Local Lowdown: Welcome to The House of Clues

Scene from the “Pirate Ghost Ship” at Santa Barbara's House of Clues escape room, courtesy photo.

Scene from the “Pirate Ghost Ship” at Santa Barbara’s Pirate Ghost Ship from House of Clues escape room, courtesy photo.

Escape room games are super-popular, and Santa Barbara finally has its own one-of-a-kind venue: The House of Clues.

Co-owners Assel Abdrakhmanova and Oscar Zevalos (the third partner is Whitman Heining) were designing props and sets for themed events and escape rooms for outside clients when they decided to create their own custom one-of-a-kind attraction. “We knew we could do a better job and make it even better and more challenging,” says Zevalos.

Their goal is eventually to franchise their concepts—Santa Barbara is the first location—and I think they’ve got a winner. Not only was our “Pirate Ghost Ship” game well designed and challenging, it truly was exciting and fun for our all-ages group. Escape rooms combine mental puzzles with physical challenges, and a beat-the-clock element keeps things moving along quickly. With 45 minutes to escape from a given room (which is actually a series of rooms), you are under constant video and audio surveillance and can communicate with the game master at any time, as well as receive clues when needed. Every move counts, and nothing is as it seems.

In addition to the “Pirate Ghost Ship,” The House of Clues also has “Psycho Dentist” and “Alien Spacecraft Invasion” themes on the menu.

Our group had a fun time trying out the House of Clues. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

For more information, visit TheHouseofClues.net, 629 N. Salsipuedes St., 805/229-9179

Leslie Dinaberg

This story was originally published in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Update: While escape rooms in Santa Barbara are closed at the moment, due to the pandemic restrictions, here’s an informative post from Puzzling Pursuits about how to play escape room games at home.

Local Lowdown: The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn

The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

By Leslie Dinaberg

An artistic melding of Asian, French and California wine country cuisine, The Gathering Table at Ballard Inn features a delicious selection of seasonal locally sourced produce, seafood and meats.

Ballard Inn has always been highly regarded for its romantic ambiance and award-winning cuisine, but the new restaurant concept from Chef Budi Kazali, who has owned the property with his wife Chris since 2004, offers a much more fun, casual and inviting experience. Rather than a special-occasion place, it’s a welcoming spot to gather over incredible food that’s meant to be shared.

The Gathering Table's Local Black Cod with Miso Beurre Blanc, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The Gathering Table’s Local Black Cod with Miso Beurre Blanc, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

We sampled a wide array of tasty dishes, including Hamachi made with avocado and soy-yuzu vinaigrette; sesame Caesar; Hope Ranch mussels with chorizo and garlic toast; pork & shrimp shumai and marinated hanger steak with spicy charred Brussels sprouts. 

The Gathering Table's Hamachi with Avocado & Soy-Yuzu Vinaigrette, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The Gathering Table’s Hamachi with Avocado & Soy-Yuzu Vinaigrette, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The Gathering Table is “meant to be a gathering place for locals and visitors, a fun and inviting place to gather over incredible food,” says Chris. Adds Budi, “The food is flavorful, seasonal and unique, and there’s truly something for everyone.”

The Gathering Table's Octopus Sashimi with Squid Ink Vinaigrette & Spicy Yuzu Aioli, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The Gathering Table’s Octopus Sashimi with Squid Ink Vinaigrette & Spicy Yuzu Aioli, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

Built in 1985, Ballard Inn is located at 2436 Baseline Ave. (ballardinn.com) in historic Ballard, just 35 minutes north of Santa Barbara near Solvang.  

The Gathering Table's Grilled Filet Mignon with Maitake Mushrooms, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

The Gathering Table’s Grilled Filet Mignon with Maitake Mushrooms, photo by Tenley Fohl Photography.

Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Lowdown: Beyond Borders

Image from UCSB Art, Design & Architecture Museum "The Schoolhouse and the Bus: Mobility, Pedagogy and Engagement," the work of Suzanne Lacy & Pablo Helguera. Photo by Suzanne Lacy.

Image from UCSB Art, Design & Architecture Museum “The Schoolhouse and the Bus: Mobility, Pedagogy and Engagement,” the work of Suzanne Lacy & Pablo Helguera. Photo by Suzanne Lacy.

