Here are ten things that I really love about Santa Barbara. See if you agree with me.
April 26, 2015
In this post instead of hectoring my fellow citizens about how the world ought to be run, I will tell you about the things l love about Santa Barbara. I’ve had plenty of time to think about it, having arrived in our Eden-by-the-Sea in the early ‘60s as a young college student. I can still remember my first impressions of our town and they have stayed with me. That, and time, have distilled into these ten vignettes.
- Sandstone Walls
I grew up in suburban San Diego where everything was brand new. I got here and realized things had been around for a long time. Driving down lower Mountain Drive to where it meets Mission Canyon/East Los Olivos at the Old Mission I noticed retaining walls of cut sandstone blocks that (still) hold back the hill. I then started noticing these hand-cut sandstone block walls all over town. They are part of the look, style, and texture of Santa Barbara and I love them. They add an old world beauty and charm that is unique to our fair coastal city. Just take a little drive or walk around the older parts of our town, downtown, the Upper East, and around the Old Mission and you’ll see what I mean.
- El Paseo
This warren of walkways and courtyards is one of my favorite places in Santa Barbara. It fools the eye because you may think it is a remnant of our Spanish-Mexican-Californio past, but it isn’t. It is a bit of a fantasy that came to our city in the ‘20s as part of the Spanish Colonial architectural revival movement. But it is beautifully done and fits in well with our colonial heritage. It wraps around Casa de la Guerra, a true Californio period adobe. I know a bit about El Paseo because I was involved in its restoration 25 years ago when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Walk down the Street of Spain, read the plaques, feel the smooth plaster walls, see the ceiling of the Gold Room (Wine Cask restaurant), experience the open roofed El Paseo Restaurant, visit the former Borein Studio upstairs where artist Ed Borein and his fellow artist-drinkers sketched on the now preserved studio walls. It’s a perfect gem.
- Santa Barbara Blue
I have no idea where this color came from but it is a Santa Barbara trademark. Most of our Spanish Colonial buildings are trimmed in this blue-green color—doors, windows, and jambs. The City has guidelines for buildings within the special El Pueblo Viejo zone which includes Santa Barbara blue as a (preferred) trim color. El Paseo is loaded with it and it is spectacular against whitewashed walls. It is something that will always say “Santa Barbara” in your mind.
- Cabrillo Boulevard
Is there any doubt that the drive from the Santa Barbara Cemetery to the Harbor is one of the most beautiful promenades in the world? The beach, volleyball, palm trees, grassy parks, ocean, the wharf, the harbor, all add up to an experience. It is a wonderful public place where much of Santa Barbara life goes on, good and bad.
- Sleepy Santa Barbara?
To say that Santa Barbara was a sleepy town when I arrived would be an understatement. Back then it had a population of less than 60,000 (90,000 today). There were maybe 4 or 5 good restaurants in town (Talk of the Town, Green Gables, Somerset, Harbor (old), Casa de Sevilla). A few movie houses. Laguna Park where our semi-pro Santa Barbara Rancheros (Dodgers) baseball team played. I saw Willy Mays play there against the Dodgers. The three traffic lights on 101. Car dealerships on Chapala St. Do I miss those days? Not really. I like Santa Barbara exactly as it is: a vibrant community filled with life. You can’t freeze it in time.
I’m not talking just about the Funk Zone here. It’s more of a way of life, something that Santa Barbara didn’t used to be but is evolving into. I love the Funk Zone but it’s a miracle that it still exists. But there is also a funk culture emerging in Santa Barbara. A coffee-driven young hipster culture thriving on local wine, whisky, art, food, clothing, design, customized furniture and woodwork. We are an interesting place to live.
I have a long history with City College, having matriculated there before I headed off to UCSB and then law school (Hastings). Then it was a little school of a few buildings on East Campus with the track and field below. Today it is one of the most beautiful campuses in the world with spectacular views of the Pacific, sleek new facilities, and a growing enrollment. SBCC has earned the honor as the nation’s top community college multiple times. Today things have come full circle for me as I teach real estate investment there. Each year we serve over 20,000 people who seek to better their lives through education. It’s a miracle.
- Santa Barbara Museum of Art
There are many wonderful cultural institutions in this town, but since these are my favorite things, the Museum of Art has always been close to my heart. One thing about it is the quality of its collections. I’ve been to many art museums around the world and ours is a gem. The other thing about it is that it embraced me and my wife when we moved back here in 1972. Instead of the stuffiness of the San Francisco art world, we were welcomed and drawn into it and it became an important part of our lives for many years. They made us feel that we were a part of the community, a true Santa Barbaran, if you will. Getting involved is the Santa Barbara way.
- Back Country
It is a rare place where you can go to the beach and in 15 minutes be on the edge of one of America’s wildest places. Our back country, Los Padres National Forest, is a huge expanse of wilderness about 40 miles wide from the Santa Ynez mountains to Cuyama Valley. And there is almost nothing back there except a few dirt roads and trails. I have spent many hours and days biking all through it and it never ceased to energize me. Dry, dusty, and brown, or moist, aromatic, and green, it’s all spectacular.
10 A Beautiful Place
Richard Henry Dana, Jr. described Santa Barbara in 1836 in Two Years Before The Mast, and I can’t say it any better:
“… [A]nd there lies Santa Barbara on its plain, with its amphitheater of high hills and distant mountains. There is the old white Mission with its belfries, and there the town, with its one-story adobe houses, with here and there a two-story wooden house of later build; yet little is it altered,— the same repose in the golden sunlight and glorious climate, sheltered by its hills; and then, more remindful than anything else, there roars and tumbles upon the beach the same grand surf of the great Pacific …”