Santa Barbara, The American Riviera

Aside from being a 1980s soap opera dubbed "the worst program on television...maybe ever", Santa Barbara is a beautiful, affluent city in Southern California (or the Central Coast depending on who you ask).  Many Californian cities are kind of ugly, due to the utilitarian single-storey concrete architecture that predominates and the huge streets in between.  SB, however, is utterly gorgeous.  This photo was taken from the top of the bell tower in the court house, and you can see the lovely Spanish style buildings, palm trees, the misty mountains, and the ocean in the distance.  It's a wealthy town, and if you drive up into the hills of Montecito you find sprawling mansions with phenomenal views owned by celebrities including John Cleese and Oprah Winfrey.

We thought we found Oprah's house...this is actually her neighbour's
Although they may look old-fashioned, none of the Spanish-style buildings predate the 1920s.  An exception is the Mission, which has been rebuilt but originally dates back to the late 18th century and it was used as a political/administrative base as well an apostolic school.  I'd recommend the tour, there's some important information about the attempted proselytising of Native Americans and subsequent huge death toll that goes some way to explaining the obliteration of indigenous groups in the area.  Once you've seen one mission you've seen them all though, so if you visited one of several others across the American Southwest you've pretty much covered it.

Mission courtyard

State Street is the sort of equivalent to a British high street.  The 24x bus drops you off on the parallel street, and that runs every 30 mins to UCSB...although it stops at like 22:30 which is rough when you're on a night out, because a cab back will run you $40.  Always pack a cab with like 6 people, and if you're staying Downtown before getting accommodation close to campus, take the bus.  The Santa Barbara Tourist Hostel was my first stop on arrival, it's kind of shitty (curtains instead of cubicle doors for the toilets!  Blaring train announcements at 1am!!) but right next to the train station, close to the beach and the city centre, so it's well-placed.  The city itself has some decent shopping, student budget standards like Forever 21 and H&M, an Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, plus some cool antique and vintage shops on Upper State.  Oh yeah - State Street is fucking endless, you'll really only ever be on Lower State near the sea, but if for some reason you need to go further up (a dodgy Craigslist pick-up for example), know that you cannot walk it.

State Street
There are events Downtown throughout the year.  If you're studying at UCSB I'd recommend trying to get an internship at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in January/February, for which you can receive college credit and get paid, but it's worth attending too.  The Earth Day celebration was a kind of eco-expo in one of the parks, and another fun one was the street-painting wherein loads of artists set up outside the Mission and basically just created paintings on the ground.  My favourite was this ugly cat:

In terms of nightlife there's not so much going on, only a handful of clubs: Tonic on a Thursday was a favourite, and apparently Sandbar after dark is awesome (although I preferred their Happy Hour).  But there are a good amount of bars, which I'll detail more in another post.  Downtown can get samey or boring after a while because really it's a city for wealthy middle-aged people, but it's still stunning and you can't get over that.  The pier is a good place to go for tacky souvenirs and amazing views.

The mountains (or hills as I am condescendingly told) offer some great hikes, also places between Santa Barbara and Isla Vista.  I'll share some of my tips and photos from hikes, scrambles and walks some other time because really, Santa Barbara county is so beautiful it deserves more attention.  There are still things I haven't managed to do, such as visiting the Channel Islands or going on a wine-tasting tour through the world-renowned vineyards.  I love SB so much I visited again this Easter less than a year after I moved away, and I'm certain I'll be back again.

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