The Latin America-Southern California Connection: Pacific Standard Time

By Leslie Dinaberg

An ambitious artistic celebration of the vibrant cultural linkages between Southern California and Latin America takes place across the state this fall, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, Santa Monica, Palm Springs and beyond.

Backed by more than $16 million in grants from the Getty Foundation, the series of thematically linked exhibitions—Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA—spans more than 70 institutions, including local exhibitions at Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Historical Museum and UCSB Art, Design & Architecture Museum.

“We’re proud that the Getty is once again making it possible for institutions across Southern California to do justice to a vast and complex subject, with this exploration of the vital traditions of Latin American and Latino art,” says Jim Cuno, president of J. Paul Getty Trust, referring to the 2011-2012 iteration of Pacific Standard Time, a Southern California collaboration that focused on art in Los Angeles from 1945-1980. He continues, “Working together, as we did in the first Pacific Standard Time initiative, can we begin to encompass the richness and dynamism of an art created in multiple countries and on two continents.”

Valeska Soares, Any Moment Now… (Spring), 2014, courtesy Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo, on view at Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Among the local Pacific Standard Time highlights is “Valeska Soares: Any Moment Now,” a survey of the New York-based Brazilian artist’s work comprised of unique environmental installations combining sculptures, photography, video, and performances at Santa Barbara Museum of Art (Sept. 17-Dec. 17).

Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara breaks new ground with “Guatemala from 33,000 km: Contemporary Art from 1960-Present,” the first survey of modern and contemporary art from Guatemala, exploring a previously unexamined rich period of artistic production that began during the “long civil war” of the late 1950s and extends to the present day. The three-part exhibition is presented at MCASB’s galleries, Santa Barbara Community Arts Workshop (SBCAW) and Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art at Westmont College (Sept. 17-Dec. 17).

Darío Escobar, Untitled, 1998, Cardboard, plastic, gold leaf, and pigments, 7.875 x 3.5in, Courtesy the Artist. On view as part of "Guatemala from 33,000 km: Contemporary Art, 1960 - Present" at MCA Santa Barbara.

Darío Escobar, Untitled, 1998, Cardboard, plastic, gold leaf, and pigments, 7.875
x 3.5in, Courtesy the Artist. On view as part of “Guatemala from 33,000 km: Contemporary Art, 1960 – Present” at MCA Santa Barbara.

Sacred Art in the Age of Contact at Santa Barbara Historical Museum brings together, for the first time, a diverse body of objects from Santa Barbara-area collections exploring the relationship between art and spirituality in both Chumash and Spanish traditions. Also presented at UCSB Art, Design & Architecture Museum, “Sacred Art” highlights the themes of sacred geography, language, materiality and resistance. It also investigates the mutually transformative interaction between these traditions, which have immediate implications on the ways in which the cultural dynamics of Santa Barbara County are understood today (Sept. 15-Jan. 14).

Also on view at UCSB Art, Design & Architecture Museum is “The Schoolhouse and the Bus: Mobility, Pedagogy and Engagement,” the work of Suzanne Lacy & Pablo Helguera. This exhibition pairs for the first time the work of two leading practitioners of the Social Practice Movement, an art medium that focuses on engagement through human interaction and social discourse. This exhibition juxtaposes key examples of the artists’ works and incorporates installations, photography, drawing and performance, alongside archival documentation that serves to highlight overlapping themes, including immigration, race and social organizing (Sept. 16-Dec. 8).

For more information and a complete list of events and exhibits visit pacificstandardtime.org.

Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Lowdown: The Dish on Santa Ynez Valley’s New Eateries

Bacon & Brine burger by Tenley Fohl Photography.

Bacon & Brine burger by Tenley Fohl Photography.

From refined ranch cooking to gourmet burgers and creative couplings of unexpected ingredients to upscale wine country cuisine, the Santa Ynez Valley has a host of terrific new places to dine out and indulge in this summer.

