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TOURIST ATTRACTION

Franceschi Park
updated: Sep 04, 2010, 9:30 AM

By the Dedicated Staff

If you stumbled on Franceschi Park without any prior knowledge of the place, it would be hard to get a sense of the story from rambling around on its walking paths and admiring the scenic vistas of the city of Santa Barbara below.

You'd probably notice the dilapidated old house, which looks like it has hundreds of stories to tell, but might miss the sandstone sculpture overlooking the city, a bust of the park's namesake, who has the best view of all.

The heart of Santa Barbara's Riviera, Franceschi Park is named for Francesco Franceschi, noted Italian horticulturist, who brought plants from around the world and grew them in Santa Barbara. He built the house in 1904. Its second owner, Alden Freemen, gave it to the city of Santa Barbara in 1931. Get more details on the property history here

There are some plans to fix up the house and make it usable again, but so far nothing has been done. An interesting read about that situation from garden columnist Billy Goodnick is here

Here are our top five reasons to visit Franceschi Park.

Great place to read a book. Santa Barbara has many beautiful parks perfect for relaxing, picnicking and reading, but Franceschi is a lovely spot to enjoy a good read, because it is so quiet. Far from the busy downtown city streets, which you can see far below from numerous scenic vistas, and you won't hear many cars. Birds chirp and a neighboring backyard waterfall makes a pleasant splash. Neighbors might pass through with dogs, and some people just park in the lot at the top and enjoy the view.

To take a walk. The 15-acre park property is crisscrossed by trails, some maintained and evident, others a little more rustic and rocky. From the parking lot, be sure to walk both east and west to get a complete view of the property. If you're looking for a longer excursion, there are numerous residential roads around the park that connect with each other and make for a lovely outing. To stay off the street, cross Mission Ridge below the park property and walk down into Orpet Park, another hidden Riviera jewel.

To see another side of Santa Barbara. Getting to the park will take you through a beautiful residential neighborhood with a stateliness and wealth that is unlike what you'd find in Hope Ranch or Montecito. Rather than being hidden behind high gates and big bushes, the houses on Mission Ridge and other roads above Alameda Padre Serra are close to the street and often unobstructed in front so their windows can catch the ocean view. It's hard to visit this area without wanting to live there, and Mr. Franceschi built his house with perhaps the best view of all.

To check out the old house. Mr. Freeman added bizarre accents and crests in concrete to the property after he purchased it. Their logic is not entirely clear, but they're very interesting to look at. Most honor famous people and historically significant events and places (the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Franklin Mansion in Perth Amboy, NJ, and William Penn are just a random sampling). A handful of the crests look like commemorative quarters. If Nancy Drew was here, she'd solve "The Mystery of Franceschi's House", and find out they were all clues to a long-unsolved crime. When the City does restore the house, it would be great to have a better explanation for visitors about their origins and meanings.

For the views. Yes, we know we've mentioned them several times already. They're just that great. Last year Marco headed up to the park to try to photograph the heralded green flash over the ocean at sunset. (See his effort here Whether the city is fogged in and you feel like you're on an island above a white puffy sea, or things are bright blazing blue with specks of red tiled roofs, you get a great sense of Santa Barbara's overall layout from up here. It's like looking down on a little toy town from a protected mountain castle. Even for those of us lucky enough to live here, they'll make you stop and catch your breath time and again.

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