What’s it like to be a celebrity living in Santa Barbara? In a word: relaxing. The area, also known as the “American Riviera,” has been a magnet for the rich and famous for over a century. Celebrities here can stroll down the street without getting stared at or otherwise bothered. In general, Santa Barbarans have an insouciant attitude toward celebrities, which is one reason why the town – and especially its most celebrity-filled enclave, Montecito — have been such favorites among A-listers for generations.
Of course, that’s not the only reason why everyone from Hollywood luminaries to captains of industry find this particular stretch of California’s Central Coast so appealing. The wealth of other reasons includes the charming predominately Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, long stretches of south-facing beaches, Mediterranean climate, exceptional upscale dining and shopping options, cultural and recreational activities, and much, much more.
KEYS TO CELEBRITY LIVING IN SANTA BARBARA: LOCATION & LUXURY
The fact that celebrities choose to live on the American Riviera is not so surprising. What might be surprising though is that Santa Barbara and Montecito are said to be home to more celebrities per square mile than Beverly Hills: that bastion of the well-known and well-heeled that lies just 90 minutes down the Pacific Coast. In fact, Santa Barbara has earned the moniker “Beverly Hills North.”
Nestled at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara and Montecito offer what locals love: a backdrop of beautiful mountains and a “front yard” of Pacific Ocean and gorgeous beaches.
Silent Movies and Santa Barbara
The Santa Barbara area has enjoyed deep ties to the film making industry, long before Hollywood was Hollywood. Around 1,200 movies were produced here during the silent film era of the early 20th century, though only a fraction of those have survived. There used to be more than a dozen studios in town; the largest of which was Flying A Studios. Stars like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. were frequent visitors. Even after film production moved south to the Los Angeles area after the 1920s, the industry’s movers and shakers kept coming back to Santa Barbara – as they still do to this day.
In fact, Robert L. McCullough and his wife, Suzanne Herrera-McCullough, wrote an entire book about film and television luminaries here: Where Hollywood Hides – Santa Barbara: Celebrities in Paradise.
The book takes a look at the history of celebrities living in and around Santa Barbara. According to McCullough, it all started in 1912, long before Hollywood had a foothold in the entertainment industry. That’s the year the Flying A Studios opened and put Santa Barbara on the map as a prominent center for movie magic.
A decade later, Hollywood had become the new center of international film production, but Santa Barbara never lost its celebrity allure. Since those early days, the area has continued to attract a wide range of celebrities seeking respite from the demands of Tinsel Town.
Some Famous Santa Barbarans
The McCullough book celebrates the Santa Barbara-Hollywood relationship; paying homage to some of the show business personalities who lived here: from Charlie Chaplin, known for building the landmark Montecito Inn, to Santa Barbara’s current most famous resident: Oprah.
If you’ve spent time in the Santa Barbara area, you’ve probably already had a celebrity sighting or two. The list of property owners here can read like a veritable who’s who of movers and shakers in the entertainment industry. Many have purchased Montecito homes for sale. Among those who maintain, or have maintained, homes here in addition to Oprah are Kirk Douglas, George Lucas, Carol Burnett, John Cleese, Drew Barrymore, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Kenny Loggins, Kevin Costner, Rob Lowe, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, to name just a few. Oh, and we can’t forget “The Dude,” Jeff Bridges.
Moreover, it isn’t just Hollywood stars that have chosen to make their home in Santa Barbara. The area has also long been a haven for quite a few literary luminaries as well. You might run into famous author T.C. Boyle, for example. The late Sue Grafton, who lived here until she passed away in 2017 at Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital, was a well-known local. Crime fiction author Ross Macdonald was also a Santa Barbaran, as was his wife, the novelist Margaret Millar. Other literary-minded folks who’ve made SB their home at one time or another include Pico Iyer, Fannie Flagg, Gayle Lynds, and Arianna Huffington.