By Leslie Dinaberg

Beer & (Big) Bites in Buellton

“The Kitchen” at FigMtnBrew is now open and, as Executive Chef Brian Champlin vows, this place definitely has, as he modestly states, “under-promised and over-delivered!” The eatery now offers a full menu of beer-friendly gastropub fare such as creative burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, tacos, salads and more. Our group particularly loved the 21+ and over grilled cheese, Davy Brown nachos and chorizo cheese fries—but honestly, everything that came out of the kitchen was delicious, especially paired with craft beers like Fig Mtn Mosaic and Paradise Rd. Pilsner.

Jeff Hawxhurst, left, and Brian Champlin of The Kitchen at FigMtnBrew, courtesy photo.

Jeff Hawxhurst, left, and Brian Champlin of The Kitchen at FigMtnBrew, courtesy photo.

“We wanted to provide top-notch food with great prices,” says General Manager Jeff Hawxhurst, a longtime local chef who started his career as a teenager working at the original Habit in Goleta and most recently worked with the Chumash Casino Resort. “The casual environment helps us keep prices affordable while offering fresh farm-to-table cuisine.”

Champlin also has impressive foodie credentials, most recently as co-owner and executive chef of Succulent Café in Solvang. Taking the farm-to-table concept up a notch, “Our brewery actually gives our spent grain to a local farm who then feeds it to their cattle. We are then able to serve the local beef on our menu. It’s a sustainable cycle that ensures we know what’s in our food and where it is coming from. We call it ‘brewery-to-farm-to-table’ cuisine.” The Kitchen, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, 45 Industrial Way, Buellton,

Refining Ranch Cuisine at The Bear and Star

The Bear and Star (a nod to patriarch Fess Parker’s California and Texas roots) gets its culinary inspiration from the 714-acre Fess Parker Home Ranch located seven miles away, where 75 head of Wagyu cattle are raised and finished with the spent grains and pomace from the family brewery and winery, along with chickens, quail, rabbits, pigs, bees and a number of heirloom fruits and organic vegetables.

The Bear and Star by Kodiak Greenwood.

The Bear and Star by Kodiak Greenwood.

This impressive ecosystem was developed under Chef/Partner John Cox’s passion and vision. Also integral to the restaurant is a 30’ custom reverse-flow Texas smoker that he specially designed for slow smoking and barbecuing many of the dishes. Cox, formerly with Sierra Mar at Big Sur’s renowned Post Ranch Inn, has created an inventive ranch-inspired menu offering lunch and dinner items like Wagyu Fries with garden herb aioli; deviled ranch eggs with Santa Barbara urchin and espelette; fried green tomatoes with “cheese wiz” and BBQ spice; Parker Ranch Wagyu burger with smoked cheddar, tomato jam and butter pickles; crispy catfish with re-fried black-eyed-peas and “blackened” smoked tomato sauce; Wagyu meat loaf with potato puree, garden vegetables and pan jus; Parker Ranch chile with cheddar, chives and cornbread crouton; local stuffed quail with farro risotto, bay laurel and red wine demi glace; and an array of steaks, ribeyes and filets, among other items.

Highlights for breakfast are dishes of cheddar biscuit and country gravy; steel cut oatmeal brûlée with local blueberries and caramelized palm sugar; and smoked Wagyu hash with farm eggs, root vegetables and lemon-thyme hollandaise.

The Parker family’s acclaimed wines are prominently featured and the offerings also showcase expressive small-production wines from Santa Barbara County’s most sought-after wineries, and beyond, as well as a stunning
wine-walled private dining room. The Bear and Star, Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn, 2860 Grand Ave., Los Olivos, 805/686-1359, thebearandstar.com.

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro

Already offering one of the most unique wine-tasting experiences in California—with its expansive “Wine Wall” of 52 constantly changing wines available by the taste, half glass or full glass—the new Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro has stepped up its cuisine tremendously, with a new restaurant concept from Executive Chef Owen Hanavan, the former Head Chef of Barbareño, whose culinary résumé includes time spent at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara and the Michelin-starred COI Restaurant in San Francisco.

Utilizing a bounty of locally sourced organic produce, meats and fish, a recent sampling of Chef Owen’s creations was so delicious that it’s hard to name a favorite dish. Definitely high on my list are the beautifully plated “Sixteen Spiced Pork Shoulder” (with almond rice pilaf, date glaze, romanesco broccoli and lemon oil), melt-in-your-mouth New York strip (with sousbise, duck fat potato, chimichurri and crispy leeks) and yellowtail (with poached tuna, rice cracker, nori vinaigrette and micro cilantro). In addition to the elevated evening cuisine, the lunch and midday menus include a variety of small plates (the lamb meatballs on housemade potato chips are divine), as well as sandwiches, salads and pizzas sure to please every palate.

