The El Paseo courtyard, also known as the "Street in Spain", is a historic treasure hidden amidst the downtown stores and restaurants along the 800 block of State Street. The State Street entrance to the paseo is topped with a row of flags - colorful banners that lift and wave in the breeze.
The pathway below is flanked by two jewelry stores that showcase a rainbow array of precious stones, large and plentiful diamonds that wink and glitter, and black Tahitian pearls the size of large marbles - all displayed in a variety of modern jewelry settings.
As you contine walking along the flagstones, you find yourself in a little white adobe courtyard. There, you will pass through the thick-walled doorway in front of you, and the busy world outside will drop away. You have found your way into the El Paseo Courtyard.
In the early 1920s, Santa Barbaran Bernard Hoffman obtained this historic property for $50,000, along with the old De la Guerra adobe next door that had fallen into disrepair. Hoffman commissioned architect James Osborne Craig to design a little paseo for the property, a small Spanish-style community oasis in the very center of downtown. After creating the initial drawings, Craig passed away, and the project was taken over by Carlton Winslow, Sr, who expanded upon the first plans.
Kevin Starr, the eminent California historian, writes in his book, Material Dreams, "...the De la Guerra adobe, the Casa La Aguirre, also acquired, the El Paseo structure, and two studio wings for artists - was to be integrated architecturally and landscaped into one past/present statement of Santa Barbara as a Spanish city." ( p 282)
The paseo was created to be accessible from State Street, Anacapa Street, or from De la Guerra Street, through a rustic little passageway that runs along side the old adobe.
The project was further enhanced when the outdoor courtyard was designed by the famed architect, Lutah Maria Riggs.
It was the culmination of a shared vision that had been long in the making. Years earlier, in 1915, the Panama-California Exposition was held in San Diego to celebrate both the opening of the Panama Canal, and the city of San Diego as the first American port of call on the West coast. The exposition sparked the imaginations of Southern Californians, weaving a romantic spell that resonated with their collective consciousness.
They were instantly enamored with the Spanish baroque, Spanish eclectic, and Spanish Revival styles of architecture that so beautifully suited the climate, and the fanciful, dreamy ambiance that Californians have always embraced.
The buildings looked as though they had been created hundreds of years ago on that very spot in San Diego, amid lush and semi-tropical greenery, beneath tall, feathery palms that glistened in the California sun.
In fact, many of the temporary buildings that were created for the Panama - California Exposition were never torn down - Californians could not bear it. Their facades were made permanent; the buildings and the entire park have been beloved since their debut almost 100 years ago.
In Santa Barbara, civic leaders began envisioning a Mediterranean style of architecture that would compliment their seaside town built on a Riviera-like coastline. This dream was beautifully expressed in the white stucco Spanish-style buildings of the El Paseo Courtyard that are topped with handmade roof tiles of red clay. The square features hand-hewn wooden balconies, wrought iron grilles on many of the casement windows, narrow stone pathways that curve among the thick stucco walls, and tall winding stairways.
Originally, there were little shops and restaurants throughout the El Paseo, along with studios and businesses, all nestled together among the orange trees and flowering vines.
Within the whitewashed walls, every day passes amid the song and splash of the fountain that lies in the center of the courtyard.
The shops have been replaced by offices, and most of the restaurants are gone now.
The El Paseo Restaurant remains, however. It has an indoor courtyard, open to the sky and protected by canvas awnings that can be pulled back on warm, starry nights. At the center of the restaurant are trees, and a fountain, and there is a gallery that runs along the second story above the diners. The walls are adorned with old murals depicting the colorful past of Southern California. The El Paseo Restaurant has been the site of candlelight dinners for two, parties for dozens of people, Old Spanish Days dance performances, and celebrations of every variety throughout the years.
The El Paseo Restaurant offers wonderful lunchtime buffets and Sunday brunches, in addition to a full menu of Mexican dinners served at night amid twinkling lights and candles that glow on every table.
You may also order an authentic guacamole that is made at your table, by waiters who use the freshest ingredients: avocados, cilantro, onions, a squeeze of lime juice, a dash of salt, chopped chiles...jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj
The El Paseo Restaurant is a must-see destination. It is there that you can best experience the flavor of the City of Santa Barbara, lingering in the shaded courtyard amid trees and historic murals, with the ghosts of Fiesta past swirling around you while you sip your El Paseo Margarita.
The El Paseo Courtyard truly fulfills the dream of Hoffman and his visionary architects who desired to create a little world, protected from city streets and noise, cars and other modern distractions. Here, romance and magic abound as you walk along uneven clay tiles, detect the fragrance of orange blossoms, and hear the silvery splash of a fountain, all captured within the these white stucco walls.
Wander along the winding corridors, notice the Moorish lamps, admire the rough plank doors, peek through a window,
and breathe deep the air of history and intent. This is where the modern city of Santa Barbara began to take shape, embracing the days when the adobe walls echoed the sound of castanets and hard-heeled dancers, of Andalusian guitarras and the whisper of lace fans.