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I visited Montecito, the Santa Barbara town that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry now call home.
There were many things about Montecito that surprised me, including that it was pretty tiny.
All the residents I spoke to were unfazed by the famous faces they see almost every day in town.
I recently spent the night in Montecito, the Santa Barbara town that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry now call home.
Markle and Harry — who moved to Montecito from Los Angeles in July 2020 — are hardly the first stars to be swayed by the idyllic California coastal town. Montecito has become a celebrity playground in recent years, with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, and Ellen DeGeneres all buying homes in the area.
But it's the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who've put Montecito in the spotlight, especially after fellow famous resident Rob Lowe claimed that they had changed his "sleepy little town."
"Once the royals move into your neighborhood, the neighborhood is never going to be the same," he told E! News. "The good news is property values go up. The bad news is the lines are longer at Starbucks."
Intrigued by the vision of a small coastal town filled with Hollywood stars, I decided to take a quick trip to Montecito and see what it was really like. And there were plenty of surprises.
Montecito is definitely smaller than I expected, and the beach isn't visible from the main stretch of town.
Unlike downtown Santa Barbara, which is flanked with gorgeous views of the Pacific, the main hub of Montecito is really just a long road with restaurants, cafés, and boutiques dotting both sides.
I had imagined that Montecito would be a typical coastal town, with the sound of the sea in the air and the taste of salt in the wind. But I couldn't even see the water as I walked around.
But I was surprised to find that the beach could be accessed through a tunnel under a freeway overpass.
When I typed in Montecito's Butterfly Beach on my Google Maps, I was led to a busy freeway and a small sign that said "Beach Access."
I walked through a tunnel painted in bright blues and yellows, which took me into a residential area where the houses became progressively nicer as I inched closer to the beach.
The short trek reminded me a bit of the coastal walks I used to take while living in Sydney, many of which led me through neighborhoods filled with gorgeous beach homes as I made my way to Manly or Balmoral.
I spent the night at the Montecito Inn, which was the cheapest option in the neighborhood - but not as luxe as I expected for the price I paid.
Rooms at the only other two hotels in Montecito — Rosewood Miramar Beach and San Ysidro Ranch — start at $1,000 per night, which made Montecito Inn's $305 price tag feel like a steal.
But I couldn't help but feel a little let down when I opened the door to my room. While the hotel's lobby and hallways are sleek and full of Old Hollywood charm, I found my room to be surprisingly muted. There was little decoration, with the bed taking up almost the entire space.
It definitely wasn't a bad place to sleep. But, at that cost, I was hoping for a little more luxury.
But I found plenty of glam at Jeannine's, where I was introduced to the concept of a mimosa bucket.
I checked out Jeannine's Bakery because some travel blogs had claimed it was one of Oprah's favorite places in Montecito. But I was surprised to find that it would introduce me to my new favorite brunch concept — the mimosa bucket.
I ordered a $12 mimosa after seeing a wall of champagne inside the bakery — clearly, bubbly was one of Jeannine's specialties. But I was shocked when, instead of a sole flute, a waiter dropped off an entire bucket for my enjoyment.
The metallic gold bucket included a miniature twist-off bottle of Chandon, orange juice, a flute, and plenty of ice.
Meanwhile, Lucky's Steakhouse - Montecito's most famous restaurant - was surprisingly low-key.
I first heard about Lucky's when Prince Harry and Markle went to the restaurant for a double date with Katherine McPhee and David Foster in October 2020.
It's one of the only places in Montecito where the royals have actually been spotted in the last year, so I figured it must be pretty swank.
But Lucky's, much like the town itself, is all about laid-back and subtle charm. Yes, there's a $5,000 Sauternes tucked away in the wine menu, but there's also a $32 bottle of Prosecco. And you won't find flashy lights or decorations. The restaurant is decorated in a chic combination of black and beige, with an understated outdoor dining area and towering palm trees.
And while all of Lucky's food was absolutely delicious, I was shocked that the most memorable thing I ate was actually its knockout steak sauce.
I've been lucky to visit a number of great steakhouses on the job, but I couldn't tell you a thing about the steak sauce I tried back when I went to Peter Luger in Brooklyn or BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood.
But I have no doubt that I'll be thinking of Lucky's steak sauce for years to come. The peppercorn-flavored sauce was thicker than I expected, and it had a unique kick that really gave the dish something extra special.
"I want to eat all my steaks with it forever," I wrote in my notes after my first bite.
In fact, every meal I had in Montecito was absolutely delicious - making it a surprising culinary destination.
From the Eggs Florentine at Jeannine's Bakery to the avocado tartine at Bree'osh, everything I ate in Montecito was a slam dunk.
The dining was actually one of my favorite aspects of the town, and one of the main reasons why I hope to return again with some family or friends in tow.
But overall, Montecito felt a lot like any other affluent California suburb to me. I didn't see any celebrities - or even any paparazzi.
I spent a lot of my day talking to people who worked in Montecito, and they all told me that celebrity sightings were a weekly occurrence. Every single person mentioned seeing Ellen DeGeneres and Jane Lynch frequently, while some had spotted Katy Perry, Chrissy Teigen, and John Legend. And none of them were fazed by the famous faces.
"There's like an unspoken rule, we treat them like everyone else," one of the boutique workers told me. "It's really nice."
And everyone I talked to said that nothing had changed in Montecito since Markle and Harry moved in.
Almost every person I spoke to, save for one of the waiters at Lucky's, hadn't even seen the Duke or Duchess of Sussex in town. One of the boutique workers told me that, even with its newfound fame, she still considers Montecito to be a "hidden gem" in Santa Barbara.
As for that waiter from Lucky's, he told me that Markle and Prince Harry "were totally normal," even pointing to the table they sat at in the outdoor area during their double date.
Even the workers at Starbucks denied Rob Lowe's claims that Markle and Harry had brought longer lines.
The baristas confirmed to me that there had been longer lines recently. But they said it had nothing to do with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
"Because of COVID, there's a lot of mobile orders," one of the workers explained. "So the lines to pick up have been longer."
When I mentioned that it was Lowe who said the royals were to blame for the longer lines, the barista simply replied, "I've never seen Rob Lowe."
Montecito wasn't as flashy as I expected, but I did eavesdrop on some very entertaining conversations.
While walking through town that day, I passed a group of women sipping chilled glasses of white wine on a restaurant's terrace as one of them happily exclaimed, "My boat comes on Friday!"
Mere minutes later, I strolled past what appeared to be a mother and daughter discussing someone they knew who "bought four cars and crashed them."
"They're all like $60,000," the younger woman said. "He doesn't care."
And that night, a group of friends seated next to me — the most dressed-up customers in Lucky's outdoor dining area — discussed, at length, buying bongos so they could have a "jam session" together.
The people-watching in Montecito, I realized, was top-notch.
While I was happily surprised by Montecito's incredible food and lovely beach, I still think it's better for a day trip.
If you're traveling on a budget, Montecito's accommodation options just aren't worth the price. I'd recommend getting a room in downtown Santa Barbara, giving you even greater access to the area's nightlife and beach.
But if you're looking for a lovely day with some good food and shopping, it's definitely worth putting Montecito on your itinerary.
Read the original article on Insider