Ron Horii's Bay Area Back Pages

Santa Barbara 



The "California Dream" is a mythical idealized vision of warm, sunny palm-lined beaches with broad stretches of sparkling sand, red-tiled Spanish-style houses with swimming pools and tennis courts, and a relaxed, easy-going lifestyle. This vision doesn't really exist, but of all the places in California, Santa Barbara probably comes closest to that ideal. As a city, it's relatively small, with around 80,000 people, but it has so many elements condensed into its compact environs, that it's almost like a living museum to the California Dream.

Red tile rooftops of Santa Barbara, County Courthouse in foreground

It may not have all the glitz and flashy amusements of LA and Hollywood, the awe-inspiring scenery of Monterey/Carmel, or the cultural richness of San Francisco. Its beaches may not be as warm as San Diego's. Its mountains may not be as soaring as the Sierras. But it has all the right elements in such perfectly balanced proportions, that's it's like a work of art. The rugged, forested ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains provides a strong backdrop to the city. The long stretches of beach with their gentle waves provide a tranquil foreground. The Channel Islands float dreamily on the horizon across the Santa Barbara Channel. From every angle, the city is an Impressionist painting. Its attractions don't shout at you or flash bright signs to grab your attention. Instead, they lie quietly, like flowers in a garden, waiting for you to stroll by and appreciate their beauty. The whole city is much like a Japanese garden, with the works of nature and man flowing together harmoniously to complement each other.

View of beach by the breakwater, yacht harbor, Riviera, and Santa Ynez Mountains

It's no wonder that so many Hollywood celebrities and wealthy Angelenos have fled the hectic environment of LA and taken refuge in Santa Barbara. Because of all this wealth, the city has been well-endowed culturally. The quality of its museums and performing arts are far out of proportion to its size. Even its public buildings are works of art. The city's sense of pride is obvious in the little touches you see everywhere--hand-painted tiles decorate drinking fountains, bright flowers provide splashes of color to the city streets. The buildings, even the new ones, add to and reinforce the Mediterranean look of the city, with their red-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls. Its many upscale stores, restaurants, and hotels reflect the high standards of quality expected by its residents and visitors.

Despite all its qualities, or because of them, Santa Barbara is a great place to visit, but you can't afford to live there. Because of its geographical limitations and anti-growth politics, the city has barely grown in decades. Thus, housing is in short-supply and extremely expensive. New high-paying jobs are relatively scarce, so it's difficult for young people or newcomers to settle down there. (That's of the reasons why I don't live there.) It's a great place to live if you're coming in WITH money. It's not easy if you're coming in to try to MAKE money. However, if you're just visiting, it doesn't matter. Just come, relax, and enjoy it.

I lived in Santa Barbara for 5 years while I was attending UCSB. My parents still live there, so I visit several times a year. Over the years, I've gotten to know the city and surrounding areas fairly well, and discovered many secret and wonderful places. In these pages, I hope to share them with you.


The weather here is another reason for the Santa Barbara area's appeal. It's weather is just about ideal. It's warmer in the winter than Northern California, but cooler in the summer than LA and San Diego. Smog is rarely a problem. Ocean breezes keep the city in the 70's during the summer, while just over the mountains in the Santa Ynez Valley, temperatures can be 20 degrees hotter or more. The ocean also keeps temperatures mild in the winter. 70 degree weather around New Year's is not unusual. (See the pictures below that I took at UCSB this New Year's Eve.) Winters can be wet. There are usually a handful of big storms that the city relies on to fill its reservoirs. Occasionally, snow dusts the tops of the mountains. Winter nights can get near freezing, but the days are usually mild. June is one of the cooler months, as it can be foggy and overcast. Fall can bring some hot days, as the Santa Ana winds blow from the hotter inland areas. These hot winds make September and October the worst time for fires, not only for Santa Barbara, but for California in general. Fall is a good time to visit, however, as the summer crowds are gone, and the ocean waters are still warm enough for swimming.

Check here for the current weather.

