Take a peek inside one of Southern California’s most garden-friendly beach towns
Why go now: You may not know that you can pull over in this sleepy Santa Barbara suburb and find farms, flowers, nurseries, and knockout oceanfront picnic spots.
Another surprise: It’s ground zero for sustainable gardening in the area.
Not quite a college town: Though it’s close to the rowdy UCSB students in nearby Isla Vista, Goleta has a much quieter, surf-loving vibe.
Soil stop: Visit Orella Stewardship Institute (by appointment only, orellaranch.com) for a bag of homemade compost starter. It’s chock-full of everything from fungus to seaweed.
Part nursery, part museum: Even if orchids aren’t your thing, the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate (1250 Orchid Dr., sborchid.com), on the edge of town is a wow—one and a half acres and thousands of varieties, grown specifically to thrive outdoors.
Wash it down with the locals: Don’t judge Hollister Brewing Company ($$, 6980 Marketplace Dr., 805/968-2810) by its home in a mall—the pints are hand-crafted on site. Try the Fairview Farmhouse Ale, a Belgian saison named for Fairview Gardens just up the road.
Field of dreams, Goleta-style: Fairview Gardens is the only spot around where you can wander freely (along with cute goats and chickens) around twelve and a half acres of orchards and freshly planted spring crops. Fairview gets our props both from its organic practices and for paying its farmworkers a living wage. Swing by as often as you want for fruit, veggies, eggs or cut flowers—on the honor system, so just drop your money in the box. 598 N. Fairview Ave., fairviewgardens.org
Lunch on the beach: A couple miles down the road from Goleta, stop by the spiffed-up Isla Vista Food Co-op (6575 Seville Rd., Isla Vista, 805/968-1401) to fill your tote with fruits, veggies, and deli fixins at the only member owned co-op in the area. There are some great gardening titles here too, if you’re in need of reading materials. For some seaside refueling, take your haul to a picnic table at Goleta Beach (countyofsb.org/parks).
Dirt-cheap plants: Knapp Nursery feels more like a wholesale nursery than one open to the public. That’s because owners Sandy and Patrick Caswell grow 80 percent of their own stock: annuals, perennials, cactus, and fruit trees. The result is 5 acres of plants that sell for a fraction of the normal price—so go on a guilt-free botanical buying binge. Insider tip for plant geeks: Patrick will show you their 9 private acres if you ask. 909 Carlo Dr., knappnursery.com
Stock up, dudes: Don’t let the laid-back vibe fool you—Island Seed & Feed is serious about organic gardening. Owner Matt Buckmaster is the go-to garden guru for both amateurs and pros—his organic fertilizer blend graces the soil of Lotusland and he’s happy to help you green your thumb. Peruse 500+ varieties of veggie and flower seeds, adopt fuzzy chicks, or snag veggie starts. Closed Sun, 29 S. Fairview Ave., 805/967-5262.
Where succulents are king: We hate to pigeonhole Terra Sol Garden Center because is really is a full-service nursery, but it’s simply undeniable that its sweet spot is agaves and other succulents. Another reason we love this place? Rockin’ classes in sustainable backyard gardening run all season long, and they’ll help take your skills to the next level. 5320 Overpass Rd., 805/964-7811.
Nearby classics even nongardeners love
An over-the-top garden: Imaginations run wild at Lotusland, former Polish opera singer Ganna Walska's 1941 estate. The two-hour walking tour of 17 gardens shows off madame’s taste—from impeccable (120 varieties of aloe) to outlandish (a giant abalone-shell fountain). This month is prime time to see the azaleas in bloom. Tours by appointment (closed Sun); $35; lotusland.org
Hike with the natives: The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden feels more like a great hiking spot than a horticultural haven. You’ll pass hundreds of native California plants while strolling 5.5 miles of public trails. Stock your own backyard with natives from the garden’s nursery shop. $8; 1212 Mission Canyon Rd., Santa Barbara; sbbg.org
Caffeine perk at a park: Take a break from garden recon with nine varieties of joe at the Daily Grind (2001 De La Vina St.; 805/687-4966). The fresh-baked muffins are also hard to resist. Sit outside or stroll 1 mile to Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens (Santa Barbara St. at W. Arrellaga St.), with grassy knolls, a koi pond, gazebo, and inspired low-water plantings.