Santa Barbara, CA to Carpenteria, CA

18.3 mi / 8.9 mph / 626 ft. climbing
Home: Carpenteria State Beach hiker/biker campsite

We were able to get out into the shared kitchen, masks-on, cook up some breakfast, and get sealed back into our room before our phlegm-hacking neighbors had woken up (we also saw a third guest depart wearing her mask, which she hadn’t had on when we briefly saw her the day before).

We didn’t have far to ride, and given that we’d already spent 40 hours in Santa Barbara, but barely seen any of the city, I thought the morning would be a good chance to do a bit of a city tour. Since we had sort of come into the city via the back door, and then spent all our time in an unglamorous neighborhood where I had repeatedly expressed concern about the security of our bikes, I could tell that Rett didn’t have a particular positive impression of the city, and the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce magazines placed in our room had told me that impression was likely misguided.

Only problem was that Rett doesn’t enjoy city-sightseeing via bike, since the stop-and-go nature and constant road-vigilance prevent her from actually seeing sights. So I figured we’d just ride up one road, then down the main strip to the beach, and out of town.

Except that first road was a one-way, with a huge buffered bike lane, so Rett was able to gawk at all the cute and unusually-styled Victorian-ish houses as we rode. She was so enjoying it that I decided we might as well continue all the way up to the Santa Barbara Mission (established in 1782), something I hadn’t planned on. So I didn’t know there was a huge hill to climb to get to it, but Rett gamely tackled the 14% incline nonetheless.

Santa Barbara Mission. This particular building was (re-)built in 1925.
Santa Barbara Mission.

Then we got onto State Street for a cruise through the center of town and all its Spanish-revival architecture. I knew it had bike lanes, but was surprised that in all my reading/mapping, nothing had told me that it had been completely pedestrianized at some point! Maybe COVID-related, but it seemed a bit older than that. Big bike lanes marked right in the center of the street, with lively outdoor dining everywhere filling in the places where cars had once sat.

If it was COVID-related, it’s one of those COVID-related things that is never going back, because once people have gotten to experience the strip in its European-feeling ambience, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting it to go back to the way it used to be. And it made it an even more comfortable place for Rett to enjoy and explore from the seat of her bicycle; she was able to dawdle along, looking at all the storefronts, stopping when she spotted one that would be a bakery capable of providing our second-breakfast. That’s something she’s never really been able to do on the bike. As a pretty hard-core, long-term utility cyclist who bike commuted successfully for years with very little cycling infrastructure, I’m sometimes a bit skeptical of the cost/benefit relationship on such infrastructure, but before my eyes I saw a real-world example of what a huge benefit it is to someone with less of a death-wish.

In actuality, the original second-breakfast bakery we stopped at was gluten-free, so we Google-searched for alternates, looking at ratings, and ended up at the excellent new Italian dessert shop Zio and Sweet. Totally cancelling out the stop-on-whim bicycle-based discovery I was just crowing about! (but it worked out well anyway)

We then looped around to get a look at the frequently-recommended courthouse, with me wondering, “how nice can a courthouse really be?”, and the courthouse answering “really fuckin’ nice”. A rather disparate conglomeration of components, it somehow worked together to create both the seriousness of a legal institution, with the beauty of a place that would make people actually want to report for jury duty.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse. Lady Justice looks a bit different in California. (Photo by Rett)

For a while now, all the December flowers we have seen in yards, along roadsides, and now at the courthouse have struck me as trying-too-hard. Like, “we really want to show off the fact that we can have flowers in December, so we’re going to try really hard to grow them”. But the more I’ve seen, the more I’ve come to understand that they’re just “normal”. More like “why wouldn’t we have flowers here at this time?” For a lot of them, it would be more work to stop them from growing. And I can understand how such an environment being “normal” would make it difficult for native Southern Californians to ever move to a place with winter.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
Flowers at the Santa Barbara County Mission(photo by Rett).
Flowers at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (photo by Rett).

Finally we continued down to the beachfront, saw the sign cautioning against wearing high heels when walking down the mile-long wooden wharf (funny, but completely understandable why such a sign would exist here), and continued our eastward traversal of this part of the California coast.

Christmas in California is weird, but we’re glad they still do it.
Parasailing above the Santa Barbara beach.
Classic Southern California beachfront bike path.
“Here Comes Santa Claus…”

I had been somewhat concerned with the conditions we’d find at the hiker/biker site at Carpenteria State Beach, given that it’s another urban-area campground, but I was pleasantly surprised. It seems like they run a tight ship at the well-cared-for campground, with plenty of rules (that I needed to initial confirming that I had read, which was a first!), but they allow up to two-night stays, once again proving that it’s possible to manage the complexities of running an urban hiker/biker site if you care enough to do it.

Lamby wanted to ride the Yellow Submarine.
Our Carpenteria State Beach hiker/biker campsite.

The shared site was open and in view of the entrance station and all the other campers, which actually increased my comfort-level. And we ended up being the only hikers or bikers there that night. Several other campers stopped to say hello and chat, including one woman who said that we were lucky we weren’t there last night, because the wind was so bad that she would have left if she had been tent camping. We weren’t exactly “lucky”; we had intentionally stayed indoors after looking at the weather forecast, but it was certainly nice to hear that our forecast-reading had been correct, and our AirBNB was “worth it”.

We took a late-afternoon walk down the beach and to Tar Pits Park, exploring all the weird naturally-oozing, mostly-solidified petroleum-related stuff coming out of the ground in this area (and getting good views of the giant ocean-based oil-drilling platforms out on the horizon). Rett was unhappy when we got back to find a spot of tar stuck to the bottom of her bare foot, but I found it really exciting; if you’re going to get some gunk on your foot, it’s much more interesting to have it be gunk of local geological significance than mundane, find-it-anywhere gunk!

Tar mounds at Carpenteria beach.
Rett’s pretty footprints on the beach.
Good dog at Carpenteria beach.
Oil drilling platform off Carpenteria.
Sunset at Carpenteria.



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5 responses to “Santa Barbara, CA to Carpenteria, CA”

  1. Jan Avatar

    That “bird” is a plover 🙂

    1. neil Avatar

      Whoa! I was literally going to caption that photo with something like “Snowy-chested plover. Hahaha, no, I have no idea what that bird is, I’m not a bird guy, that’s just a random bird-sounding name!” You’re telling me I somehow am a bird guy without even knowing it?

  2. Joel Avatar

    I assume there’s some filtering involved to get that orange sky behind the rig? Pretty cool

    1. neil Avatar

      No, I might have pumped the color slightly, but the main trickery is simply that it’s a super telephoto image, so that big-looking chunk of sky is really just a thin line on the horizon to the naked eye, that really is that orange. You can see the rigs in the dog picture to get an idea of how zoomed in the orange photo is (and the orange one was taken at peak orangeness, probably 30 min after the dog one.

  3. Kenneth Gregie Avatar
    Kenneth Gregie

    Nice close-ups Rett !
    The leaves of the first photo suggest possibly in the mint family?

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