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Catholic Travel Guide for Things to Do in Santa Barbara

St. Barbara, whose feast day is December 4, is a 3rd Century saint, who refused to marry despite her father’s insistence. The legend goes that when she told him she was a Christian, he had her tortured and then beheaded her himself. Many miracles were said to have occurred during her tortures.

Santa Barbara is named after this miraculous saint, and the city is a beautiful honor to such a glorious martyr.

Here are some of my favorite things to do in Santa Barbara, a gorgeous Southern California city by the sea.

6 Things to Do in Santa Barbara

Catholic Travel Guide to Santa Barbara via @ACatholicNewbie

1. Old Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara

This is a Catholic must-see when visiting Santa Barbara. The Old Mission Santa Barbara was founded on the Feast of St. Barbara in 1786 to convert the local peoples and is still functioning today as a community of Franciscan friars, as well as a retreat center and full parish.

You can take a self-guided tour through the cemetery, mausoleum, garden and museum. Catholics will want to stop and pray in the church or even attend daily mass in the chapel. Also, be sure to stop in their fantastic store full of Catholic items.

2. Santa Barbara Harbor

Santa Barbara Harbor at sunset

We happened upon Santa Barbara Harbor right at sunset, which was truly one of the most beautiful displays I’ve ever seen. The sun, painting the sky pink, purple, orange and blue, contrasted by the Santa Ynez mountains and the vast Pacific with the silhouette of the Channel Islands in the distance, was breathtaking. How can you not believe in God when you see such natural beauty?!

3. Spanish Architecture

Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Credits: Jay Sinclair

The Spanish architecture in Santa Barbara is amazing. Everywhere you turn is a beautiful building with red tiles galore. A great way to get a good overview is the fun Red Tile Walking Tour, which includes 17 stops downtown, including the famous County Courthouse. Head to the top of the courthouse for a fantastic view!

I also adored the many “paseos” as you walk down State Street, the main thoroughfare. The paseos are beautifully-landscaped outdoor plazas that wind, twist and turn and are full of shops and restaurants. Turn off the street into one of these and you’ll be surprised what there is to find hidden beyond the surface.

4. Hiking

Santa Barbara hiking

There’s plenty of hiking around Santa Barbara, but we choose a short one-mile hike to Knapp’s Castle, the ruins of an estate that burned 70 years ago. Apparently, you can no longer go to the castle itself, as the owner is rebuilding, but you can still enjoy the hike, which offers fantastic views of the Santa Ynez River Canyon.

5. The Simpson House Inn

Simpson House Inn Santa Barbara

We stayed at the most lovely little inn located near downtown Santa Barbara, but it felt like it was off in a country estate. The Simpson House Inn has a main house and several cottages for guests. We stayed upstairs in one of the cottages, which was absolutely charming.

They brought breakfast to us every morning for no additional charge, setting up a lovely table with beautiful tableware. We loved the sitting room, overhead beams and farmhouse feel.

6. Urban Wine Trail Wine Tasting

Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail

Credit Jay Sinclair

I thoroughly enjoy wine, but didn’t know much about it besides what I liked :). We enjoyed a wine tasting at Cottonwood Canyon along Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail, a series of wineries in the the hip downtown district.

Our host was super nice and great about explaining the intricacies of wine tasting to us newbies. My favorite? The Pinot Noir! Magnifique!

The Miraculous Medal

The Miraculous Medal I wear around my neck inevitably results in conversations about Catholicism, which I love. So I was so pleased that one of the staff members at the Simpson House Inn complimented my medal and wanted to know more about it. She was not Catholic, but was participating with a Catholic Marian group of some sort. I was able to direct her where to get a medal of her own. Trip bonus!

To read more of my best travel adventures, head over to my travel blog at Here is another post on our California trip highlights.

Here are more things to do in Santa Barbara over on

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Prayers at St. John the Evangelist Church Indianapolis for My Readers

As a thank you to all my wonderful readers, I just wanted to let you know I lit a candle and prayed for you in front of the image of Divine Mercy and statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in beautiful St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis yesterday.

If you are ever visiting Indianapolis, stop by this lovely church in the heart of downtown directly across from the Convention Center. This is a vibrant parish with many different activities in which to get involved. It has weekday mass at 12:10 p.m. with weekday confessions from 11 a.m.-Noon. Every now and then, I enjoy heading out of my suburban Indianapolis town to visit downtown Indy for confession followed by mass.

St. John the Evangelist Church Indianapolis


Sacred Heart of Jesus statue

Sacred Heart of Jesus statue


Image of Divine Mercy

Image of Divine Mercy


Nativity Scene, St. John the Evangelist

Nativity Scene, St. John the Evangelist

Meeting Mary in the Mediterranean

Our Lady of Ta Pinu | Gozo | Marian Shrine


Before my Catholic conversion began, there were several stand-out moments where I felt drawn to the faith. There were other moments, which at the time I did not recognize, but in which I now see God’s providence working!

I had a light bulb moment yesterday when writing a travel article about a beautiful Mediterranean island called Gozo I was blessed enough to visit for my work back in 2006. I was not remotely interested in Catholicism at that time; however, this island, which is next to Malta in the Mediterranean, is very Catholic and filled from end to end with gorgeous Catholic churches.

We visited one in particular called Ta’ Pinu Basilica. At the time, I just remember going in the church and feeling an amazing sense of peace. I would describe it as the same peace I felt when I first went to mass of my own accord. I really have thought nothing of it since until I was writing this new article and went back to look at my notes.

