On my way south, before getting to Santa Barbara, I stopped in San Luis Obispo for a few days. The big news here was that the plants in people’s yards started looking wonderful. And they smelled good! Really fragrant! Wow! Just walking around a block I’d walk by 4 or 5 different wonderful scents from these plants. This was the first city on my way down the coast that smelled this good. Maybe it just seems this way because I’ve spent little time here and haven’t seen these kind of plants, but the plants people have in their yards here seem so much more beautiful and varied that what I’m used to from the midwest. 

After that I went down to Santa Barbara. There are some national forests around there, so I went into the forest to camp for a while. I went to the Santa Barbara district which is – big surprise – right by Santa Barbara. Turns out they are worried about fires right now and don’t allow you to do much of anything. You want to camp? Ok sure, yeah, you have to go into one of the 2-3 campgrounds right next to each other (basically a parking lot). Oh and you have to pay $20 per night. No fires anywhere in the Santa Barbara ranger district. No No No. NO! 

So I went down into Santa Barbara. I’d spend the next 15 days there. Santa Barbara is really freakin’ nice.

Santa Barbara

(Shopping area, just off State Street)

Santa Barbara in a few paragraphs

First thing’s first: the best beach there is Hendry’s. It’s way better than the others. The second best beach is over by the 4 seasons resort, which has free wifi. Santa Barbara was the first place on my journey down the California coast where the water was warm enough to swim in relative comfort. It’s still pretty cold, but you can go in it without wanting to get right out. And it’s not cold enough to painful. The weather was absolutely perfect while I was there. The highs ranged from 70-85 and the lows were around 50-60. I spent 6 days at the beaches – at least a few hours each time laying on the beach, reading, and going in the ocean. 

The main road in downtown is State Street. It’s really nice. They’re doing shopping right. No mall. Lots of stores along a downtown street. There are pianos sitting on most corners along State Street. Each time I walked the length of the street (about a mile), I’d pass 4 or 5 people playing a piano very well. I never knew that so many people who are just walking around in public can sit down at a random (and I’d guess, pretty crappy) piano and play wonderful music. I bet there are very few cities where you could get music of this quality by placing communal pianos downtown and letting whoever wants play them. Maybe something to do with how much money people spend? (including piano lessons for kids)

 This is a great city for road cycling, as long as you like going up hills. The city is on a pretty narrow stretch of flat land between the coast and hills/mountains. There are a number of different paved roads going up those hills. I rode up San Marcos St. 4 or 5 times. The views from that road are wonderful. Others (Gibraltar) are probably as good or better.

House prices in Santa Barbara are insane. I checked Zillow and put an upper limit of $500,000. No results. NO RESULTS. There are some small and crappy houses here but there’s not one for sale for less than half a million. People here seem to spend a LOT of money.

The age demographics here are odd. There are a ton of old people. There are a lot of college kids. There’s not many people in between. Except for in the Mexican parts of town. They have all the normal age ranges. 

How about a History Lesson?

There is some interesting history here. I know very little of it, and It’s now been a few weeks since I read about this so I forget the names and the details are cloudy, but I’ll share it anyways

There was a guy – an American – a decorated guy who had some fame for bravery, exploration, and other successes. He was in charge of the American military in the area at the moment when the U.S. decided California was too awesome to let Mexico keep having it. This awesome guy lead the U.S. Army (or whatever) over the nearby mountains to storm into Santa Barbara for a battle.

Backing up a little – the Spanish had set up a fort in Santa Barbara. It was a few acres in size. It was some buildings and hallways that made an outer square, with most of the middle open (although there were also houses and other buildings added to the middle at some point). 200 people lived in there, and 50 or so were soldiers. Now, I guess, this fort and the land were a part of Mexico.

So the brave Americans come running down the hill over the mountains. It was snowing and cold and everything up there. Windy as hell. Slippery. Treacherous! A bunch of their horses and mules died. But no soldiers. They came charging down the hill towards Santa Barbara, foaming at the mouth, ready to crush these little Spaniards/Mexicans into oblivion. 

The Mexicans in the fort saw them coming and were appropriately worried. A nice old lady in the fort convinced the leadership that it wasn’t worth fighting. When as the Americans charged in, the Mexicans said “nah, we don’t want to fight”. So they didn’t fight. I don’t know exactly what happened next. But pretty soon all of California belonged to the United States.

Vandwelling in Santa Barbara

It’s easy.

Parking is generally easy. In the suburbs to the west, there are plenty of neighborhoods with room to park. In Santa Barbara itself, it’s more congested, but still pretty easy to find spots. The tricky part is the street cleaning schedule. They have a very specific rotation and each street has a 2 hour “No Parking” window every week when the street sweeper comes through. The schedule is all spread out, so one street may be closed 8-10am Monday, and the next 1-3pm Tuesday, and so on, with the cleaners appearing to work full days all weekdays. Well, one time I parked and forgot to check the sign, and I happened to pick the wrong street at the wrong time and caused a little bit of the street to not be cleaned and got a ticket for $50.

I found some good areas to park east of State Street, over where a lot of Mexicans live. It’s also very easy to park in the western suburbs.

At the beach – the one by the four seasons

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

 

When I was taking the pictures above, a guy walked by and talked a bit. Then I saw him a little ways down the beach and we spoke more – for about an hour. He’s probably in his 50’s. When I told him about my van and traveling, he told me a bunch of stories of his own – how he’s had two different Volkswagen vans that he either lived or traveled in. How he went to Yosemite a TON of times and would camp there against the rules, hidden in plain site in his van (and would just not respond to the knocks of rangers, which would quickly move on) or hidden out in the park, at times in a sleeping bag on a tarp, out in the open with no tent, just nestled in some prairie. He said there are groups of climbers and other sorts of people who know a bunch of tricks for free camping in Yosemite. 

 Santa Barbara

 

On the way down to San Diego:

Santa Barbara

What’s next? I’ll be in and around San Diego for the next month or more. (I drove through the entire Los Angeles area quickly. I wasn’t in the mood for LA. I did have an In N Out Cheeseburger. mmmmmmmm, yeah buddy!)