Suzanne Tucker is an interior designer known for her bespoke approach to decorating and perhaps should be crowned the “queen of custom.” Every one of her projects is beautifully curated for each homeowner’s lifestyle and preferences. She goes so far as to consider which colors flatter her clients and incorporates those into the décor. Her rooms are elegant but accessible, and there is no ego involved in her choices. You may walk into a house and not know that Tucker worked on it, but you will be rewarded at every turn with unique pieces and an aura of understated luxury.
Tucker moved to California as a child, spending her formative years in Santa Barbara, specifically Montecito. The town exudes charm, a sophisticated ease, natural beauty, and a wonderful feeling of place. While visiting, it’s impossible not to fall under its spell, which is why Tucker decided to take us on a tour. While she may have made her name and created a thriving interior design firm in San Francisco, with projects all over the country, she left her heart in Santa Barbara.
Where to Stay
San Ysidro Ranch: The classic Montecito resort (Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were married here, and Jackie and Jack Kennedy honeymooned here)—romantic and enchanting nestled against the mountains. Hike in our hills with breathtaking views out to the islands, meander the exquisite gardens, and dine under the stars.
Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara: An architectural jewel by Reginald Johnson, it’s quintessential Spanish Colonial elegance, with lovely gardens and grounds, service, and spa. Swim at Butterfly Beach or head to the Coral Casino club and the Olympic-size pool. Dine by the beach with the moon rising. If you want to sound like a local, simply refer to it as “the Casino.”
Rosewood Miramar Beach: The newly redone Miramar is still getting its sea legs under a multimillion-dollar rebuild and Rosewood rebranding, and while it’s no longer “old Montecito,” it’s a welcome addition to the dining scene, with Caruso’s overlooking the beach. A train runs through it, which newcomers don’t get, but old-timers know it’s part of the charm.
Belmond El Encanto: It’s an entirely different experience seeing the town from this hotel, located up high on the Riviera area. During the day it looks out to the glistening ocean and Channel Islands, and in the evening over dinner, the sparkling lights below create a magical vista.
“Santa Barbara was the first city in California to establish architectural regulations—there are no billboards or neon signs; there are height restrictions; and many landmark buildings have been protected. It’s an architectural gem.” — Suzanne Tucker
Where To Shop in Santa Barbara
William Laman: Always my first stop to shop the specialty antiques, great finds, and treasures from the unerring eye of William and his partner, Bruce Gregga, the inimitable design icon.
Country House Antiques: I never miss a new shipment of Swedish and English antiques brought in by Jennifer Sanan because they fly out of the shop faster than you can blink.
Haskell Antiques: For 50 years, Michael Haskell has been the ultimate expert on the best of 16th- to 18th-century Spanish, Spanish Colonial, Native American, and European antiques, baskets, textiles, tiles, and other treasures. I can find the rare and unusual piece tucked underneath or behind another piece, and it will entirely transform a room.
Hudson Grace: Started in San Francisco by friends Monelle Totah and Gary McNatton, Hudson Grace is all things home and entertaining with their studied approach to simplicity and chic—the perfect dishes, serving pieces, linens, candles, scents. I can’t come out empty-handed—ever!
Wendy Foster and Upstairs at Pierre Lafond: Shop this small strip of iconic shops from style-setter Wendy Foster, the queen of casual elegance in fashion and jewelry, for the best jeans, luscious cashmere, and great accessories. Then head to Upstairs at Pierre Lafond, where I always grab linens, tabletop pieces, a Moroccan rug or two, and the best gifts.
Legacy: Founded by my chic friend Nancy Kimsey, with her discerning eye, this is the best shop for anything you might need for gifts or just for yourself. Do what the summertime Texans do and get all your Christmas shopping done at this one-stop shop.
Field and Fort: A brand-new addition to local lifestyle shopping, based in Summerland. Co-owners Susie Bechtel and Kyle Irwin have created a seductive hybrid of house, garden, and vintage antiques and accessories, complete with a café.
Letter Perfect: For over 40 years, Letter Perfect has been the place for everyone’s party planning, custom invitations, and holiday cards. Friends still comment on my cards from years ago, which all came from Letter Perfect!
Heather James Fine Art: Opening their fifth location in Montecito, husband-and-wife owners Heather Sacre and James Carona bring a welcomed gallery space to the corner of Olive Mill and Coast Village Roads, exhibiting a range of artists from Calder to Warhol, Picasso to Pollock.
Stewart Fine Art: Knowledgeable proprietors Kevin and Diane Stewart specialize in early California artists and American and European paintings at this wonderful gallery.
Allora by Laura: A stylish mother and daughter scour the trends and bring their well-edited collections to the heart of the Montecito village. They add a touch of New York chic to our beach town.
Diani: Clothing, accessories, jewelry, and shoes—a wonderful, eclectic mix of casual sophistication and beach style.
Clare Swan: The absolute best for all things travel—the latest in luggage, clothing, and accessories to get you off on the right foot, layered and stylish.
Daniel Gibbings: A brilliant jewelry designer hailing from South Africa. The pieces I’ve bought over the years are my timeless classics that I wear again and again. They have just the right amount of yin and yang—feminine detail while still being bold.