Best Places to Take Your Children

The Beaches

The Santa Barbara area is famous for its warm, sunny, and swimmer-friendly beaches. Most of the beaches face south, which makes them warmer and more protected than west-facing beaches. The Channel Islands also help shield the beaches from big Pacific Ocean swells. Offshore kelp beds also help damp out waves. With the Channel Islands in the background, the Santa Barbara Channel often looks like a big lake, especially in the morning, when the waters are calmer. Most of the beaches are scenic, natural, and uncrowded. The following are some of the beaches of the Santa Barbara area, listed from southeast to northwest:           

The Mountains

One of the features that make Santa Barbara so special are the mountains. The Santa Ynez range forms a steep, nearly vertical wall that runs for east to west behind the city and soars to almost 4,000 feet at La Cumbre Peak.

Cultural Activities, Arts and Architecture

The University of California at Santa Barbara

UCSB is my alma mater. I fell in love with it the moment I visited it during a high school field trip. It has had a checkered reputation in its past. In the turbulent 60's, there were images of the bank burning in Isla Vista. In the 70's, it had a reputation as a party school, which was true and well-deserved, but parties and academic excellence are not mutually exclusive. In recent years, it has quietly grown a world-renowned reputation in certain areas, particularly physics, marine biology, and solid state engineering. Still, it has been hidden in the shadows of the giant campuses of Cal Berkeley and UCLA. Many students end up at UCSB because they've been turned down at the flagship campuses.

For me, however, UCSB was my first choice. I had visited many campuses, including UCLA and Berkeley. However, I found them to be too big and impersonal, and too much a part of the crowded cities they were in. When I visited UCSB, however, I instantly felt comfortable with it. I was captivated by its natural beauty, surrounded on 2 sides by ocean and one side by an estuary, and with a lagoon, broad lawns, sand dunes, coastal bluffs, and shady groves of eucalyptus trees. Sitting on a mesa, surrounded by open fields and wetlands, it seemed like an island, much like the Channel Islands in the background.

Unlike commuter schools like UCLA and Cal State Long Beach, where many of my high school friends went, most UCSB students live on or near the campus, away from home. Students have to be more independent from their families. Strong social bonds are formed, which is one reason parties are so common. It also helps create an atmosphere of independent, creative, and experimental thinking. The years I spent at UCSB were the most exciting, inspirational, and enlightening years of my life up to that point. Many of the friends I made there are still close friends today, including my wife.

View of east campus beach, Marine Science Lab, and Goleta Beach

UCSB is a worthwhile place to visit while in Santa Barbara. It's a beautiful and scenic campus to walk around in and explore. There are always cultural and sports events going on. It has some of the best concerts in the area. The University Center has a large bookstore and several places to eat, with lovely views of the campus lagoon. The University's art museum is small, but has an impressive permanent collection and rotating exhibits. Works of art pop up in surprising places. The library is enormous, with many unusual and rare collections. The music and arts library is separate, with music listening rooms. Adjacent Isla Vista is a funky, lively, college village.

Storke Tower and campus lagoon, UCSB (New Year's Eve '97)

We visited the campus Christmas vacation in 1997. As you can see, the weather was beautiful, and so was the campus. Santa Barbara has some of the nicest weather in California, which means it has some of the best weather in the country. It was in the 70's when we were there this New Year's Eve, but I remember days with 80-90 degree weather in December. However, winter can be wet, and it can even snow in the higher elevations. I remember one winter day when it had snowed in the mountains the night before, but it was warm on the coast. Some guys drove up to the mountains, loaded up their pickup with snow, and brought it down to the beach. It was quite a sight watching people in swimsuits making a snowman on the beach and having snowball fights.

South campus beach UCSB (New Year's Eve, '97)

Contact the UCSB Visitors Center for tours of the campus.

I visited UCSB and Santa Barbara in the summer of 2000. Here are some pictures from that summer.

Santa Barbara Area Links

Neighboring Areas

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Update note: I originally created this page in 1997. I last updated it in 1999. In 2001, I noticed that most of the links had expired. I updated all the links in February 2001, cleaned out the dead ones, and found some new ones. Even while I was updating them, some links died. Such is the Internet. 9/15/01: updated the links, added more pictures. This page was originally hosted on In 2011, without warning to me, all Prodigy personal webpages were terminated, so I had to quickly migrate it to my Yahoo site on However, the migration resulted in problems with the links to the pictures. I fixed the page and cleaned up more stale links on 5/28/12.

Ron Horii, San Jose