I have a love-hate relationship with Santa Barbara. On the one hand, it is a pretty little town, filled with pretty people doing pretty little things. On the other, Santa Barbara is quirky and set in her ways, with a “take me or leave me” attitude that can, at times, grate on one’s nerves.
For example, my Santa Barbara relatives refer to “Las Cah-NAIR-ass Road” even though the road is Los Carñeros with a tilde over the “n.” Similarly, they direct me to “Call-yay Ree-AL Street,” which is actually Calle Real. What is perhaps most disturbing is that pretty much everyone you meet in Santa Barbara bungles the street pronunciations, and if you try to correct them, you are met with a quizzical expression and the retort, “But that’s the way we say it in Santa Barbara!”
Another quirk to the city is that directional navigation, as we know it, is turned upside down. In Santa Barbara, the ocean is to the east, and the mountains are to the west. And once you get that figured out, there are still other pitfalls. If you are headed south on 101 and take the first State Street exit, it doesn’t actually take you to State Street – you end up on Hollister. My Santa Barbara relatives explain that this makes perfect sense: the first State Street exit is really the exit for the exclusive enclave of Hope Ranch, and State Street can only belong to Santa Barbara.
If you manage to find the correct State Street, the one that leads you east to the beach and to Stearn’s Wharf, park on the wharf itself and visit the Ty Warner Sea Center, an interactive sea life aquarium. There, a cheerful docent will reach into a tank, wrestle out a baby shark, and let you touch it.
Spend an hour or so at the Sea Center, then walk out to Cabrillo Boulevard which fronts the wharf and see the Art Walk, which takes place every Sunday. The artists there are happy to talk, to tell you about their art style and about the countries where they grew up. On a recent visit, we met artists from France, Austria and Loony World.
Crazy Art Guy, as we dubbed him, works in clay and metal, creating simple, colorful and amazing sea creatures for the garden. Gathering a crowd around him, Crazy Art Guy began his talk by describing his art process, and then soon took a left turn into Crazy Town and warned that if we didn’t collectively get our shit together, we could kiss our asses goodbye. Stay in school. Don’t use drugs. Be sure to visit the website.
When you leave Santa Barbara, and you hit the five minutes of traffic on the way out of town, consider this: my Santa Barbara relatives consider this a traffic jam, and complain that it often takes a whole ten minutes for them to commute to work. Santa Barbara: love it, or hate it.