The weekend’s coming up and you’re desperate to get out of town, but you really only have one day to spend. What’s worse? You’ve already done all the day trips you can think of. Hiking in Ojai? Done. Tanning in Malibu? Done. Apfelskivers in Solvang? Over it.
And Santa Barbara? Come on. I mean, how many times can you walk up and down State Street?
But wait. Just because you’ve visited Lucky Jeans and you’ve walked the pier doesn’t mean you’ve exhausted Santa Barbara’s possibilities. As a longtime Ventura County resident who’s spent two years in Santa Barbara, I’m willing to bet there’s a way to see our neighbor to the north in a way you haven’t experienced yet. So here is my gift to you: one version of “The Perfect Day” in Santa Barbara, off the beaten (corporate store-lined) path.
9:30 a.m.: Come on, ride the train (hey, ride it, woo woo)
I know the idea of taking a train might sound painfully old-fashioned, or at the very least somewhat European, but trust me. The whole point of a day trip is to break up the monotony of your day-to-day life, and nothing is more monotonous than sitting in traffic. Grab your bike (yes, you’re taking your bike, too) and board the Amtrak at the station across from the Ventura fairground’s parking lot. Sleep, read, people-watch or daydream — all of it’s more interesting than driving. It’s only $12 each way (plus another $5 or so for your bike) and tickets are easy to book (call 1-800-USA-RAIL or visit www.amtrak.com).
10:20 a.m.: Get your buzz on
When you arrive at the station, hop on your bike and cross State Street into the Funk Zone, an industrial district known for artist warehouses and quirky businesses. Only a block from State, on the corner of Helena and Yanonali, you’ll find Red’s Espresso, a bohemian café owned by a longtime Santa Barbara resident and accomplished ceramicist. A favorite of locals and virtually unknown to tourists, Red’s is the perfect place to grab a cup of joe and a small pastry to start your alterna-SB day. (211 Helena Ave., 966-5906, www.redssb.com.) Note: Don’t forget to check out the mural on the side of the building that faces Helena before you leave.
11:30 a.m.: E-I-E-I Oh it’s good
You’re caffeinated. You’re fed. Now it’s time for some shopping and sight-seeing. Your first stop? Farmer’s market, on the corner of Haley and Santa Barbara streets (head toward downtown on State, turn right on Haley and ride about three blocks). I know what you’re going to say: every town has a farmer’s market. But Santa Barbara’s Saturday version offers an especially delectable mix of produce and people watching, from tangerines to tambourines. (Ever wonder where all the non-Barbie Santa Barbara people hang out? It’s here.) While you’re here, grab some picnic food for later. (I’m partial to the fresh-baked bread at the apple pie stall, cheese curds or olive tapenade, half a pound of sugar snap peas and an orange or two.)
12:30 p.m.: One man’s trash
Boxes of tiny glass bottles. Barrels of old maps. Shelves upon shelves of mis-matched handmade paper. You’ll find all of this and much much more at Art From Scrap, your next stop. (Take Santa Barbara away from the ocean, turn right on Cota and ride a block or two.) This craft paradise, run by the Community Environmental Council, takes discards from local businesses and provides them to the public at next-to-nothing prices. Tiles, fabric, old computer motherboards, unused packaging, three-ring binders, beads, skateboard wheel shavings — it’s all here. Whether you’re crafty or not, it’s a fun place to browse. And who knows? Maybe you need 400 miniature test tubes. (302 E. Cota St., 884-0459, www.artfromscrap.org. Open Saturday 10am-3pm.)
1:00 p.m.: Nature and nourishment
Now you’re almost ready for lunch. But first, you have to get to your picnic spot. Continue riding away from the ocean on Santa Barbara Street until you reach Mission, then turn right. From here, you have several options: the open, green lawn across from the Mission and next to the rose gardens? You’re already there. A wooded, rustic, 19-acre park with tables and playground? Continue past the Mission up to Rocky Nook Park at 610 Mission Canyon Road. Want your forested fairyland and some education? Take a left on Puesta del Sol and ride to the Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol), with its gorgeous landscape and impressive collection. (682-4711 or www.sbnature.org.) Relax. Take your time. Take a nap. You’re on vacation.
3:30 p.m.: Getting perspective
Once you’re done digesting your food (and your surroundings), head back toward downtown and take a left on any street until you hit Carrillo. Ride until you see Hotel Andalucia, on the corner of Chapala. Don’t let the luxurious surroundings and the busy valets scare you — you’re here for the view, not the atmosphere. Take the elevators at the back of the lobby, making sure to ride the one that goes all the way to the roof. Here, on the rooftop patio called El Cielo, you can grab a cocktail if the bar is open. And even if it’s not, you can still enjoy a view of the city from downtown’s tallest hotel. (31 W. Carrillo St., 884-0300, www.andaluciasb.com)
4:30 p.m.: Lager like a local
For a bit of lowbrow contrast to Hotel Andalucia’s high style, your next stop is Elsie’s Tavern. This haven for artists, liberal discussion groups, indie-rock-listening college students and professionals-in-the-know is something like your cool older brother’s basement rec room — with much better beer. Follow Chapala toward the ocean until you reach De la Guerra and turn right. Look carefully on the left-hand side for 117. Elsie’s doesn’t have a sign — the phone number isn’t even listed in the book — so it’s easy to miss. But once inside, the colorfully painted walls, rotating collection of outsider artwork, staggering offering of beers and wines, and enclosed garden patio will ensure you’ll never miss it again. Bring cash, though. Elsie’s doesn’t accept credit cards. And don’t even think of ordering a Tanqueray and tonic. This dive bar is beer and wine only (but the pool table is free!). (117 W. De la Guerra, 963-4503).
5:00 p.m.: Dinner on Zaytoon patio
Once your appetite is whetted, hop back on your bike and ride (actually, you should probably walk your bike to avoid running over pedestrians) through Paseo Nuevo (just to remind yourself why you don’t need to go there one more time) and turn left on State, then right on Canon Perdido. You’re going to ride about five blocks until you see a restaurant on the corner past Santa Barbara Street. This is Zaytoon, another of Santa Barbara’s hidden oases. This Greek-style restaurant has one of the most gorgeous outdoor patios in town, with flavorful hookahs to smoke and deliciously smoked meat to eat. Don’t miss the black olive oil, a spice-and-onion concoction that’ll tempt you to ruin your appetite before dinner arrives. (209 E. Canon Perdido, Santa Barbara, 963-1293, www.cafezaytoon.com)
6:45 p.m.: Train time
Sated and tired, you’re going to want to head back to the station to catch the last train of the day, at 7:05 p.m. You can take the back route, down Garden, right on Yanonali and past Red’s again for one last latte. Or you can take State, just for one more glimpse at all the tourists who don’t know, as you now do, that there’s something to do in Santa Barbara besides sip margaritas at Sharkeez.