Santa Barbara Know-It-All
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Monday, May 21, 2018
By Michael Cervin
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Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel about travel writing with Michael Cervin. This esteemed author from Santa Barbara, California has authored five travel books on his hometown alone. Beyond that, he's the former restaurant critic/travel writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press and has written for just about anything Santa Barbara-centric. The point I'm trying to make... Michael knows the American Riviera like the back of his hand.

Recently, Michael alerted me that his latest book, Santa Barbara Know-It-All: A Guide to Everything That Matters (Reedy Press) was hitting bookshelves. A brief synopsis: This "idiosyncratic" book is unique in its approach in revealing Santa Barbara's hidden gems and undiscovered wonders, from the best places to picnic, hike, booze, shop, etc. Cervin has vetted everything in the book, including hotels, restaurants and SCUBA diving expeditions."

With Change Your Life Travels readers in mind, I decided to ask a few questions I suspected you'd be bursting to ask. Without further ado, the inimitable Michael Cervin answers your queries before you've even thought to have them. You're welcome. -- Bekah


CYLT: Though you're a long time Santa Barbarian (my weak attempt at humor), what are a few things that have surprised you recently about SB?

Michael Cervin: Given our recent floods and fires (I was evacuated from the fires in December), I’ve seen a great sense of friendship and care for others in our community, neighbors helping neighbors, people support fundraisers for businesses and volunteerism. I don’t mean that to sound like it should be surprising, but when you see your community at work in the midst of tragedy, it re-ignites your faith in people.

CYLT: Being an expert on wine and spirits, what would you recommend pairing with a read of Santa Barbara Know-It-All?

Michael Cervin: Wine-wise I’d say a 2015 Millennial Pinot Noir. Not only is it an excellent example of Pinot from our county (grown by Babcock Winery & Vineyards), but my book has a focus on a younger generation, ya know, with all the smart ass witty comments, and non-traditional approach to a travel book. Maybe a Viognier since, it too, is out of a norm.

CYLT: Love this picture of you at the Frog Shrine. Which makes me wonder... Have you ever purchased something in the Funk Zone, what was it and is there a story behind it?

Michael Cervin: So, there was this painting I saw. Not unlike my book, it was very non-traditional. A beautiful painting of a skeleton, looking upwards, displaying a graceful nobility. It struck me as being a universal image; we are all of noble descent, yet we are all human and death works silently around us. It hangs on my wall near my dining room table.

CYLT: What's the best way for visitors to fly under the radar when visiting the American Riviera?

Michael Cervin: We’re a causal place. I remember when I got married on a grassy knoll at the beach, some guests were in suits and ties, other in flip flops and shorts. You really can wear what you like and fit in. How to act? Hum, well, just don’t be a jerk and I think you’ll be okay. We’re a pretty tolerant people because if we don’t like you, we’ll head off to a  secret beach.

CYLT: What's a Santa Barbara "best" that didn't make it into the book?

My favorites all made the list, but as with any book, new openings happen after the book has been sent to the publisher. So I would have included Taco Tuyo - made from scratch traditional Mexican food, that’s all plant-based, like jackfruit nachos, and tortillas made from garbanzo beans.

CYLT: As a tease for one of your upcoming books -- name one person buried in SB that's truly fascinating.

Michael Cervin: There are a ton of local notables buried in the cemetery, including a few from the Jonestown tragedy, but really off the beaten path is Princess Shams Pahlavi who was the sister to the Shah of Iran who was deposed in 1979. She lived the high life in Beverly Hills until the Iranian leadership at the time called for her head. So, she skedaddled quietly to Santa Barbara where she lived (nonetheless extravagantly) working for animal protection and president of the Red Lion and Sun Society – a humanitarian and human rights group, until her death in 1996.

Want to learn more about Santa Barbara via Michael Cervin's perspective? Pick up a copy of Santa Barbara Know-It-All: A Guide to Everything That Matters (Reedy Press: Phone 314-833-6600 or email for more information.

Many thanks for all of the photos in this post, which are from Michael Cervin's personal collection.

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