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro, photo by Bottle Branding.

Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro, photo by Bottle Branding.

Also a crowd pleaser is the view of Terravant Winery’s popular custom-crush facility, which shares the space with Bottlest Bistro and the soon-to-be-launched bottlest.com online wine experience, where you can craft your own wine (and labels) from start to finish, based on a sliding scale of personal preferences. For more information, visit bottlest.com. Bottlest Winery Bar & Bistro, 35 Industrial Way, Buellton, 805/686-4742,

Blissful Bellies at Bacon & Brine

Hyper local culinary entrepreneurs Chef Pink and Courtney Rae DeLongpré’s Bacon & Brine sits at the top of the ever-evolving Santa Ynez Valley food chain. This delicious addition to the Solvang scene opened last summer to eager fans and customers of the duo’s previous sandwich shop. With guidance from Chef Pink, we ate our way through much of the menu, an impressive gastronomic collection of delights that evidence the couple’s full commitment to utilizing local organic vegetables and organic grass-fed pasture-raised animals. In fact, none of their food items come from more than 10 miles away, except spices and seasonings, which are all fair-trade.

Bacon & Brine by Tenley Fohl Photography.

Bacon & Brine by Tenley Fohl Photography.

Beef, chicken and vegetarian options mingle with the pork menu items (all of the cattle and poultry come from Shadow Creek Ranch, a small Santa Ynez Valley farm), but the flavors are even more impressive than the menu’s provenance. Our favorites include Korean Fried Chicken (KFC), “The Hipster” sandwich (buttermilk fried chicken, shredded lettuce, pickle and aioli on a doughnut bun), the kimchi burger (wagyu beef, bacon, housemade “legit” kimchi, farm egg, chives and bacon aioli), fried Brussels sprouts, roasted beets and the to-die-for salted caramel bacon doughnuts.

Chef Pink, the “bacon” half of this business, is a 17-year food and restaurant industry veteran who has worked with California chefs and restaurants stretching from Los Angeles to San Francisco, as well as in New York and Paris kitchens. She’s also a bit of TV food celebrity, appearing on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue, Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen and FYI’s Man vs. Child.

The “brine” half of “Bacon & Brine” is Courtney Rae DeLongpré, a proponent of healthy eating with a passion for food, nutrition and small-scale homesteading, which led to her studies of traditional old-world food preparations, segueing to her fermentation craft.

“We want to share with the surrounding community our personal mix: fine dining techniques using local ingredients and our use of fermentation to create flavor profiles, which let those ingredients shine,” says Chef Pink. “I’m meshing my years of training as a proper chef, with our philosophies of hyper-local organic, whole, sustainable food systems…and my love of, and allegiance to, a great food experience that’s accessible to everyone.” Bacon & Brine, 1618 Copenhagen Dr., Solvang, 805/688-8809, baconandbrine.com. Hours vary by season.  

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Lowdown: The Sun Rises on Somerset

Photo courtesy Somerset

An elegant addition to the downtown Santa Barbara restaurant scene, Somerset is an old world European style grand café created by Steve Hermann Hotels and Restaurants of Palm Springs’ acclaimed L’Horizon Resort and Spa fame. The impressive décor features deep chesterfield sofas, polished zinc tabletops, and 50’s modern vintage chairs and lighting, a swanky combination of mid century and art deco influences.  And then there’s the gorgeous courtyard patio with a canopy of 100-year-old olive trees planted in rubble stone planters designed to create the mood of an old courtyard in Tuscany.

Photo courtesy Somerset.

Photo courtesy Somerset.

Chef Lauren Herman (formerly of the James Beard Award-winning A.O.C. and Lucques in Los Angeles) has created a menu that takes advantage of the bounty of the Santa Barbara coast by sourcing all produce within a 100-mile radius and utilizing daily deliveries by local fish mongers and livestock humanely raised on ranches in the hills above America’s Rivera. A visit to Somerset promises an evening of sure-to-be-memorable farm-driven California cuisine with light French and Italian influences. At press time it was dinner only, but plans to add lunch and brunch to the menu are in the works.  

