One of the wealthiest zip codes in the nation, Montecito is a jewel in California’s coastal crown. With scenery reminiscent of Italy’s Mediterranean villages, this unincorporated community in Santa Barbara County is rich in history, beauty and much-sought-after privacy. Gorgeous oaks screen stately residences, many with breathtaking views into the majestic green hills and across the Pacific. Just over nine square miles in size, with a population of about nine thousand (2010), the small city’s residents enjoy a median household income of $124,844 (2013), more than twice the California median. Calling Montecito home are numerous celebrities, most famously Oprah Winfrey, Drew Barrymore and Jeff Bridges. Nearby Santa Barbara, disguised as “Santa Teresa,” will be easily recognizable to fans of Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, the author making her home in Montecito. But more than star-spangled neighbors, it is the small-town feeling that most attracts people to this community known for its mild weather, scenic nearby wineries, art galleries and memorable gardens.
The traditional home of the Chumash Indians for more than 10,000 years, and a 19th-century hideaway for robbers and bandits, the area now known as Montecito was later settled by Italians, who found the
hillsides reminiscent of home and cultivated gardens and groves, and by affluent tourists drawn to the region’s beachside beauty.
Among Montecito’s landmarks is Lotusland, the 37-acre historical estate and botanic gardens of Madame Ganna Walska, who spent more than 40 years amassing unique collections and commissioning innovative garden designs for more than 3,000 plants from all over the world.
In the early 20th century, before Hollywood was fully established as the heart of the entertainment industry, the Santa Barbara coast was already home to the stars. Charlie Chaplin loved the area so much that he built the Montecito Inn, on Coast Village Road, as an upscale getaway. The “inn that Charlie built” is still in operation.