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Before you even begin calling around for reservations, keep in mind that Santa Barbara's accommodations are expensive -- especially in summer. Then decide whether you'd like to stay beachside (even more expensive) or downtown. Santa Barbara is small, but not small enough to happily stroll between the two areas.

The free one-stop reservations service Hot Spots (tel. 800/793-7666 or 805/564-1637; www.hotspotsusa.com) keeps an updated list of availability for about 90% of the area's hotels, motels, inns, and B&Bs. Reservationists are available Monday through Saturday from 9am to 9pm, and Sunday from 9am to 4pm.

Inexpensive -- All the best buys fill up fast in the summer months, so be sure to reserve your room -- even if you're just planning to stay at the reliable Motel 6, 443 Corona del Mar Dr. (www.motel6.com; tel. 800/466-8356 or 805/564-1392), near the beach.

The Ultimate Family Vacation, Santa Barbara-Style -- Now here's a family vacation idea you probably haven't thought of -- a week of sun, sports, and fun at the University of California in Santa Barbara (my alma mater). During the months of July and August, the Santa Barbara Family Vacation Center offers a recreation-oriented family vacation package using vacated university dorms as lodging. It's sort of like a mini-summer camp for the entire family. One set price includes everything for a full week's vacation: all meals, lodging (with daily housekeeping service), and daily activities such as tennis, basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball, fishing, biking, hiking, and more. Evening activities include staff shows, carnivals, casino night, dancing, talent shows, bingo, arts and crafts, and campfires. There's no rigid schedule to follow, so how you want to spend your day is entirely up to you. Children up to 18 are grouped by age and cared for by UCSB student counselors from 9am to midevening, so the parents can spend the day at the beach or touring downtown Santa Barbara. They even offer child-care for infants and toddlers. Rates differ depending on age, but when you consider that you'd probably pay more just for 1 week's lodging at a Santa Barbara hotel, it's a fantastic deal. For more information, call tel. 805/893-3123 or log on to www.familyvacationcenter.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.