Somerset, 7 E. Anapamu St., 805/845-7112, somersetsb.com.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Lowdown: Let There Be Light!

LightWorks: Isla Vista Illuminates a Vibrant Community

By Leslie Dinaberg


Photo by Robert Bernstein, courtesy Kim Yasuda

The parks and streets of Isla Vista will pulse with artistic spirit on May 19-21, when LightWorks: Isla Vista comes to life. This exciting series of temporary installations and performances that transform the parks of Isla Vista into illuminated evening spaces, engaging existing underutilized spaces and animating them through visually compelling experiences that contribute to the safety, economic viability and quality of night life and sense of place.

Spearheaded by UCSB Art Professor, Kim Yasuda, an Isla Vista resident who is passionate about using the arts as a positive force for community engagement, LightWorks is part of a long-term community development partnership effort with Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, and other key partnerships that include UCSB Visual and Public Arts; Offices of the 3rd District Supervisor and County Sheriff; Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District; Isla Vista Community Network; UCSB Materials Research Laboratory; Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science, and Technology and the Santa Barbara Foundation.

“This multi-agency arts initiative is the first of its kind for Isla Vista and offers a way to engage the leadership of artists and designers in helping Isla Vista reimagine its future as a creative community,” says Yasuda, who worked hand-in-hand with Santa Barbara County Arts Commission to secure grant funding for the project.

Building on momentum from last spring’s Blunite Memorial Vigil, which lit the UCSB campus and adjacent Isla Vista area with thousands of blue LED lights, Yasuda says, “All of that was really the momentum of post-tragedy healing, artists kind of moving into those spaces and engaging them. Art is always kind of a way to make a space more beautiful. …So art is our catalyst. Artists and art are, to me, catalytic in beginning something beautiful and positive and that’s kind of how…I hope this will work.”


Photo by Marcos Novak, courtesy Kim Yasuda

She continues, “I was thinking about the lighting as being a key feature that artists could tackle. Rather than having enforcement lighting or surveillance lighting or security lighting, we would have engaged lighting in beautiful illuminated spaces.”

“While public lighting and clear sight lines are critical components for safety, we have identified the arts as an integral component to affect the permanent cultural change our community so desperately needs,” writes Alex Rodriguez, board chair of Isla Vista Recreation and Park District.

Initial funding for LightWorks: Isla Vista is based on temporary art installations, but Yasuda envisions this project as the beginning of developing a more permanent exhibit. “What I imagine is that the campus and IV community actually embark on a partnership to host this event annually, so essentially we would have a kind of contemporary art festival. That’s my dream. And also that we would start a collection, an illuminated public works collection of different projects…We would actually be one of the first campus communities that would have a public art collection comprised of light and technology.”

With support from UCSB Materials Research Laboratory—the lab of UCSB Professor Shuji Nakamura, who won a Nobel Prize in physics in 2014 for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes (LED lights)—Isla Vista certainly seems ideally suited to bring the long-term vision of LightWorks to life.

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Lowdown: Culture Club–The Mission Poetry Series

Poet Gina Ferrera is one of three authors featured in the September Mission Poetry Series. Courtesy photo.

Poet Gina Ferrera is one of three authors featured in the September Mission Poetry Series. Courtesy photo.

Poetry is always in season around here, and one of the best places to get your fix is the Mission Poetry Series. Now wrapping up its sixth season, the series recently partnered with Antioch University as a new host venue to serve the literary and poetry communities with free readings from an eclectic assortment of poets each fall and spring. Poet Emma Trelles now programs and hosts the series, along with curator Melinda Palacio, as it evolves and continues to be one of the premiere readings on the Central Coast.

The fall reading (at 1 p.m. on Sept. 26 at Antioch University, 602 Anacapa St.) features poets David Campos, Gina Ferrara and Christine Penko.

Since its inception, the Mission Poetry Series has featured more than 30 poets, offering them paid readings and an opportunity to reach a wide and diverse audience. Each poet reads for 20–30 minutes, and original poetry one-sheet prints, with a poem by each of the featured poets, are distributed free at every reading.

