Made from Scratch
Journeys in SoCal Part I: Santa Barbara
The SoCal coastline has a familiar feel to it, from Pismo Beach to Imperial Beach. While some would not classify “northern” beach communities like Pismo, Santa Barbara or Carpenteria as strictly SoCal, these areas have a distinctly relaxed SoCal feel—there is an abundance of outdoor and open-air dining, bike trails, beachside parks, art displays and thriving life that exists because people are not constantly forced inside due to rain or excessive heat.
With our abundant sunlight, generally warm and dry weather and beautiful scenery, I strongly maintain that the best way to see the SoCal coastline is by bicycle. Whether you’re riding ten miles or 60, on a comfortable bike, a leisurely coastal ride allows riders to fully absorb the beauty, sunlight and various cuisines offered in these tourist-centric areas. It is not strange to see spandex-wearing cyclists at casual eateries in these cities.
This past summer, I started cycling from Ventura to the beautiful city of Santa Barbara, and just to prove to myself how easy the 60-plus miles roundtrip is, for one trip I grabbed a couple of 1981 Schwinn Super Sport road bikes I refurbished, and took my 16-year-old daughter along for the ride. As a cheese and bread lover in her own right, I thought she’d enjoy the rewards in the middle of the ride.
The bike ride to Santa Barbara is ideal because weekend traffic is horrendous. When I’m rolling along at 15-20 mph and passing cars I see on the freeway, I am reminded of the benefits of leaving the gas vehicle behind. For weekend tours, we park at Ventura High School because it’s free, and because Main Street empties right into the 101/Highway 1 bike trail. It also puts you within a mile of the heart of the Ventura downtown, which sits a mile or so above the water, and is rich with cafes and places to grab a bite before a bike tour. If you want better prices (but unremarkable options), there are two solid breakfast places within a block of the high school, but expect a line at Pete’s and Golden Egg Cafe. Apparently the locals love breakfast. Sticky Fingers Cafe across the street doesn’t have long waits, but it also doesn’t provide full breakfast. The artisan muffins there (with vegan options) are absolutely delicious and unique, and are a good way to carb-up before the ride.
The bike tour to Santa Barbara begins at Emma Wood State Beach. Coming off Main Street in Ventura, just enter the park and find the bike trail. That trail will connect to Highway 1, which will offer miles of shoreline beach views along oversized shoulders while the big freeway traffic is up and out of sight. This is a long ride, but generally flat (with a couple of exceptions). Once the State Beaches along Highway 1 disappear, you will ride with the traffic along the Rincon Bike Trail that begins at Oil Piers Public Beach and runs parallel to the 101, where there is a fast freeway on your right (protected by a large steel barrier) and crashing waves on your left. That paved trail ends at Bates Road where you will have to do something kind of scary: enter the 101 freeway. It’s a little uphill, but you are on the highway a very short time, maybe a quarter of a mile, before your exit at Rincon Road. From there, you can hang a left and then take a right on Carpenteria Avenue which will take you past a software company and a driving range, and lead you to the heart of their downtown. If you’re thirsty and hungry, Rincon Brewery has food, and is right on that main drag. If you want to cut through downtown toward the beach, Island Brewing has a very popular tasting room and often has catering on the weekends (street tacos when I was there).
To get out of Carpenteria, hang a right on Santa Ynez, go over the bridge, and turn left on Via Real, which will get you into Santa Barbara. This route is great because there are plenty of boutique shops to stop and take a break along the way. There is one more short bike trail “hill” at Ortega Hill that runs parallel to the freeway, and then empties down onto Jameson Lane. Once you reach the traffic circle, take it, use the Cabrillo exit, and you are officially in Santa Barbara proper! Easy! If you were rolling at a steady 15 mph, you’re there in a measly two hours. You can roll along the beachfront Cabrillo Boulevard all the way to State Street where a right turn takes you into Santa Barbara’s vivid downtown.
Once in town, there are countless opportunities to eat and play. For the bread-centric, begin your morning at Helena Avenue Bakery. This popular bakery is next to the Figueroa Mountain Brewing tasting room and sits in the heart of the “Funk Zone”—a west-of-downtown industrial district that has been taken over by hipster wine and beer tasting and gastropub-style eateries. Helena Avenue Bakery features light breakfast and brunch fare—think bagels, muffins, salads and sandwiches—and shares a space with the Santa Barbara Wine Collective which runs a wine tasting bar that opens in the afternoon. The former industrial/packing house space has been repurposed mainly as a bakery, with some open seating inside looking out on the patio. Even though the patio between the bakery and Figueroa Mountain tasting room is a bit cramped, some tables have cover and shade, and it’s a pleasant place to enjoy some sun, espresso and a croissant from the bakery. If you’re not on a bicycle, you can pick up a couple of loaves of rustic sourdough or other breads made at the bakery.
No trip to Santa Barbara is complete without a trip to the historic Mission Santa Barbara. But before you go to this awe-inspiring location, you must stop at Santa Barbara’s best cheese shop, C’est Cheese. This shop is a couple blocks north of the downtown on Santa Barbara Street. There is plenty of space to eat here, and while the shop includes a bakery, cheese and deli counter, there is light kitchen fare—soup, salad, sandwiches (including breakfast sandwiches) and cheese boards. You can also get gourmet cheese boxes to go. As a cheese lover, I always prefer to select my own cheese. I was pleased to find the relatively difficult-to-get “Minuet,” a Geotrichum-ripened goat’s milk triple-cream made by Andate Dairy in Petaluma, California. On rides I carry a sheathed paring knife for one purpose: cheese. This way, if I ever find a great cheese shop on the ride, I will be able to consume it on a riding break.
With our sack of Minuet swinging from my bicycle’s handlebar, the jaunt up Laguna to the Mission wasn’t more than a mile. Although we didn’t take advantage of the museum this time (a paid tour of the Mission), we did enjoy some time at the tables on the Mission’s inviting porch area and ate our cheese while we watched the other tourists try to park their cars. The chalk paintings were already fading away, since we were there a few weeks after their annual chalk art festival. Each year, the Mission invites artists to create beautiful and intricate chalk drawings and tourists come in droves for beer, food, music and museum tours. Even on weekends when there is no “official” festival in town, Santa Barbara will always entertain.