I first visited Santa Barbara in 2012 after winning the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Germany. The prize included a Porsche 911 and I realised I wouldn’t be doing justice to the vehicle – or myself – if I only drove it on Los Angeles’ gridlocked highways. I asked my friends for the best drive in southern California: they unanimously told me to take the 101 to Santa Barbara.
I spent the weekend there and was immediately attracted to the indoor-outdoor living. I was born in Russia, but I love sunshine and have always gravitated towards environments where you can barbecue for 10 months of the year. I kept returning, spending increasingly longer amounts of time in the area. Then my fiancé, Alexander, and I fell in love with a small cottage near Montecito. Santa Barbara County is a good contrast to life in LA, where much of my work is, and there’s a great community. It felt natural for us to buy a home here.
What I love about Santa Barbara are all the little pockets: Ojai is a small city to the east, while Santa Ynez is about 30 minutes north-west. On our way to Santa Ynez we’ll stop off at Cold Spring Tavern for a drink. There are always lots of motorcycles parked outside and live music playing. It’s rough and rustic, but that’s the vibe – it sets the tone of a road trip.
Another place worth stopping is Summerland, a community about six miles from the city. The strip of design and antique shops is perfect for finding old and new pieces. Recently I was renovating the garden and found some nice pots and tables at The Well.
There are many beautiful vineyards in the area, and we’ve come to love The Hilt in Lompoc. They recently built a gorgeous tasting room, where they serve their own wines as well as from their sister winery Jonata. Over the holidays we took some family on a vineyard tour and I bought a few bottles of Hilt’s delicious rosé. They brought back some lovely memories when we opened them.
There are also several bars in the Funk Zone, an up-and-coming neighbourhood near the city’s waterfront. Pickle Room Bar feels like you’ve been transported to another world. They have red booths and it’s a really fun environment. For a date night nearby, Alexander and I head to Aperitivo, a super-small Italian restaurant with eight tables. The menu – two pastas and one salad – is written on a board and changes every few days. They also do a really good lemon sorbet, served Italian-style in a scooped-out lemon.
Even European family and friends say Santa Barbara’s Farmers Market is one of the best they’ve ever been to. I buy pink oyster mushrooms when my mom is in town because I find cleaning them such a vigorous process. I’m always afraid I won’t do it properly, so we do it together. And if strawberries are in season, I’ll go to Harry’s Berries stall – they’re not cheap, but they’re tasty. Then it’s around the corner to Danish-inspired Oat Bakery, which sells amazing focaccia bread with olives and rosemary. If we have people over, I’ll go on to the Cheese Shop.
I rarely go to the gym when I’m in Santa Barbara, but sometimes I’ll put on a weighted vest and work out near the water. As a family we like walking around the strand at Carpinteria Beach, ending up at Little Dom’s, where I indulge in its squid-ink pappardelle with shrimp and uni-butter scampi and mollica.
People go to Santa Barbara for the weather, environment and outdoor lifestyle – I very much take advantage of all three when I’m here. I’m at my happiest when I’m able to roam around in nature. It’s also where I can take a book and read for an hour. With an 18-month-old, it’s not as easy, but it’s still where I go to completely decompress.
As Global Wellness Ambassador for Aman, Maria Sharapova has co-created a series of wellness retreats. The first will be held at Amanpuri, Phuket, in February 2024, where Sharapova will personally mentor participants, aman.com