Freeway-Free in California – Santa Barbara by Pedal, Foot, and Trolley
With another day of 90+-degree heat threatening Ojai, we decide to head for the coast and the Queen City of Santa Barbara just thirty miles west. . We slide off Highway 101 on xxxx, the beach-front road which stretches the length of Santa Barbara beach from the tony Fess Parker Inn down to the harbor. We are a bit daunted by the slow flow of traffic, the hundreds of beach parasols, and the cars seeming to circle the pay parking lots, but Griselda – the-GSP-lady steers us to the far end of the harbor, where we score Free Parking at the community college stadium, buzzing with hardy athletic types running steps. No more car for the day!
Griselda also points us to a Visitors Center at the Coast Guard Museum adjacent to the harbor. It is 10:40 AM ad the center does not open until 11. The very pleasant gray haired man behind the kiosk at the museum gives us three copies of a Santa Barbara beach/downtown map, tells us about the shuttle downtown, and directs us to bike shops near Shear Wharf at the end of State Street. We walk along the promenade. It is already hot, but we find a breeze to cool us, and get to the Wheel Fun Rentals bike shop before 11. Three bikes and a dragged -out search for helmets that fit later, and we are on our way, teetering on old-fashioned cruiser bikes with coaster brakes and high handle bars.
We biked all the way to the end of the promenade past the Fess Parker Lodge, where I had stayed a decade ago with my husband and mother-in-law and admired the authentic Davy Crockett coonskin cap under glass. Then we turned and went all the way to the other end near where we had parked the car, then back to Start, in just under an hour. Along the way we admired surfers, micro-bikini-wearers, and a bus load of choristers serenading the beach-goers as the end of State Street. A perfect way to begin, though I was already wishing I had worn my long pants as protection against the sun.
We proposed at first to walk uptown, but W noticed signs for a shuttle going up and down State street every 1o minutes. The trolley was open air, crowded with tanned beachgoers and families, and at 25 cents for Seniors , 50 cents for youth, it was a bargain. Looking for historic Santa Barbara, we set down at the Paseo, but we were disappointed to find that it was merely a modern shopping center dressed up in red tile roofs and Adobe.
We did pick up a Santa Barbara walking and business map from the tourist table set up at the entrance to the Paseo, and as we walked up toward what looked like a likely cluster of restaurants, we happened past the Tamira Restaurant, offering an Indian buffet which promised a nice change from tacos or deli sandwiches. Delicious chicken marsala and butter chicken, I didn’t try the tandoori) and vegetables and salad with spicy cucumber dressing and marinated vegetables. No dal.
Lunch having been taken care of, we moved on to the Santa Barbara Art Museum, which had conveniently located all its most interesting pieces on two rooms while the back wing was undergoing renovation. My ROAM card from membership in the San Francisco Asian Art Museum got all three of us in for free. We spent an hour looking at beautiful things in elegant air-conditioned surroundings – W even spent time in the gift shop!
Then to the lovely Santa Barbara Courthouse, with its beautiful sunken garden inner quad, and of course there was a bride, and an adorable little blond ring-bearer, and a self-conscious flower girl, and a bunch of groomsmen gleefully showing off their argyle socks under their tuxedos.
By that time we were dragging, too over-dosed with Adobe and red tile even to peek into the beautiful library or walk a couple of blocks down to the official Old Town. We caught the Shuttle all the way back to the harbor and then spent time in the Maritime Museum, fascinated by exhibits of storms and wrecks and deep-sea expeditions – definitely a Hidden Treasure!