All of the quintessential Santa Barbara experiences, from cruising along the beachside bike path to enjoying the region’s wineries and fine dining, are all entirely possible without a car. Thanks to a downtown with pleasantly walkable and rideable neighborhoods, convenient options for public transportation (trains, pedicabs, trolley, you name it), an Amtrak station just blocks from the coastline, and a wealth of resources available through Santa Barbara Car Free, you can leave the car at home (or at the hotel) for your entire stay.
From the beach up to the Old Mission, downtown Santa Barbara is 2.5 miles long, and it’s well suited for a day spent exploring on foot or on a bicycle. State Street is the heart of the action for sightseeing, shopping, dining, and art viewing, making it an excellent starting point for a car-free tour.
At its southernmost end, State Street leads to Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara’s classic pier lined with restaurants, specialty shops, and the Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Moving inland, the first several blocks of State Street across to Garden Street make up the vibrant Funk Zone neighborhood, the mecca for everything contemporary and hip. Quickly becoming a must-see area in Santa Barbara, the Funk Zone is bursting with modern art galleries, artisan shops, trendy eateries, award-winning craft breweries, and wine-tasting venues, all within a few minutes’ walk.
Venturing further down State Street, you reach the Paseo Nuevo, El Paseo, and La Arcada shopping centers. These three areas are known for their dining, art, and shops—with options ranging from upscale retail stores to one-of-a-kind boutiques. While in Paseo Nuevo, take a break from the stores and visit the Museum of Contemporary Art or the Center Stage Theatre, both conveniently located within the shopping center.
La Arcada features tile-lined sidewalks in a Spanish-style courtyard, making it perfect for a leisurely stroll through the art galleries and shops before getting a bite to eat at one of Santa Barbara’s renowned restaurants. To finish off your walk through La Arcada, stop in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, on the corner of State Street and W. Anapamu Street, or catch a performance at the nearby La Granada Theatre.
In addition to exploring the city’s shopping, dining and art scene, taking a walk or bike ride through downtown Santa Barbara allows you to visit historic attractions. Just 1.5 miles from La Arcada, the Old Mission sits perched atop the hill on Laguna Street. From downtown, this makes a lovely bike ride or a quick trip via taxi or public transit. This must-see landmark, founded by Spanish Franciscans in 1786, allows visitors the opportunity to take guided or self-led tours to learn the cultural, religious and historic significance of the California missions.
Downtown and beyond, you’ll find a variety of ways to get around Santa Barbara without a car. Leading the charge with resources, information and special deals for visitors on a drive-free vacation is the Santa Barbara Car Free organization. Founded in 1998, this cooperative lives by its mission "to encourage car free, carefree travel to and around Santa Barbara for cleaner air and a healthier planet."
Santa Barbara Car Free has been awarded with multiple state, regional, and national recognitions for excellence in its environmental stewardship, clean air innovation, and marketing efforts. Visitors (and Santa Barbara locals) can tap into the organization’s resources and citywide discounts through Santa Barbara Car Free’s website. There you can download maps for self-guided walking tours, order the official Santa Barbara Car Free map with biking and bus routes, and download the Santa Barbara County Bike Map as an iPhone or Android app. For more information on getting around Santa Barbara without driving, visitors can browse the site’s extensive resource lists for bike rentals, bus lines, train routes, taxicab phone numbers, rideshare options, and limousine and shuttle companies.
The Santa Barbara Car Free website is also the go-to spot for securing a 20 percent discount on train tickets to Santa Barbara on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner (between San Luis Obispo and San Diego) and Amtrak Coast Starlight (between Seattle and Los Angeles). The 2017 Santa Barbara Car Free Experience shows visitors the 25-plus hotels and activities where they can receive special offers for showing their train ticket.
Considering all the options for public transportation, rideshares, taxis, pedicabs, bike rentals and walking tours, the many attractions that Santa Barbara has to offer are readily accessible—and enjoyable—for those opting to leave the car at home.
Originally written for Visit Santa Barbara.