Vacation home sales spiked from January to April 2021, rising by 16.4%—more than 10% higher than the growth of existing home sales during the same period, according to the 2021 Vacation Home Counties Report. Sales have continued to soar, however, and Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist expects the trend to continue. “Vacation homes are a hot commodity at the moment,” he said in a statement. “With many businesses and employers still extending an option to work remotely to workers, vacation housing and second homes will remain a popular choice among buyers.”
We’re looking at four popular locations for vacation homes and taking you beyond the tourist traps to provide a peek into what local living could be like in your dream spot.
Santa Barbara, California
Known for its laidback, coastal casual ambiance, Santa Barbara packs a lot of high-end appeal into its 42 square miles.
Where to eat: What’s better at The Lark: the cuisine, the wine, or the ambiance? It’s a toss-up at this Michelin-starred spot. Make a dinner reservation in advance and ask for a table on the covered patio, where you can enjoy a view of the starry sky with your family-style, Central Coast fare. After dinner, (and lunch, for that matter), grab a scoop of Garrison Bros. Whiskey & Pecan Pralines or Eureka Lemon & Marionberries from McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, which TIME calls “The best ice cream in the world, as anyone who has tried it will argue.”
What to see: Thousands of Monarch butterflies visit the historic Ellwood Mesa Monarch Preserve in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara, every year during their migration. This Eucalyptus grove is a 137-acre coastal bluff that also attracts hikers, artists, and wildlife lovers. Other must-dos: Watch—or play in—a polo match at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club and explore the 40 wineries of the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail.
Where to stay: While you’re figuring out where you want to purchase, spend some time at the five-star El Encanto. The seven-acre property, opened in 1918, is the epitome of relaxed yet elegant Santa Barbara life and boasts spectacular views of the ocean from its hillside perch.
What to buy: Located in Montecito’s highly desirable, guard-gated Sea Meadow community, this gorgeous home offers all the amenities you’d want in a vacation getaway, including a gourmet kitchen, large living room with fireplace, and a main-level guest suite. Outside, the grounds feature a resort pool, lush landscaping, and an entertainment patio, with private, shared beach access. It’s listed for $8,750,000 by Dana Zertuche and Lori Bowles of Coldwell Banker Realty.
Best time to visit: Anytime! The average high in Santa Barbara doesn’t dip below 65 degrees all year. But if you want to time a visit to the monarch migration, schedule a trip from mid-October to mid-February.
Pisa has so much more to offer than the Leaning Tower.
Where to eat: Want to eat like a local? Ask a Pisano for a recommendation and you’re bound to hear, “Ristorante Osteria L’Artilafo.” Tucked away from the main tourist area, it’s a bit hard to find (Look for the side door and don’t be deterred if it’s locked—just ring the bell.). Inside, don’t let the cozy atmosphere fool you: The food is first class, with seasonal Italian fare you’ll return for again and again.
What to see: You’ll obviously need to take first-time visitors to the aforementioned Tower; It is one of the most popular attractions in Italy, after all. But what will you do the rest of the time? Spend the day at the lovely Orto Botanico di Pisa (Botanical Garden of Pisa), the first university botanical garden in the world. Stroll under the magical canopy of trees at the park of San Rossore. Head to Piazza dei Cavalieri on the second Sunday of the month, when the daily market welcomes antique stalls. In Pisa, you’re also just 55 miles from Florence, where more Italian wonder awaits.
Where to stay: Palazzo Cini is a luxury Bed & Breakfast set in a late 19th-century Art Nouveau villa close to Corso Italia, Pisa’s main shopping street. Featured are gardens of jasmine, bananas, and orange trees and an art gallery with works by Chagall.
What to buy: Fulfill your “Under the Tuscan Sun” fantasies in this 12th-century castle in the countryside of Pisa. Constructed as a fortified monastery and owned by the archbishopric until the end of the 17th century, the castle is ensconced in cypress and olive trees and surrounded by vast parkland. The main villa has been lovingly restored over the years and features grand entertaining spaces, expansive frescoed halls and works of art, and several additional structures to accommodate guests and staff.
