I left Esau’s on State Street after a satisfying meal of chicken fried steak and eggs, and walked outside for a breath of fresh air and a look around. It was a beautiful Santa Barbara day -- 73 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. People walked up and down the busy street in shorts and t-shirts busying themselves with some shopping and enjoying the day. .The large college population and world-class shopping in Santa Barbara bring money up from bigger California cities like Los Angeles and San Diego. Downstate past the 101 Highway, pristine beaches lay ahead where sunbathers, surfers and bike-riders gather to be near the ocean breeze – the perfect place for people-watching.
As a local college student I quickly learned that a bicycle was an indispensable piece of equipment in Santa Barbara. I wanted to take advantage of the weather this day so I borrowed a rundown beach cruiser from a friend and headed upstate. There is a Spanish theme throughout the city, stemming from its’ roots as a Spanish Mission and Presidio (fortified base) long before Santa Barbara was part of The United States. The garish windows of Nordstrom, Saks, and Macys reflected locals in t-shirts, sandals and sunglasses wobbling up State Street on rusted cruisers. I fit right in.
The buildings of Santa Barbara all have a city-enforced theme reminiscent of its Spanish heritage: white-washed stucco walls and Spanish tile roofs. After taking a right at a crowded Starbucks, I entered De La Guerra Plaza. The plaza is a little block-park in front of City Hall and the Santa Barbara News Press building. It is also the epicenter of Santa Barbara’s annual Fiesta celebration, a weeklong celebration held every year in early August. The Fiesta embraces the city’s Spanish heritage and is the most profitable week of the year for surrounding businesses. Both residents and visitors to Santa Barbara flock to this yearly event and let loose in a scene I’ve witnessed time and time again. Regardless or age, race or economic status, all party goers become one -- drunk, sun-burnt people wearing sombreros who stagger around these blocks spending money and keeping the entire city police force on alert. Here in Santa Barbara you don’t say fiesta…you say FIESTA! followed by those tongue rolling versions of “ARIYBA!” which I have still yet to master..
I continued the ride on my gearless cruiser and encountered a gradual palm-lined hill. The climb became steeper as I pushed up the foothills towards the famous Santa Barbara Mission. This “Queen of the Missions,” was built in 1786. Its’ steps provide a sweeping view over the city and illustrate perfectly why Santa Barbara is commonly referred to as the American Riviera. The Rose Garden and expansive lawn in front provide a beautiful view as well as an ideal backdrop for picnics, birthdays, Quinceañeras (Hispanic sweet fifteens) and weddings. The nearby houses are some of the most expensive in the area. The incredible views are what bring people from around the world to Santa Barbara.
Heading along the edge of the bowl, though Santa Barbara is really shaped more like a scoop with the open end at the ocean, I arrived at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. In its day the bowl headlined acts such as Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix, The Doors and the Grateful Dead -- seating just over 6,000 it still has the capacity to bring in today’s big names. After my ride past the bowl, I decided to strike out along Alameda Padre Sierra Drive (called APS by locals.) Although the narrow, winding road is not typically biker friendly, the views more than make up for the lack of bike terrain. From parts of APS, visitors can look down upon the city and harbor and make out the shape of the Southern California Coastline. In Santa Barbara the beaches face south, the only location from Alaska to the tip of South America where this is the case. I also passed by the main campus of The Brooks Institute of Photography where many aspiring-artist friends of mine couldn’t afford to attend.