Silverhorn: Look for original and unique jewelry at Silverhorn, where carved gemstones become fanciful creations of animals and the jewelers create breathtaking one-of-a-kind pieces.
Maison K: Kim Phillips Hayes always brings in unique pieces from her travels. I can stop by and pick up an inlaid trunk, a pair of velvet slippers, and throw pillows.
Hogue & Co.: For fresh flowers and beautifully presented orchids housed in an enclave of shops in charming cottages.
Paradise Found: Located in the Art District of Santa Barbara, Paradise Found is a throwback to an earlier era where you can peruse their collection of books, music, and more. Their motto says it all: Your Peace, Love, and Good Vibes Shop.
Tecolote Book Shop: My absolute favorite in the upper village for the best new reads, the latest coffee table books, tomes on Montecito and Santa Barbara history, architecture, and gardens … feels like home.
Lost Horizon Bookstore: The place for out-of-print or rare books on California Mission history, in addition to vintage posters and antique maps and prints.
Where to Sip & Savor in Santa Barbara
Lucky’s: There is nothing quite like the burger at this steak house. Delicious food, excellent service, and a great bar with classic décor and vintage photographs.
The Lark: Head to the Funk Zone for truly delicious dishes, all from local produce and freshly caught fish.
Los Arroyos: A tried-and-true Mexican restaurant for the locals. I love the outdoor patio, Maria’s Enchiladas, Tacos del Mar, the Cadillac Margarita for my husband, and the El Dueño for me.
Arigato Sushi: Always great and fresh, besides being the best sushi in town.
Bettina Pizzeria: A neighborhood place with Neapolitan-style pizza made with seasonal California ingredients.
Rori’s Artisanal Creamery: The best homemade ice cream—i.e., delicious danger zone!
What to See & Do in Santa Barbara
Summerland Beach: A wide, uncrowded beach with easy access—take a walk, kayak, or bring your dog.
Romero Canyon Trail: A great hike to take early in the morning, as the sun can be strong on the descent. The ocean views are spectacular, but watch out for mountain bikers.
Cold Spring Trail: One of my favorite hikes, as it follows the creek; climbs up through the rock formations under the shade of oaks, bay laurels, and sycamore trees; smells like my childhood; and has beautiful views … and no mountain bikers!
Lotusland: Named one of the 10 best gardens in the world. Madame Ganna Walska created heaven on earth as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always been enchanted by the exotic plants and gargantuan palms, Japanese gardens, house designed by architect Reginald Johnson, and fabulous lotus ponds.
“Lotusland is a horticulturalist’s eden—you’ve got to love a woman who auctions her jewelry collection to pay for her cycad garden!” — Suzanne Tucker
Casa del Herrero: The “house of the blacksmith” sounds rather quaint, but the casa is hardly that. Built in 1925, it’s a testament to the vision of one man, owner George Steedman, with his brilliant young architect, George Washington Smith, to create an exquisite, Andalusian-inspired Spanish Colonial Revival house. It’s a must-see for any architect, designer, garden lover, or history buff.
Santa Barbara Courthouse: Architect William Mooser III’s 1929 Spanish Colonial Revival–style masterpiece is one of the most beautiful public buildings in the country. Note the painted ceilings and murals, and the perfect proportions and use of materials; visit the top of the clock tower; dance on the sunken lawn (as I did at a kindergarten ballet performance); or get married.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden: 78 acres of native California plants under study and conservation with meandering trails and something new to see and learn at every turn.
“Santa Barbara is one of the few coastal places in California that face south with an east–west mountain range. Consequently, the quality of light is unique, making it a draw for artists, as well as a gardener’s paradise—everything grows here.” — Suzanne Tucker
Old Mission Santa Barbara: Founded in 1786, the Old Mission is known as the Queen of the Missions for its exceptional beauty. The interior is special, and there is a fascinating museum and lovely grounds. Walk across the street to visit the rose garden with its 1,500 rose plants; you’ll get a beautiful perspective of the mission’s façade.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art: Contains an impressive collection to rival much larger cities, with more Monet paintings than any other West Coast museum.
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: A great place for families to explore, especially the Sea Center.
Santa Barbara Historical Museum: This is a wonderful place to learn about Santa Barbara history and culture with lovely Spanish-style courtyards as well.
Riviera Theatre: Take in a film in a setting overlooking the Santa Barbara Mission. Or visit in January when the 35-year-old Santa Barbara International Film Festival is under way.
Music Academy of the West Summer Festival: Take in the summer concert series at the Miraflores estate, home of the Music Academy of the West, where you’ll hear world-class musicians and vocalists. The original Paul Thiene gardens are exquisite, and the original house, remodeled by Reginald Johnson in 1915, is where I spent my formative years in white-gloved formal dancing class.
Santa Barbara Bowl Summer Concerts: Catch a summer concert under the stars at this 1936 amphitheater, where past performers have included greats such as Joni Mitchell, Bob Marley, Diana Krall, and Sting.
Produced by Alice Welsh Doyle | Photography by Shelly Strazis | Hair and Makeup by Dadiana Salon Montecito
Travel in style with tips from those in the know. Designers and tastemakers around the country share the best local places to stay, dine, shop, and visit in their hometowns and adopted cities. See more.