This scenic coastal town two hours north of Los Angeles on U.S. Highway 101 is called "America's Eden." It has near-perfect weather, lush foliage, beautiful vistas and plenty of secluded estates suited to its well-heeled, generally low-profile residents.

Flowers bloom year-round, cascading magenta, scarlet and golden hues from ornamental wrought iron on the white adobe buildings capped by red tile roofs. Spanish-style villas cling to scenic cliffs overlooking the Pacific Coast. Eucalyptus leaves scent the sea air, and palm fronds wave in the breeze.Inland, mountain ridges rise to shelter the city of about 85,500 people. Off coast, the Santa Barbara Channel separates the mainland from the Channel Islands National Park, a protected wilderness area often called "North America's Galapagos."

California's Hispanic roots show in Mission Santa Barbara, built in 1786, and Presidio, a 1782 Spanish fort.

In the 1920s the area was a haven for silent screen stars, and Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle built the 60-room Montecito Inn to house them. Richard Rodgers composed "There's a Small Hotel" about the inn's wishing well.

A short distance from Montecito Inn, Santa Barbara's 21-mile scenic drive loops past 15 points of interest:

- Andree Clark Bird Refuge is a lovely lagoon and gardens featuring freshwater fowl.

- Santa Barbara Zoo houses lions, elephants, monkeys and other animals in a garden setting.

- Stearns Wharf is a three-block extension of Main Street over the Pacific Ocean, lined with restaurants and shops.

- Moreton Bay fig tree, planted in 1877, is the largest tree of its kind in the nation. Its branches reach out more than 160 feet and are said to be able to shade 10,000 people.

- Fernald House is an ornate, multi-gabled Victorian mansion. Next door is the Trussel-Winchester House, built in 1854 from adobe bricks and timbers from the wrecked ship Winfield Scott.

- The Yacht Harbor and Breakwater is haven for 1,200 work and pleasure craft and the point of departure for boat tours and fishing excursions.

- Hope Ranch Residential Area is a posh community of homes nestled in the rolling hills and a private country club and golf course around a landscaped lagoon. You can't drive through the area, but many of the estates are visible from the highway.

- Santa Barbara County Courthouse of Spanish-Moorish design looks more like a palace than a seat of justice. It has wrought iron chandeliers and hand-painted ceilings, murals and tiles and is surrounded by tropical gardens. The view from the clocktower is worth the climb.

- El Cuartel, once the barracks of the Spanish fort, Presidio de Santa Barbara, houses historical exhibitions.

- The Historical Society Museum exhibits costumes, furniture, paintings and documents illustrating Santa Barbara's past.

- El Paseo, a picturesque shopping street, is built around the 1827 adobe home of the De la Guerra family, whose life and times were described in Richard Henry Dana's book published 1840 "Two Years Before the Mast."

- The Museum of Art is a community-supported collection of paintings, sculpture and Orientalia.

- Mission Santa Barbara, still a parish church, is known as Queen of the Missions because of its beauty and serenity. It was the 10th of 21 California missions founded by Franciscans.

- The Museum of Natural History has exhibits about Pacific Coast and Channel Islands animals, plant life and geology; dioramas of prehistoric Indian life and a planetarium.

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- The Botanic Garden's three miles of walking trails through native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and cacti pass a dam built in 1806 by Indians.


IF YOU GO: Santa Barbara is 90 miles north of Los Angeles on U.S. Highway 101. Public buses make the trip, but an automobile is essential for getting around town and enjoying scenic drives.

For tourist brochures: Santa Barbara Visitor Center, 1 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara, Calif., 93101. Telephone 1-805-965-3021.

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