Santa Barbara Two Ways
Eat, stay and play like a local or a tourist. There’s no wrong way to enjoy this cozy and refined beach town.
I lived in Santa Barbara for 10 years and will forever think of that tiny beach town as “the girl that got away.” I’m the one who left, to be fair, eight months pregnant with my first baby and seeking the refuge of lower housing costs and retired parents who were eager to babysit. It was an honest “It’s not you, it’s me” scenario, but as I hoisted my pregnant body into the passenger seat of the Sacramento-bound U-Haul, tears streaked my cheeks before we made it onto the 101.
The first time we returned to visit, I wondered if maybe it wouldn’t seem so great after all. Maybe my love affair with Santa Barbara had been a trick of the mind to justify the astronomical mortgage payment and the limited job opportunities, and seeing it with fresh eyes would reveal that it was just a hyped-up tourist town overrun with college kids and surf bums.
The second I stepped off the plane at SBA, though, I fell in love all over again. I swear the air is sweeter there, pleasantly humid, slightly salty and just warm enough that you can wear the sweater or not—whichever you like.
I am a tourist myself when I visit now, and I make the best of this post-love-affair title by allowing myself indulgences I was too cool for when I considered myself a local. You’ll still never catch me in one of those cheesy T-shirt shops on State Street, but I’ll buy the overpriced ice cream cone from the charmingly weathered spot on the end of Stearns Wharf now; sue me. It turns out there’s a reason the tourist spots are so popular, but there’s also a reason the locals want to keep some of the city’s lesser-known gems to themselves. The good news is that you can tour Santa Barbara any way you like, and here’s how.
Play Like a Tourist
To see the miles of the city’s coastline while burning off some of the delicious vacation treats you’re likely to indulge, rent a beach cruiser bicycle from Wheel Fun Rentals (24 E. Mason St.) and take the two-hour self-guided tour for $30 per person, or splurge on the $179 half-day rental of one of their open-air Moke Electric Vehicles, which top out at 25 mph for a truly scenic drive.
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Written by Anna Quinlan of Sacramento Magazine