CELEBRITY HOMES: SANTA BARBARA SANCTUARIES OF THE FAMOUS
The world’s most famous television talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, famously purchased a mansion in Montecito a few years back. She bought the estate for $48 million while on vacation. It didn’t take Oprah long to fall in love with Montecito. Her Montecito palace is a fully renovated estate that includes 6 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, 10 fireplaces and a modern high-tech gourmet kitchen. It also has a state-of-the-art theatre, a wine cellar, a barn, orchards, two ponds, an outdoor theater, tennis court, a 4,500 sq. ft. guest house with a pool, an outdoor entertainment area, and even a man-made lake stocked with fish. Like many homes in the area, it has both mountain and ocean views.
Another famous talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, along with her wife, Portia di Rossi, bought a 13-acre estate in 2013 for $22.5 million. That was quite a deal for the two-story property listed for $26 million. Built in the late 1920s using locally quarried stones, the 10,500 square foot home has nine fireplaces and a Roman column standing in the garden that dates from 200 B.C. In fact, Ellen has purchased, renovated and sold several homes in Santa Barbara County, including in Montecito, Carpinteria and the Santa Ynez Valley.
“Star Wars” creator George Lucas plunked down about $25 million for his spectacular beach house in Santa Barbara. With an estimated fortune of $3.25 billion, he snapped up the 1.7-acre estate when the price was reduced from $37.5 million. Built in 1980, the 3,540-square-foot home has 4-bedrooms in the main house, with walls of glass facing the beach. The 2-bedroom guest house also has amazing ocean views. There’s also a lap pool, exercise room and yoga studio.
The historic landmark once owned by Michael Jackson is also located within Santa Barbara County. The King of Pop lived in the magical paradise getaway in the Santa Ynez mountains for more than 20 years. Named after the fantasy island in the story of Peter Pan, the ranch was fully staffed when Michael and his family lived there. It even had its own theme park and a mini-zoo that housed two tigers, four giraffes and three chimpanzees. To this day, there are still several barns on the property, and a petting zoo with goats.
In 2009, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., an American private equity real estate investor, purchased this historic landmark in his conquest for distressed celebrity properties. The property hit the market again in 2015 for $100 million.
CELEBRITY WORTHY HOMES FOR SALE
This is where European and Montecito influences meet. The 5-bedroom, 6.5-bathroom home was built in 1918 in Montecito’s elite “Golden Quadrangle.” Combining provenance, impeccable care, skillful renovation, and tasteful updating, the Somerset estate stands ready to welcome its new celebrity owner. From 1939 to the 1960s, the home’s owner, Henrik Westen, commissioned iconic architect Lutah Maria Riggs to design and oversee several alterations and additions. Landscaping of the approximately 1.6-acre grounds is believed to be attributed to prominent landscape architect Lockwood de Forest. Today, the home is an example of superior 21st-century workmanship and conveniences while honoring early 20th-century charm and class.
This estate’s main residence, built in 1947, has undergone a major renovation and the grounds have received significant upgrades. The estate rests on more than 4 acres, which are a fitting stage for this nearly 11,000 sq. ft. home and its separate guest studio, cabaña, multiple garages, storage barn, pool, tennis court and beautiful landscaping. There are stunning views of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Very private, secure and seemingly far from the madding crowd, the estate is just minutes from Montecito’s charming Upper Village.
The pièce de résistance of architect James Morris’s esteemed portfolio, this homage to modernism is a Montecito jewel. Towering palms, meticulously trimmed hedges, lush gardens, splashing fountains and a cobalt pool embellish the grounds. Inside the residence there is polished marble and great expanses of glass. Sunrise to sunset ocean vistas captivate from nearly every room and area of the property.
Other Celebrity Homes for Sale
There are many other celebrity-worthy homes for sale in Montecito, Hope Ranch and other upscale communities in and around Santa Barbara. Call luxury agent Cristal Clarke at +1 (805) 886-9378 or email her at Cristal@montecito-estate.com.