For more information, visit facebook.com/missionpoetryseries.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Lowdown: Girls Rock

Girls Rock, originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

It’s a great time to be a girl! The impressive accomplishments and uplifting attitudes of these three local teens are ample inspiration for all of us to work hard and dream big to make those goals a reality.

Paige Hauschild: Athlete

Local water polo fans already know the name Paige Hauschild: she’s been a standout in the pool since she first started playing at age eight and is now one of the star attackers on the San Marcos High School, 805 Water Polo Club and Olympic Development Program teams. At a mere 16 years old, she’s also making a name for herself internationally. Last year, she played in Hungary. This spring, she competed in New Zealand with the USA Water Polo Women’s Senior National Team, alongside Olympic-level athletes, some almost twice her age!

It’s a lot to juggle—along with school work, family and “trying to hang out with friends at Hope Ranch Beach as much as possible”—but Paige does it all with characteristic grace and skill.

She offers this advice for other up-and-coming athletes: “It definitely takes a lot of commitment and, as hard as it always seems, it always gets better. Everything always pays off. I went through a time when I felt just overwhelmed with water polo when I was younger and, as you get older, you kind of accept that it’s kind of what you need to do if you want to play at really high levels—you have to keep playing. You have to be committed. It’s been amazing. All the hard times definitely paid off.”

Indeed they have. She’s already been on college tours of her dream schools UCLA and Stanford) and has set her sights even higher, saying, “It would be a dream come true to go to the Olympics, and I really hope that I get to.”

We’ll be rooting for her all the way.

Aija Mayrock: Author

A victim of bullying in elementary and middle school, 19-year-old Aija Mayrock claimed her power back with a vengeance as the author of The Survival Guide to Bullying, recently published by Scholastic.

“One day, I realized that I had to create a little, yet powerful survival guide that any kid could use as a life-saving device when they were being bullied in the gym, the cafeteria, the locker room, the classroom, the hallways—anywhere. A guide that could be a road map, a flashlight or a friend,” says Aija, who graduated from Anacapa High School and is now a student at New York University.

Aija originally self-published the book, because “we wanted to just help kids. …I wanted it to be as cheap as possible for every kid. But then it was just a dream when Scholastic came along.” The contents—including her original Rap poems or “Roams” at the start of each chapter—are much the same as in Aija’s original book. “They loved it, and it basically is as is; we deleted a chapter and, we added a really wonderful chapter called ‘getting help.’ Then we did a Q&A with myself and an epilogue.”

She gives much of the credit for turning her life around to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). When she and her family moved to town after eighth grade, she wrote her very first screenplay on the day of the deadline for SBIFF’s 10-10-10 student film competition. It was about bullying.

Aija won that competition and says, “I’m so grateful to them because this book would not be here if I had not found my passion through that competition, which is so incredible because it’s accessible to any kid in this community.” Now, in addition to her college studies, Aija travels to speak to kids about bullying, as well as pursuing her other interests in writing, acting and being an activist.

As for taking center stage and speaking out against bullying, Aija says she’s conquered her fears. “There’s a quote that I now live by. It’s, ‘Everything that you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.’”

Sydney Shalhoob: Singer

Santa Barbara’s 2015 Teen Star winner is hardly new to the stage. Now a 15-year-old sophomore at San Marcos High School, Sydney Shalhoob began singing when she was three years old, with pipes so impressive
that professional sports teams took notice, resulting in invitations to perform the National Anthem for the Lakers, the Kings, the Dodgers, the 49ers, the Sparks and the Angels (for seven seasons)—all while still in elementary school.

“I’ve always loved to sing,” says Sydney, who wowed local audiences at Granada Theatre last spring with a soulful delivery of “Creep,” by Radiohead, to take the top Teen Star honor, which earned her a slew of performing opportunities, a bit of cash to further her musical career and a professional recording session at Santa Barbara Sound Design.

Although she worked as a professional model from age three to 11, and tried her hand at acting (“I was not the best actor,” she laughs), Sydney has always had a song in her heart and hopes to study voice in college one day. She currently studies under Carolyn Teroka Brady at San Marcos, participating in the A Capella and Enchante singing groups. She was an alternate the first time she auditioned for Teen Star, which Sydney admits, “taught me a lot. We grew up together, and we definitely grew as singers. I think being a part of Teen Star is my biggest accomplishment at this point.”

