away from it all, at least make it beautiful. Make it magical.
These are the thoughts I had as we pulled up to the boutique hotel Hideaway Santa Barbara, tucked into a cozy enclave of the West Beach neighborhood, an area that allures with both its quaint neighborhood feel and proximity to the happenings at the beach (three blocks away) and the popular Funk Zone (where hip art galleries, restaurants and cafes proliferate). Aptly named, Hideaway is one of the newest boutique hotels in the L.A.-based Kirkwood Collection, a luxury hotel brand with a portfolio of 10 boutique hotels and residences sought-after California locales. The brand opened the doors of the Hideaway in 2019 after renovating the property, originally a private 1908 California craftsman and carriage house (a type of outbuilding that was originally built to store horse-drawn carriages).
In an area where cream-colored Spanish stucco reigns, this Cape Cod-blue bungalow (think high-end yet casual bed-and-breakfast) simultaneously exudes elegance and homeyness. We parked our car in one of the slots of the former carriage house and headed for the lobby, where holiday lights added to the whimsy of the living room-styled common area.
We climbed a flight of stairs to reach the property’s largest offering, the “Luxury Suite King,” designed in a breezy coastal style with a king bed, two single beds, a living room and two quaint writing areas with small desks and lamps fashioned like lanterns.
“It feels like a treehouse,” Sol said. “It’s refreshing.”
In just a few words, Sol’s capture of the room was on point. Perched among the trees, the room overlooks the garden, the vaulted ceiling creates an A-frame structure, giving the area height and depth, and the white walls reflect the natural light so that it feels like part of the room’s décor. The king bed beckons tired muscles, but I was equally enchanted by the almost cove-like section with two single beds stationed under a circus tent-shaped part of the ceiling. Sol’s quarters.
As we headed out to grab dinner and catch the sunset at Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach, Sol opted to stay in his home-away-from home to relax. We brought him back a takeout meal, plus photos of a sunset that cast a glorious orange-red glow across everything and everyone in its reach. “Lovely pics,” he said, not seeming the least bit bothered that he’d missed it.
Around 7:30 that evening, we returned to the hotel’s lobby to enjoy a sweet Kirkwood family tradition — nightly servings of chocolate-chip cookies based on Kirkwood Collection founder Alex Kirkwood’s grandmother’s recipe and baked on site, with options of whole milk or spiked eggnog to wash them down. The cookie service for guests is a nod to Santa this time of year, but even grinches will love these fresh and slightly gooey treats. Back in our sanctuary, I joined my husband on the sofa to sip my eggnog and watch a movie about magicians.
My favorite part of the Hideaway’s common areas is the solarium-styled breakfast room, where sunlight streams in from triple-height windows, and the seating — wicker chairs and built-in benches covered in cushions — is intimate. Each morning, the chef prepares a different (and hot) breakfast. The guys and I sauntered down at the start of breakfast since I would leave them for my workshop gathering, which was scheduled for noon.
Remember the white elephant gift I was supposed to bring? I didn’t realize until Sunday morning that I had left it behind in L.A.! And so, after breakfast, I was forced to join the holiday-shopping frenzy, after all. Except, as we drove around the Funk Zone and surrounding areas, there was no frenzy. It was a sleepy Sunday morning, where a few people jogged or walked their dogs, but the gift shops were not slated to open until 10 or 11.
To my delight, we ran smack dab into the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show, which takes place on Cabrillo Boulevard between Stearns Wharf and Calle Cesar Chavez every Sunday and on Saturdays of major holiday weekends and features more than 200 local artists and artisans. I bought a jade-green bowl sculpted like a flower by an artist, Jerry Kry, who has been making and selling his pottery in Santa Barbara for more than 40 years. He’d just returned from Thailand, where he read three books while resting on a beach. His book talk and pottery inspired me to get in a few words of my own, which I did at one of the writing desks back in our Hideaway room.
That afternoon, I showed up to my workshop with the replacement gift, notes on one of the writer’s novel-in-progress and a last-minute dessert pickup from Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro, but I wasn’t feeling my usually harried self in the never-ending juggling. I chalk that up to a few peaceful (and refreshing) hours sequestered in Santa Barbara’s gift of a hideaway.
Cassandra Lane is Editor-in-Chief of L.A. Parent and author of “We Are Bridges.”