Gozo Catholic Church, Basilica of Ta Pinu

Turns out, this church is a Shrine to Mary and is built where two villagers said they heard the voice of Our Lady. Many miracles are said to have happened to people who visited and prayed there. Here is the story, according to the shrine’s website:

On the 22nd June 1883, Karmela Grima a forty-five year-old spinster and great devotee of the Blessed Virgin, heard a call, while passing by the chapel on her return home from the fields which surrounded the chapel. “Come, come”, she heard a woman’s voice say. She was confused and frightened, and began to run away from the place. The voice called again, and this time Karmela realised that the voice was coming from within the chapel, she went inside and said her usual prayers. The voice which had come from the image of the Blessed Virgin asked her to recite three Ave Maria in honour of the three days Her body remained in the tomb before Assumption to Heaven.

Karmela did as the voice asked and went on her way. Shortly afterwards Karmela fell ill and remained confined to her bed for more than a year. After this time, Karmela revealed her secret to a friend, Francesco Portelli, who in turn told her that about the same time he also heard a woman’s voice asking him to pray from within the chapel. Shortly after this mysterious call Francesco’s mother was miraculously healed by the intercession of Our Lady of Ta` Pinu. The lonely chapel became a place of pilgrimage for many people on the island and beyond.

St. Pope John Paul II even visited the shrine in 1990, praying in the Chapel, celebrating mass and decorating an image of Our Lady with five golden stars. Pope Benedict XVI also mentioned Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu on a visit to Malta in 2010. I am convinced this is a VERY special place that I had no idea of at the time. I walked where St. Pope John Paul II prayed and celebrated mass!

Ta Pinu - Gozo Church

So it left me to wonder yesterday if perhaps some heavenly grace and prayers from our Mother Mary and St. Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, were granted me upon that visit. It truly was not long thereafter, perhaps not even a year, that I began to feel that calling to go to the Catholic Church.

Ta Pinu Church Gozo Basilica

Mother Mary, you are amazing and I thank you for your blessings! St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us!

Our Lady of Ta Pinu Gozo, Marian Shrine

The Preserved Head of John the Baptist, the Scourging Column of Christ & More Curiosities of Rome

Rome curiosities for CatholicsWith the canonizations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII upon us, I have been learning a lot about Rome. Recently I wrote an article for that looked at some of the most interesting of the 900 churches in Rome. I interviewed several Catholic folks who travel to Rome frequently, including Teresa Tomeo, Steve Ray and Ken Nowell, author of the new Rome guidebook “Rome and the Vatican Guide 4 Pilgrims,” about their favorite Rome churches.

As a Catholic Newbie, I learn something (OK, maybe a BUNCH of things) everyday about our faith, but one thing that’s truly surprised me is the abundance of amazing relics in both Rome and the Holy Land. My jaw almost dropped when I read that at St. Sylvester at the Head church, you can see what is believed to be the preserved head of John the Baptist as verified by Pope Benedict XVI. That is truly amazing to me! I had no idea and even in talking with fellow longtime Catholics, many did not realize that either.

Says Steve Ray, aka Jerusalem Jones, who leads pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land every year, about relics, “We Catholics are a morbid bunch. I like it that we have these unique things and we honor those who have gone before us. It’s our hall of fame; we aspire to be like them.” Ray says he’s experienced several miracles he attributes to veneration of relics.

Rome Catholic Churches

Credit: Kenneth Nowell

Here are some of the more interesting Roman curiosities I came across in writing my article that I thought would be of interest to both new and longstanding Catholics alike:

  • At St. Prassede, see what is believed to be a portion of the scourging column of Jesus Christ.
  • St. Stephen’s in the Round is a church dedicated to Christian martyrs. You’ll find gruesome paintings throughout of the atrocities Christians have faced over time. While it’s not the best place for kids, Ray says strangely it’s a popular spot for weddings.
  • See the remains of St. Paul and the chains that imprisoned him in his final days at St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, one of the four major papal basilicas.
  • St. Cecilia in Trastevere is built over the preserved 200 A.D. home of the young martyr St. Cecilia.
  • See three layers of Roman history at St. Clemente where the modern church is built over a 4th century church, which is built over a 1st century pagan temple. The current ground level is 60 feet above the 1st century level.  “San Clemente demonstrates that Rome was built, layer upon layer, in search of God,” says Nowell.
  • trompe l’oeil ceiling painting at St. Ignatius of Loyola tricks the eye into believing there is a dome when there isn’t one. According to Sean Finelli, co-founder of The Roman Guy tour company, it’s commonly described as the second most beautiful ceiling painting in Rome after the Sistine Chapel.
  • At St. Paul’s at the Three Fountains, there is the column upon which St. Paul was beheaded. It is said that his head bounced three times upon falling and at each spot a spring began to flow. You can see these fountains within the church.
  • Scala Santa or Holy Staircase is the home of the 28 marble stairs that led to Pontius Pilate’s praetorium, which Jesus would have climbed repeatedly during his trial and passion. Also on display at this church is the  porphyry slab upon which Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ tunic as foretold in the Psalms.

How amazing that such relics exist and that it is possible to see them. When I asked Nowell  more about the importance of relics to Catholics, he said, “There has been a long standing veneration of relics, dating back to the apostolic times. It’s not that we’re saying they have magical powers. These have power only because it’s in accordance with God’s will.”

Which relic would you most like to see? Do you believe in their healing powers?