The secluded hillside estates in Montecito, which lies 80 miles west of Los Angeles, between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains in California’s Santa Barbara County, are a paradise for Hollywood stars and the super rich who want to live in splendid isolation.
Chic, yet somewhat under the radar, the area has a mellow vibe, with sun-drenched tranquil beaches, a Mediterranean climate and a beautiful natural setting that draws comparisons with the South of France and Tuscany.
Montecito’s eight square miles have two parts: the Upper and Lower villages. Hot Springs Road lies on the western edge, the Pacific Ocean to the south, Ortega Ridge to the east and just beyond East Valley Road to the north. The coastline starts from Fernald’s Point in the east and ends at Butterfly Beach in the west.
Most properties in Santa Barbara cost between $2 million and $20 million, according to Cristal Clarke, of Montecito Sotheby’s International Realty.
“Occasionally a house will sell for over $20 million,” she said. “The most popular price bracket is $4 million to $10 million and buyers pay in excess of $5 million for a home with a sea view.”
The area north of East Valley Road and between Hot Springs Drive in the west and Buena Vista in the east is known as the Golden Quadrangle. This area, generally speaking, has some of the area’s most expensive real estate. Set into hillsides, many properties have panoramic views of the ocean and acres of land.
The market is quite buoyant but in specific price ranges, said Nigel Copley of Montecito Sotheby’s International Realty. “The most active market segment is under $5 million. Once you get over $10 million, the market is very soft,” he said, meaning that the market has more sellers than buyers.The pictured French country-style home with four bedrooms is currently listed for $5.995 million.
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Montecito has many charming white stucco homes in Spanish colonial/Mediterranean and Cape Dutch style. The former features red-tiled roofs and the latter is characterized by a central dormer gable.
Located by the beach and nestled in the hills, homes in Montecito are large and widely spaced, which create an open feel, and sit on large pieces of land. It has classic old estates, some older ranch-style homes, cottages and a few contemporary homes.
The most famous estate is Constantia, located on East Valley Road, in Montecito, was designed in the 1930s in plantation style, with a Cape Dutch-style house and a reflecting pool.
Some of the most beautiful homes are located in the hills above the coastline, according to agents. They feature panoramic views and come with acres of land, lots of living space, swimming pools, guest houses and other outbuildings.
What makes it unique
Home to Mediterranean-style architecture, beautiful scenery and year-round sunshine, Montecito is about as idyllic as you can get. But its location is the prime reason why it has become a second-home hotspot and a magnet for celebrities.
Montecito is a five-minute drive from the Santa Barbara’s main street, State Street, and Los Angeles is less than 90 minutes away by car.
Despite its celebrity credentials, the area has a low-key and understated ambience. Famous types are often spotted shopping and walking around the villages and nobody bats an eye.
It is relaxing and picturesque, with a cozy, small-town feel, old world charm and beautiful landscaping, Ms. Clarke said.
With easy access to the sea and mountains, it’s ideal for outdoorsy and sporty types, too. The Santa Ynez mountain range’s hiking trails, such as the Cold Spring trail, features cascades, creeks, forests and ocean views.
The area has two main shopping streets: Coast Village Road in the Lower Village of Montecito, which is located near the coast, and East Valley Road, in the Upper Village, which is a bigger road and has a large range of shops.
East Village Road’s food shop Village Cheese & Wine Shop, is a deli and sandwich shop, and Pierre Lafond Market & Deli has a bakery/deli with a patio, a gift and gourmet food shop. It also has a wine bistro, which serves dishes made with organic and free-range products.
San Ysidro Ranch, which lies at the foot of the Santa Ynez Mountains, is considered one of the country’s finest hotels. The 500-acre estate was the venue for the wedding of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier and the location of John and Jacqueline Kennedy’s honeymoon.
Yoga studios like Evolation Yoga, and bakeries, nail boutiques and coffee shops can be found on Coast Village Road.
It is also the location of Lucky’s Steakhouse, an upscale traditional steak house with a good selection of wines, and Trattoria Mollie, an Italian eatery that is said to be one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite restaurants (Ms. Winfrey lives in the area).
The 1930s-era Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club is a social club for the rich and famous. Located on Butterfly Beach, the private members club has oceanfront dining and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Michael Caulfield / Getty Images
The club is also open to guests of the nearby Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, a luxury beachfront hotel.
Top schools in Montecito include Laguna Blanca School, a private co-ed day school that offers education to students in grades kindergarten through to 12th grade, and the Montecito Union School District, a public elementary school, which runs from kindergarten to sixth grade.
It’s not short on highbrow culture. Nearby Santa Barbara has art galleries, museums and the historic Granada Theatre. The Santa Barbara Bowl is considered one of the best outdoor concert venues in California.
Who lives there?
“We have a lot of local clients either upsizing or downsizing locally, and in recent years we have seen an influx from the East Coast and Midwest as a result of harsh winters over the past couple of years,” Mr. Copley said. “There are a lot of buyers coming ahead of retirement making acquisitions now for four to five years from now to move here full time.”
Due to its proximity to L.A. and Hollywood, it is popular with people in the film and television industry such as screenwriters, producers and directors, as well as tech types based at California’s Silicon Valley, which is just under five hours away by car.
Mr. Copley added: “Primary homes make up the majority of the market, but we do have owners who have second and third homes here. Usually they buy as a second home and end up falling in love with the lifestyle here and move here permanently.”
Montecito is famous for its famous residents. Gwyneth Paltrow is reportedly building a house on two plots of land she bought last year. (However, her plans have upset a neighbor who claims that the property will block his view.)
Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus lives there part-time with her husband, Brad Hall. They have a home by the beach.
Ms. Winfrey is probably Montecito’s most famous resident. The media mogul owns a 42-acre estate, which she calls the Promised Land.
Jeff Bridges and his wife, Susan, recently sold their 20-acre estate for just over half of its original asking price two years ago. The compound, which sold for $15.93 million, included a vineyard, a Mediterranean-style mansion, guest house and a swimming pond.An interior view of Jeff Bridges’s former Montecito Home
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“Prices are moving sideways, with both median and average sales prices being almost identical to last year in Montecito, with Santa Barbara showing some slight gains,” Mr. Copley said. “Buyer demand is quite strong but inventory is limited, so this helps support prices.”
Prices are holding steady, Ms. Clarke confirmed. “Homes under $12 million are selling the best. We have noticed that people are spending money on their houses, presumably because they believe that the market is good.”
Mr. Copley added that renovated homes are in particular demand, and predicts that the trend will continue. “More buyers are looking for properties where they can move in and not have to deal with remodeling,” he said.
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