When fires roared through Napa Valley and hurricanes ripped through the emerald islands of the Caribbean last fall, it was hard to imagine that yet another beloved destination would suffer a similarly devastating fate. Then, the breezy coastal enclaves of Santa Barbara and Montecito were hit with a devastating one-two punch of natural disasters. In early December, Santa Ana winds ignited the Thomas Fire—the largest wildfire recorded in California history. A blaze that scorched 280,000 acres, it decimated thousands of structures and claimed two lives before finally being contained in early January. But with that containment came another blow to the region: The winter storms that finally put out the fire triggered deadly mudslides that tore through picturesque downtown Montecito, claiming at least 20 lives and rendering much of the region inaccessible for weeks.
Though the road to recovery for the heartbroken communities of Santa Barbara and Montecito has just begun, the American Riviera has already opened its arms to visitors. Just as with Napa and the Caribbean, the best ways to help the region right now is to do what intrepid travelers do best: First, donate (Visit Santa Barbara has highlighted United Way as a standout organization in the region, as the Ventura and Santa Barbara divisions have teamed up to distribute 100 percent of donations to support communities affected by the disasters). Then, visit.
This month’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, a 10-day event that draws in Hollywood’s elite every year, kicks off today as planned, and many of the region’s restaurants, wineries, and—of course—beaches are open for visitors to come and enjoy once again. Keep reading to discover which beloved hotels are open and how you can make the most of your next visit to Santa Barbara.