Inside the yoga mom capital of California the Duke and Duchess of Sussex call home

·4-min read
Royal couple
Royal couple

"I try very hard not to pay attention to who anybody is," says the clerk at the children's boutique. In Montecito, California, that is sometimes quite a task.

This little shop, with its artfully arranged chaos of cosy pastel products, has ushered many famous athletes, musicians and other celebrities through its doors, even if they occasionally exit into a storm of lenses. The clerk asks that the store not be named so as not to encourage the paparazzi.

To locals, Montecito was a natural place for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to choose to raise their children. Even before doubling its royal baby population last week, this Mediterranean-style seaside town, perched between the Pacific and towering volcanic hills about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, had become something of a nursery to the stars.

Among the families reported to live here full-time or part-time are Orlando Bloom and Katy Perry with their nine-month-old daughter; Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis with their two children; and Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman with their respective husbands and children.

"A lot of people in the entertainment industry have made their way up here," says Rebecca Burditt, a certified lactation consultant and mother of four in nearby Los Olivos. Her trade is to help parents who are having trouble breastfeeding, including many celebrity clients.

"It's close enough to LA to still go get work done, but it's a world away, and a much different vibe," she says. "You do get a sense of more privacy, and getting to be your own family and do your own thing ... it's an amazing place to raise children."

Montecito - David McNew/AFP
Montecito - David McNew/AFP

It is this convenient proximity, combined with a historical zeal for all things natural and organic, that have made Montecito and its neighbour Santa Barbara such a magnet for emigrant Los Angelinos. Their money in turn has nurtured a thriving scene of clinics, baby sleep experts, creches, baby classes, chic toy shops and doulas, the latter trained professionals who support women through labour and birth. In a crowded field, it is a strong contender for the yoga mom capital of California.

Allie MacPhail, a social media influencer and mum of four who splits her year between Montecito and her children's shop on Martha's Vineyard, an East Coast resort, describes a parenting social life focused on the outdoors: beaches, hiking, cycling, surf meets. "It’s the most ideal place I can imagine to raise a family," she says.

Groups often congregate at the Padaro Beach Grill, with its Hawaiian-style garden and gangs of unruly songbirds, or at Rori's, an ice cream shop in a heated outdoor arcade, necessary during the coastline's recurrent "June gloom".

The main drag is lined with low, red-roofed buildings sheltering cafe tables under their archways; it would feel like a European riviera town if not for the size of the SUVs. Nellie, a French bakery owner struggling to prevent her 14-month-old daughter from scooting rapidly down the street, tells The Telegraph that she appreciates the relaxed levels of traffic.

For support there are various groups, including PEPs, postpartum education for parents, MOPS, mums of pre-schoolers, and Mamatoto meetings, the latter a mother's circle for the practice of attachment parenting, which advocates regular bodily contact with the newborn child.

According to Ms MacPhail, famous residents differ widely in how closely they mix. One A-list family at her children's pre-school became just a normal part of the community, notwithstanding the birthday party with trucked-in snowdrifts.

By contrast, Brandi Kulikov-Ramirez, a "luxury doula" with a PhD in child development who caters mainly to wealthy parents, says her clients prefer to gather in private at each other's homes.

"Parents here do not want to be judged for their birthing and postpartum choices, just like parents of all communities," she says.

"These families also tend to be more detailed about finding the right professionals to bring into their home, and frequently they have concerns regarding privacy and confidentiality." Deep down, though, she says their needs are much the same as any other parents'.

The celebrity influx is not all roses for locals, some of whom worry that Montecito could become a little LA. Its housing market, threatened in 2018 by mudslides that killed 21 people, has been popping as Covid-19 drives the rich and mobile from big cities. Longtime residents are sometimes bombarded with calls from real estate agents, while the prettiest businesses field ever more inquiries from outside influencers.

Despite this, many here still hew to a code of modesty – not quite an omerta, but perhaps enough to cover a small wicker man – that helps preserve a quiet life in Montecito. "I know nothing, and I make it my business to know nothing..." says the boutique clerk. "I think the hope is that we all just get along and we're all the same, even though we're not."

As far as Ms MacPhail is concerned, the Sussexes are a welcome addition. She says: "It’s pretty neat when a family that can live anywhere in the world decides to raise their kids in the same place you did."