That may be true, but keep an eye—and an ear—out for this rising star. We have a feeling that you’ll hear a lot from her for many years to come.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Local Lowdown: Class-y Gifting

By Leslie Dinaberg

In a season chock-full of stuff, the notion of learning a new skill, or improving upon an old one, through taking a class is a great way to give someone a gift that keeps on giving—providing memorable experiences and perhaps even spurring lasting new interests. Here are some class-y gift suggestions for everyone on your list.

Courtesy Eat This, Shoot That!

Courtesy Eat This, Shoot That!

Eat This, Shoot That!

One glance at Instagram is all it takes to know that food shots are all the rage. Learn how to take fantastic food and travel photos while tasting delicious food and drinks in and around Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone with this unique tour. (800/979-3370, 805/699-6719, eatthisshootthat.com) Eat This, Shoot That! owner Tara Jones and her crew take you to taste and shoot at Deep Sea Winery, Santa Barbara Shellfish Co., Lucky Penny, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, Riverbench Winery, Koval Confections and Seven Bar + Kitchen. In addition to photography tips and nibbles and tipples, the tour also offers tidbits of Santa Barbara history.

Polo Play

Learn the fast-paced game of polo at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, where John Westley’s world-renowned polo school has taught players of all skill levels for more than 20 years (805/729-2812, sbpoloschool.com). The club offers a variety of options to learn to play polo for beginners and to fine tune polo skills for more advanced players.

Make Music

Studies have shown that learning music enhances brain power, improves memory and boosts performance. What a great gift to give to someone at any age! Learn to sing or play an instrument at Santa Barbara School of Music (805/699-5594, schoolofmusicsb.com), where the goal is to make learning to sing or play an instrument a fun, rewarding and positive experience.

Santa Barbara Centre for Aerial Arts, courtesy photo

Santa Barbara Centre for Aerial Arts, courtesy photo

Up in the Air

Has the same old, same old exercise routine gotten stale? Santa Barbara Rock Gym’s skilled staff teaches aspiring rock hounds of all ages everything from beginner climber safety and climbing techniques to advanced bouldering skills (805/770-3225, sbrockgym.com). For a completely different type of high flying fun, check out Cloud 10 Jump Club (805/617-3900, cloud10jumpclub.com); with almost 19,000 square feet of trampolines to play on, the club is also home to the C10 “Air Academy” training center for trampoline and tumbling classes, camps and flipping clinics. Also up in the air for fun and fitness are classes at Santa Barbara Centre for Aerial Arts (805/284-8785, sbaerial.com), including intensive stretching and conditioning, static trapeze, aerial sling, the art of balance and more.

Dance Fever

Dance to your heart’s content at Santa Barbara Dance Center (805/899-2901, santabarbaradancecenter.com), where lessons are offered in Brazilian dancing, Bollywood fusion, world dance, salsa, Argentine tango and more. Arthur Murray Dance Center (805/963-6658, arthurmurraysantabarbara.com) gets students out on the floor for a wide variety of Latin, country Western and ballroom dances, including the waltz, jitterbug, fox trot, cha cha, Texas two-step, swing, Polka, merengue, quickstep and more.

Adventure Awaits

Yearning to get out on the water? Santa Barbara Adventure Company (805/884-9283, sbadventureco.com) offers standup paddling lessons, surf lessons, paragliding and kayaking. Santa Barbara Sailing Center (800/350-9090, sbsail.com) has more than 40 charter boats in its program and a large staff of instructors to accommodate sailors of all levels. In addition to one-on-one lessons, it also offers plenty of live-aboard instructional vacation options to choose from, as well as regularly scheduled group classes.

The WOODS Art Studio offers creative mixed-media classes, date nights, art parties and more. Photo courtesy The Woods Art Studio.

The WOODS Art Studio offers creative mixed-media classes, date nights, art parties and more. Photo courtesy The Woods Art Studio.

