STATE STREET – Santa Barbara’s version of Main Street, draws a long straight line from the suburbs of San Roque to Stearn’s Wharf and the ocean, defining most of the neighborhoods as either East or West. The East area includes everything from State Street to the foothills and the West areas run from State Street to the beach.
SAN ROQUE – At the North end of town, is an attractive, peaceful and architecturally diverse neighborhood with its mixture of well-maintained California cottages, ranch styles and even small Tudors. Though accessible within minutes to downtown, San Roque has its own collection of restaurants, parks and shopping areas and two of the best grammar schools in town: Hope School and Peabody Charter School. Backed up to the foothills, it boasts beautiful Stevens Park with hiking trails that lead up to the Los Padres National Forest.
THE UPPER EAST – Lying between San Roque and the downtown area, The Upper East is one of the oldest and most elegant neighborhoods. Many of its larger fine homes were built by the wealthy elite of Santa Barbara at the turn of the 20th Century and range from Victorian and Tudor mansions to Spanish haciendas. It’s mature trees, sandstone hitching posts and watering troughs still resonate with the memory of a slower paced era. Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Mission borders this neighborhood with it’s beautifully kept Rose Garden and views of La Cumbre Peak. Just behind the Mission, is the Natural History Museum that boasts a small planetarium and many artifacts of the Chumash people, the original inhabitants of this area.
On the downtown side of the Upper East is Alice Keck Memorial Park, a true showcase of botanical specimens with something always blooming along its winding paths. In the early morning, yoga and tai chi practitioners are to be seen on the lawn area, and in the afternoons, families with children are drawn to the pond with it’s entertaining population of ducks, swans, turtles and colorful koi fish.
MISSION CANYON – Driving past the Mission and up into the foothills, one wanders into the Mission Canyon neighborhood, built on a series of hills and canyons and featuring many unique modern and Spanish style homes with stunning views of city and ocean. With it’s large trees, sandstone boulders, and abundance of wildlife (coyote, deer, hawks) much of this area has a very rural feeling, though still minutes away from downtown. One of the local attractions here is the expansive Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens, which is host to many nature and horticulture exhibits and community workshops.
EASTSIDE – Dropping down a little lower topographically, from the bottom of the Riviera hills to Milpas Street is the area known as the Eastside. Though pricing here is lower than the Upper East and Riviera and the homes generally smaller, there is a sense of neighborhood pride with neatness and well-kept gardens and plantings. Many young families starting out and the elderly have found affordable places to buy and remodel to their own taste. Milpas Street is lined with mostly small Latino family-owned businesses and, at one end, is the popular Santa Barbara Bowl where world-class musicians, from Sting to Santana, entertain fans in an intimate outdoor amphitheater setting.
DOWNTOWN – With its predominance of white stucco Spanish Revival buildings and red tile roofs, Santa Barbara’s downtown area feels like a Mediterranean movie set. Its crowning jewel is the County Courthouse, an architectural masterpiece with it’s Moorish palace design, hand painted tile staircases and colorful murals and ceiling frescoes. A favorite tourist destination, hundreds of visitors a day climb its handsome clock tower for a stunning birds-eye view of the city. An enormous stone archway opens onto a lush sunken garden that is a popular spot for weddings, community celebrations and, during Fiesta, colorful Flamenco performances.
Across the street from the Courthouse, is the public library and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The museum’s frequent visiting exhibitions and its discerning collection of art, spanning from Greco-Roman to Renaissance and French Impressionism to Contemporary, put it in a league with much larger city museums.
In addition to the upscale boutiques, galleries and restaurants that border State Street, (downtown’s main thoroughfare) several quaint courtyard areas create a more relaxed atmosphere for shopping and dining, all with the Spanish influence of stucco arches, painted tiles, fountains and wrought iron accents. Among them are La Arcada (near the museum), Victoria Court, El Paseo and Paseo Nuevo Mall, the largest and newest addition that includes several theaters and an arts education center.
The lower end of State Street near the beach is geared toward the more traditional tourist trade with its surf and sports shops, bars and nightclubs and has the closest access on foot from the hotels that line oceanfront Cabrillo Blvd. Continuing from the end of State Street is Stearn’s Wharf where one can find great seafood restaurants and the Maritime Museum.
Making a left hand turn across from the train station and before reaching Cabrillo Blvd. will bring you into what is fondly called the “Funk Zone”, a recently gentrified area of gourmet and pop-up restaurants, wineries and micro-breweries with tasting rooms and artists lofts and galleries. On the beach side of this area is beautiful Chase Palm Park, donated to the city by Fess Parker. Since its completion in 1998, locals and visitors enjoy it’s beautiful lawns and water features, a children’s playground and a fully functioning antique carousel.
MESA – Named for its lofty perch atop a natural mesa that rises above the level of the downtown area, the Mesa has its own unique ambience, pace and even weather pattern. Slower paced and almost entirely residential, with attractive stretches of ranch style homes and a few fine condominium complexes, it also has a small but comprehensive shopping and business area that makes it almost self-sufficient from the rest of the city. Sunny and mild year round, it is known for its early morning fog in the hotter summer months, keeping it comfortably cooler during heat waves.
Just west of the harbor area, the campus of Santa Barbara City College seems to stand as guardian to the Mesa community. Rising up from its sea level stadium to auditoriums, theaters and classroom buildings surrounded by lovely landscaping and incredible ocean views, it is recognized as one of the finest academic city colleges in the country. Right along the ocean cliffs is Shoreline Park, a long stretch of green lawns and wind-sculpted juniper and cypress where families walk and picnic, often spotting passing whales.
At the other end of the Mesa is the cliff-top Douglas Nature Preserve. Named for the Kirk and Michael Douglas family who funded the city’s purchase of the property, it is an enchanting area of natural woods, fields and trails that overlook the ocean and is a favorite haunt for joggers, dog-walkers and anyone seeking peace and inspiration. Just below its cliffs, lies Arroyo Burro Beach (called Hendries by the locals), a beautiful curve of coast with waves, rocky outcroppings and tide pools. Not to be missed is The Boathouse, a popular spot for sunset cocktails and dining right on the beach.
Homes on the Mesa vary from small California ranch styles built just after World War II and recently remodeled to the newer Mediterranean and modern structures of wood and glass. Though many homes boast priceless ocean & island views and would cost more in other places, the Mesa prices have remained reasonably moderate.
WESTSIDE – West of State Street includes a large area beyond the freeway is an older family neighborhood with smaller homes and cottages. A popular area for first time buyers, the Westside also includes a small elevated area that extends to Las Positas Road and borders Eelings Park, a wonderful community “playground” with tennis courts, baseball and soccer fields, landscaped picnic areas and a small stone amphitheater. Called Crestview or Belair Hills, this area has some attractive larger 2 story and ranch style homes. The upper end of the Westside is also home to Cottage Hospital and Sansum Medical Clinic, a collaborative of many specialists in every area of medicine. Nearby is the Schott Center, an adult education campus for Santa Barbara City College and Oak Park, the site of frequent cultural festivals.
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