Mall Alternatives

Discovering Gifts for Everyone on Your List

By Victoria W. Harvey

For those visiting Santa Barbara, and even for those who call it home, looking for the perfect gift can be an opportunity to see some of the city’s best offerings. Cultural, scenic, and educational destinations are unexpected sources for imaginative gifts due to the vast choice of well-stocked gift stores.

The gift shop at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is among the best. Reproductions from the museum’s art collection of Degas, Renoir, and Ansel Adams are available in the form of postcards, jigsaw puzzles, umbrellas and tote bags, as are stunning glass pieces, games and craft sets for children, and of course, fine art books featuring subjects as diverse as Greta Garbo, ancient Asia, and California ranch paintings. On the waterfront, the Maritime Museum provides a learning experience, and its gift store offers channel maps and treasures of an oceanic theme. Over the glistening water at Stearns Wharf, the Ty Warner Sea Center has a small but charming gift shop, and while the sea stars and shark eggs are best left in the touch tanks, one can come away with a gift to evoke the sea breezes.

In the beautiful embrace of Mission Canyon, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden offers tours and hikes of various levels along creeks and through fields of wildflowers, plus a unique grove of towering redwoods. Its gift store provides a fantastic selection of nature-themed finds and hand-crafted pieces for botanists and bird lovers.

Similarly, for the reluctant shopper who prefers a hike rather than the mall, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has a varied collection of goods, including shawls and traditional weavings, quality notepapers, telescopes, butterfly backpacks, geological maps, Chumash songs, and bug catchers. The music of Mission Creek, under the property’s oak and sycamore canopy, provides a peaceful place to ponder the options.

Nearby, the Santa Barbara Mission, one of the city’s main draws for travelers, also houses the little-known Serra Store with a collection of take-home artifacts and contemporary relics. The shop sells religious and souvenir items, statues, posters, jewelry, postcards, and books. Some may find appropriate a St. Christopher (the patron saint of travel) talisman for protection on the journey home. For a stunning plant or spray of long-lasting cymbidiums, a visit to the growing farms at the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate or Gallup & Stribling (just south of Santa Barbara) is a worthwhile venture. With more than 1.5 million square feet of greenhouse space, these visitor-friendly centers provide a dazzling collection of nature’s splendors. Long after the garlands and trees are put to rest, the sight of one of these living beauties will brighten any winter.

For the wine country visitor, Santa Ynez, Solvang, and Los Olivos provide irresistible options in addition to the carefully selected bottle or case of wine. The valley’s “other” crops provide a nice alternative to the grape product that many enjoy, and the growing list of fine olive and lavender products are sure pleasers. These charming towns host a fun variety of shops for a day spent searching for a special something for a cowboy or girl, in addition to the growing number of art galleries for the collector. While there’s no doubt that online acquisitions are easy and quick, the holiday season is a good time to slow down and enjoy the everyday gifts before us. With all that is available in Santa Barbara, even the reluctant gatherer of gifts can have a hassle-free and downright pleasant experience visiting the sights, and crossing off those names on the gift list in the process.

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