Grow Artsy

Get out a paintbrush and get back to nature at the same time at The WOODS Art Studio, a fun sunlit outdoor studio in the Santa Barbara foothills, where LeAnne Iverson offers both private and small group classes in mixed media painting, collage, Photoshop techniques, acrylics, art journaling, mosaics, found object construction and art parties (including bachelorette gatherings, date nights and singles nights) for children/teens and adults (646/369-7277, facebook.com/thewoodsartstudio). For a more traditional approach, Santa Barbara Museum of Art (805/884-6457, sbmuseart.org) offers a wide variety of studio art classes at Ridley-Tree Education Center, including instruction in watercolor and acrylic painting.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Winter 2014/15.

Local Lowdown: Christmas in the Sand

Santa Claus on Santa Claus Lane, historic photo by SB Vintage Photo

Santa Claus on Santa Claus Lane, historic photo by SB Vintage Photo

Shopping Santa Claus Lane | By Leslie Dinaberg

Santa may be gone*, but the shopping scene is alive and well on his namesake street in Carpinteria. Tucked just south of Montecito, amid the soothing sounds of the sea—and occasional toots from the train—the eclectic Santa Claus Lane is home to an impressive variety of charming shops displaying everything from garden goodies and home decor to surf supplies and casually elegant clothes.

Porch is a unique shop

Porch is a unique shop “where shelter and nature converge.” Photo by Mercedes Lowe.


A unique shop “where shelter and nature converge” into distinct art and home accessories and furniture.

1. PORCH, 3823 Santa Claus Lane, 805/684-0300, porchsb.com.

Ze Bird is an ever-evolving treasure trove for the home. Photo by Mercedes Lowe.

Ze Bird is an ever-evolving treasure trove for the home. Photo by Mercedes Lowe.

Ze Bird

Original artwork plus a design and consign business makes this an ever evolving treasure trove for the fashionable home.

2. Ze Bird, 3825 Santa Claus Lane, 805/318-1818, zebirdsb.com.

Hawthorn, photo by Mercedes Lowe.

Hawthorn, photo by Mercedes Lowe.


This clothing and accessories boutique embodies the casual elegance of the Santa Barbara lifestyle.

3. Hawthorn, 3817 Santa Claus Lane, 805/684-6474, facebook.com/hawthornpadarobeach.

The Garden Market on Santa Claus Lane offers unique gifts like Mama's Preserves. Photo by Mercedes Lowe.

The Garden Market on Santa Claus Lane offers unique gifts like Mama’s Preserves. Photo by Mercedes Lowe.

The Garden Market

This tranquil little bistro is a great place to relax in the outdoor garden, or shop for unique gifts and treasures.

4. The Garden Market, 3811 Santa Claus Lane, 805/745-5505, gardenmarketsb.com.

Reed Interiors offers a variety of stylish lighting, as well as flooring, furniture and more for the home. Photo by Mercedes Lowe.

Reed Interiors offers a variety of stylish lighting, as well as flooring, furniture and more for the home. Photo by Mercedes Lowe.

Reed Interiors

This design showroom offers flooring, stylish lines of furniture, lighting, accessories, window treatments, wall coverings, upholstery and more.

5. Reed Interiors, 3821 Santa Claus Lane, 805/684-7583, reedfloors.com.

Hummingbird is a chic boutique on Santa Claus Lane. Photo by Mercedes Lowe.

Hummingbird is a chic boutique on Santa Claus Lane. Photo by Mercedes Lowe.



A chic boutique carrying women’s clothing, jewelry, handbags, accessories, eyewear, art and gifts.

6. Hummingbird, 3823 Santa Claus Lane, 805/684-5800, hummingbirdcarpinteria.com.

a-Frame Surf Shop, photo by Mercedes Lowe.

a-Frame Surf Shop, photo by Mercedes Lowe.

a-Frame Surf Shop

Whether you’re looking for surf lessons, the latest in surf gear or the coolest in clothing and beach wear, they’ve got you covered.

7. A-Frame Surf Shop, 3785 Santa Claus Lane, 805/684-8803, aframesurf.com.

Holiday on the Lane

Santa may have retired, but he’ll be back for a visit at the Santa Claus Lane Annual Block Party on Saturday, December 13 from 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

*The jolly red giant moved to Oxnard in 2003.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Winter 2014/15.