It’s listed for sale for $5,884,521 by Alessandro Tognetti of Coldwell Banker Forte dei Marmi.
Best time to visit: In Pisa, you’ll want to make sure you’re in town in June. Three important (and very popular) celebrations take place during this month: the Luminara, when the banks of the Arno are lined with candles, illuminating the city, on June 16; the Regatta Parade, a race along the Arno celebrating the city’s nautical history, on June 17; and the Battle of the Bridge, a true spectacle/cherished tradition, the last Saturday in June.
New York City, New York
If you feel the pull to NYC, you’re not alone. One of the most popular vacation areas in the world is also one of the most in-demand real estate spots.
What to eat: You can eat your way through three tantalizing meals a day during a month-long trip to New York and never double dip. But if we had time for just one meal, you’d find us at the two-Michelin-starred Momofuku Ko. It’s notoriously small and often hard to get a reservation, so bring your patience—and your appetite. In the main dining room, the 10-course Asian tasting menu spans three delicious hours. If you can’t get in, or during those times when you’re craving some genuine New York pizza, head to NY Pizza Suprema, offering arguably the best slice in the city.
What to see: You already know about the many monuments and must-see tourist spots throughout the city, but there’s plenty to see and do in NYC you might not be familiar with. A few of our favorites are ARTECHOUSE for unique experiential art and The Elevated Acre, a serene acre of view-rich green space between Lower Manhattan skyscrapers near Pier 11 and Wall Street.
Where to stay: You can take your pick of plush, swanky, and funky hotels in New York City, but The Mark, well, hits the mark. Between the history of this 1927 hotel, its glamorous setting on Madison Avenue, the posh décor and classic architecture, and the on-site Jean-Georges restaurant, there isn’t one inch of this place that isn’t awe-inspiring. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s one block from Central Park.
What to buy: A Pied-à-terre in the city generally comes with a mansion-size price tag. But this particular penthouse also comes with an incredible Fifth Avenue location and spectacular views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. The well-designed interior space includes a renovated kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances and a great room with 10-foot ceilings and a wood-burning fireplace. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors lead out to a wraparound view terrace that spans the length of the building, revealing more than 85 feet of frontage along the park. It’s listed for $7,995,000 by Jane R. Andrews and John Cronin of Coldwell Banker Warburg.
Best time to visit: It’s frigid in the winter and muggy in summer, but that does little to deter visitors. If you can time a visit to fall and catch the changing of the leaves, by all means, do so.
Looking for the perfect ski locale? Durango has the slopes and a style all its own.
Where to eat: Eolus Bar & Dining is a well-loved fine-dining spot in Historic Downtown Durango featuring everything from lobster corn dogs to prime rib “two ways.” When the weather allows, grab a table on the heated rooftop patio.
What to see: People often come to Durango to ski Purgatory. But the city isn’t just a cold-weather mecca. Here, you can enjoy everything from horseback riding to whitewater rafting to rock climbing. Off-season, mountain bikers flock to Purgatory Bike Park to ride the 400+ miles of backcountry trails.
Stay: Molinillos Mountain Resort will give you great access to the slopes and the city. But while you’re in southern Colorado, check out Dunton Hot Springs. Here, you’ll stay in a restored, hand-built log cabin with breathtaking views of the mountains—all of which were constructed around a saloon and dance hall. The springs are calcium bicarbonate, said to aid in circulation and promote healthy skin.
Buy: Now that you’re primed for the log cabin experience, it’s time to purchase one. This custom log estate offers premium mountain living with four and one-half acres on a peninsula in the private, gated community of Two Dogs, close to Purgatory and minutes from Historic Downtown Durango. The craftsmanship is as exquisite as the nature views are dramatic. Features include an elevator, home gym, wine cellar and card room, wet bar and billiards room, private study/home office, and an expansive guest wing. It’s listed for $6,795,000 by Lindsay Lubrant of Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties.
Best time to visit: If you’re skiing, be prepared for temps that can get down to -15 in the winter. Summers are warm and sunny, with highs reaching the low 80s.