Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Jillian Jordan, who studies moral psychology, recently said, “The pandemic presents a unique case of travel entering the moral sphere” because of the related potential of spreading risk.
As I wrote in a recent article in this column, I have a well-earned nickname, Madame Risk Averse. In accordance with that moniker, I have not flown since March despite that it’s very difficult, nearly impossible actually, to do my normal job virtually. That said, even in the non-pandemic era, crossing a busy street is often risky.
With my husband diligently working at home 60-plus hours a week, and having a new housebound puppy to train, and no work travel or annual summer holiday in sight, getting away for a few days became not just needed, but necessary, as an insanity prophylactic for the coming November showdown.
Not willing however to throw caution to the wind, I had to pick a drivable place that had a sea breeze and also have enough space to socially distance. Oh, and did I mention I acquired a new puppy when my two senior pups passed away during the first lockdown?
Once the pup was fully house-trained and socialized, the search was on. Fortunately, California has some great canine-friendly options from which to choose but I wanted a place that also took social distancing seriously.
Located in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara, on 78 acres fronting the Pacific Ocean is the Mediterranean inspired, pet-friendly Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara. Situated in the protected Bell and Tecolote Canyons, it’s an area known to the Chumash Native America people as He’lapunitse, meaning “place of the shovelnose guitarfish.”
Throughout trails within the hotel grounds, several important native California plant species are present. Signs indicating horticultural type and traditional Chumash usage are informative and make for an interesting stroll for both kids and kids-at-heart.
Rooms and suites are spaced throughout the property in low-level building clusters that not only add charm, but naturally promote social distancing. Ground-floor rooms have patios, some with fire pits, while upper floors have spacious balconies taking advantage of manicured greenbelt, sparkling pools or glorious ocean views.
Check-in was a snap with front desk clerks behind plexiglass. Every single hotel, restaurant and bar employee throughout the property donned face masks at all times. Hand sanitizer stations were conveniently placed throughout and temperatures were taken before being seated in restaurants. It was also mandatory for guests to wear face coverings throughout the property except while dining.
Though I’m hardly a statistician, I would say there was 98 percent guest compliance. Throughout my work experiences during the COVID era, there are always a few self-annointed important people – and you know you are – who are utterly convinced that their obnoxiously loud cell phone conversations are so critically important to the entire universe that they can’t possibly wear a mask while simultaneously walking and talking.
The hotel’s main pool has expansive ocean views. Lounge chairs were socially distant and reservations were required to maintain safe distances. There is also a smaller cabana pool near the main pool. Because I’m now an empty nester, and partly because of the pandemic, I found myself beckoned by the serenity at the adults-only spa pool. It was divine. ritzcarlton.com
Seated on the outdoor patio with wide-angle ocean views, I was delighted by delicious summery cocktails at Bacara’s Bistro near the main pool. Brick-oven pizzas were satisfying as only fresh pizza can be and the marinated tofu Buddha Bowl served with avocado, kimchi and chili tahini dressing was excellent.
Socially distant tables were set up outside Bacara’s ‘O’ Bar and Kitchen, a stone’s throw from the lobby. My carnivorous cravings were duly satisfied by the chef’s tasty flat iron steak. The mountain of accompanying truffle fries – and naturally I devoured every last one, because who can tolerate carbohydrate waste? – reminded me as to the only reason why I regularly exercise.
Feeling the need for Mexican fare, we headed to Los Arroyos one afternoon in central Goleta a few miles away. For 20 years, Tony Arroyo has been making locals happy with his family’s traditional and fresh fare. The chicken tostada was fantastic and the house-made guacamole was muy bueno. With outside dining, takeout and delivery, Los Arroyos also has two other locations, one in Santa Barbara and another in Montecito. I overheard one couple staying at Bacara who had used Uber Eats and said their Los Arroyos meals were delivered directly to their room. losarroyos.net
The only thing more satisfying than walking a dog on the beach is watching the unadulterated joy of a young, water-loving dog find its body surfing sea legs for the first time. And right in front of Bacara, one can walk several peaceful miles on hard-packed sand. Even mid-summer, the beach was blissfully uncrowded.
On one six-mile jaunt I encountered only two other dogs, but their attention was so divided among low flying flocks of sea birds diving for sustenance, juvenile cormorants lollygagging about and their own water-logged, tennis-ball-induced bliss, they didn’t give my little pooch a second glance.
Encountering a threesome engaging in what can best be described as dance step Frisbee, their antics were so skilled and lovely, I could envision this as a subset of Ultimate Frisbee making its debut at the 2025 Olympics.
Other than one group of about two dozen a couple of miles from the hotel huddled over a makeshift table playing beer pong that could benefit from studying Professor Jordan’s warnings, sunbathers, walkers and swimmers alike were social distancing and respectful.
Near the beach, Bacara has four clay tennis courts with a program managed by industry leader Cliff Drysdale Tennis. I love playing on clay, though have only played once since March. I gingerly signed up for a cardio tennis clinic with three others. Affable tennis pro Luis Vallecillo kept our heart rates up while delivering skilled exercises that improved strokes while keeping us socially distant on the court.
The lessons learned
As an admitted political and news junkie, I was glued to the television in the evenings to watch the Democratic convention. Basking in the bliss of being away from home, it was really wonderful to get away, all the while feeling safe and comfortable in a lovely environment with the fantastic service for which Ritz Carlton hotels are famous.
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney and legal columnist and the author of the award-winning travel memoir “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at www.vagabondlawyer.com.