Nestled in a posh residential neighborhood in California’s Mission Canyon, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG) is the fruit of ambitious, decades-long botanical endeavors focusing on the cultivation and preservation of native plants.

Large boulder next to the teahouse at SBBG

The park’s Japanese teahouse ShinKanAn (心看庵), a gift to businessman Royce Greatwood from Japan’s petroleum industry, was built in Kyoto and shipped to California in 1949. Donated by the subsequent owner, the John H. Esbenshade family, it was re-assembled at SBBG in 1998. The proximity between the structure and the gigantic rock, shown in the photo, is an illusion – the teahouse is in no danger of getting bulldozed or demolished by the boulder composed of prehistoric debris.

Teahouse at SBBG
View of the gardens at SBBG

SBBG’s charms permeate its 78-acre eclectic collection of environs: Meadow, desert, redwood, canyon, arroyo, and so on. Visitors saunter from one section to another via unpaved trails, often accompanied by the sound of silence. They may briskly walk, exercising or in quest of the maze, the aqueduct, or the bridge. On my way to the Japanese garden and teahouse, some puddles of water (practically miniature Peyto Lake) summoned fond memories of my visit to the Canadian Rockies. SBBG is laden with reconite wonders that soothe and rejuvenate body and soul, especially for those having suffered blistering heatwaves.

Tall trees at SBBG

Establishments like the Huntington and the Butchart Gardens are grand and formal, while SBBG is natural and primal – not at all a diamond in the rough, but a masterpiece in progress.

View of Santa Paula airport from the cafeDuring this one-day getaway I also dined out for the very first time since the COVID outbreak, al fresco of course.  It was a simple dinner at Santa Paula Airport’s Flight 126 Cafe. California must have the nation’s highest concentration of aviation enthusiasts. I have not met an Angelino who has not dined at The Proud Bird Food Bazaar & Events Center – an aviation-themed steakhouse near LAX. That day at Santa Paula Airport, for good reasons, seeing planes taking off and landing brought tremendous joy. I couldn’t stop commenting how liberated I felt to the server, to anyone who would listen. Perhaps this pandemic’s impact on me is much more devastating, psychologically that is, than I’d realized.

After receiving the second dose of the vaccination, I started visiting those places that I was supposed to have visited, one by one, further and further from home; at the same time enriching the list with more mesmerizing destinations: Iford Manor Estate, Coton Manor Garden, Castle Farm Kent… The advent of international travels was full of promises until COVID variants attacked, which impelled me to re-discover California. Again.

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