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Santa Barbara inn is historic jewel

The inviting Simpson House Inn in Santa Barbara offers a welcome escape from daily pressures and a warm setting for a romantic interlude. Its delightful mix of Victorian charm and contemporary convenience provides a sense of homecoming and invites relaxing in its calming oasis.

Renowned for its stunning 1874 Eastlake architecture, the inn has been lovingly restored and expanded by Glyn and Linda Davies, who saved it from the wrecking ball when they bought it for their family home in 1976 and raised two children there. Glyn, a contractor who was born in England, and Linda, a former potter from Pasadena, spent many dollars restoring the elegant old mansion to its former grandeur - and beyond. They opened it as an inn in 1985.The only Historic Landmark B&B in Santa Barbara, Simpson House also has been named a Structure of Merit and a landmark by the Landmarks Commission.

The original house has six antique-filled bedrooms, an elegant burgundy and blue sitting room with a fireplace, velvet furniture, cushy Oriental carpets and book-lined shelves (even the videos are bound in leather like classic old books). There's also a window-lined formal dining room, where afternoon and evening refreshments such as pates, cheeses, fruit and cookies with Santa Barbara County wines are served. This is the perfect time to compare notes with other guests describing in detail the day's adventures. You'll also work up an appetite drooling in anticipation over the displayed menu detailing the next day's breakfast.

The acre of lush gardens, lawns and hundred-year-old trees looks as if it were transported directly from England. In 1992, the Davies created four suites with king-size beds and fireplaces in a renovated barn originally built in 1876. They had each piece of the barn dismantled and rebuilt to modern-day specifications. Three inspired private cottages, half-hidden by the lush foliage, were added in 1993 to blend into the Old World ambiance.

Simpson House is repeatedly selected by Santa Barbara News-Press readers as the best B&B in town. It has been awarded the AAA Four Diamond Award and is rated with a Four Crown Award as one of the top 16 inns in North America by the American Bed & Breakfast Association, which annually inspects 450 inns nationwide for facilities, hospitality, sanitation, guest service, food preparation and amenities.

For reservations, call (800) 676-1280.

Things to do

The inn provides bicycles and beach equipment. You can play lawn croquet or walk to view lovely homes and gardens in the inn's immediate vicinity. Mission Santa Barbara, known as the "Queen of the Missions," is only a mile away. Going in the opposite direction, the inn is a five-minute walk to the colorful promenade of busy State Street with its variety of restaurants, charming outdoor cafes, shops, theaters, art museum and historical sites, including the newly restored El Paseo and El Presidio, which was established in 1782 and features El Cuartel, the second oldest surviving structure in California.

Rather than fight traffic and parking, we rode the State Street trolley, which runs every 15 minutes between Sola Street and Sterns Wharf for a quarter. Have the exact change. There's also a 90-minute trolley tour which takes riders to the city's major historical sites. The cost is only $4.

Santa Barbara is a major vacation spot with a lot of history. It was originally named in 1602 by Spanish conquistador Sebastian Vizcaino and established as a military fortress in 1782. Father Lasuen founded the mission Dec. 4, 1786.

After the devastating 1925 earthquake, which destroyed a good portion of the Old Town area, the forward-thinking city fathers saw to it that reconstruction followed the Spanish Colonial architecture.

It seems as though there's something to do every day in Santa Barbara with a cornucopia of festivals and events.

Walking tours guide you to view historic sites, including adobes and the elegant Spanish Colonial courthouse. There's a zoo, a historical and a natural history museum and a botanic garden.

Don't miss a stroll on Stearns Wharf with restaurants, shops and the fascinating Sea Center, operated by the Museum of Natural History, with its life-size model of a California gray whale and touch tank aquarium. You can take a harbor cruise or a boat to whale watch in season.

Just south of the wharf on Cabrillo Boulevard, the Arts and Crafts Show features more than 300 crafters and artisans on Sundays and holidays year round. Antiques and art abound in Santa Barbara, Montecito and Summerland.

For a current guide to activities, pick up a free copy of This Week in Santa Barbara.