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Santa Barbara by Bicycle

Column by Steve Cook

Nortons1Last Friday, Roberta and I were on a roll: two days without driving the car — I don’t think we’ve accomplished this in years. It’s not that we’re trying to stop driving the car, we’re just trying to see if we can get control of our default habit of driving. We thought we’d run some errands using the tandem, but we needed to outfit it with some panniers and a rack to carry things. So, off we went to the new Open Air Bike Shop location on upper State Street.

Heading out near La Cumbre Junior High School, we took the bike/pedestrian path over the 101 freeway to Oak Park. From there, we headed up West Junipero Street to West Alamar Avenue, taking the lane for safety up past State Street to Calle Nogura, then continued through the San Roque neighborhood to the alley off of Toyon and parked in the front of Open Air. The manager of the store, Todd Frein, helped us find the right rack for our bike; and we picked out some great panniers and a water bottle cage. Once we installed the rack and panniers, we rode down Madrona Drive to Amapola Drive, then took State Street to the Post Office and dropped off our letters. Even though the lot was parked out with cars, it presented no access problem for us.

Our third stop of the day was the CVS Pharmacy at 1109 State Street, the old Thrifty’s store location with the great rocky road ice cream that was five cents a scoop back in the day. We took State Street from the post office down to De La Vina Street, and continued downtown. Much of our ride on De La Vina was done by taking the right lane so we could stay out of the car door zone, and let cars safely pass us in the left lane of this one way street. Once we got a half block from Figueroa Street, we checked over our left shoulder to make sure the left lane was clear, signaled, and took the left lane until we could make the left on Figueroa to continue on to Chapala Street where we rode into the city parking lot behind CVS. The great thing about riding a bike is we can bypass the line of cars waiting for the full lot to open, and we just park next to the building. With my mom’s prescription in hand, we decided to splurge and get some lunch right around the corner.
Next stop: Norton’s Deli for a Pastrimi Dip Sandwich. If you haven’t tried the fare at Norton’s, you’re in for a treat! When the server dropped off our order to us, he asked “would you like some ranch dressing with those onion rings?” Well, of course — we were burning calories, so we thought, “let’s enjoy the lunch.” We discovered Norton’s when we saw them on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Once we saw that show a year or two ago, we had to try it out. No regrets, we’ve been there three or four times since then! Even the pickles are great. And the bike hitching post is right outside the doorway.

Our fifth stop was dropping off things at my Mom’s place downtown. Then we headed down Olive Street to Haley Street and stopped in at Bici Centro to pick up and install a one-dollar used reflector for the bike rack. This was our sixth and last stop of the day.

From Haley Street, we headed up Olive Street to Anapamu Street, then across town to Bath Street and up the bike lane to Micheltorena. Then it was across the bridge to the westside and home. Along the route there were many times where we needed to take the lane as the streets were narrow and we needed to stay out of the door zone of the parked cars. Cars always passed us with a good margin of safety on our left throughout town.

Even though six stops sounds like a lot, we were able to get great parking at every location, right in front of, or next to our destinations. When we left the bike, we were able to safely lock it up and go inside without worry. The new rack and panniers have worked out great, carrying the load instead of me carrying it in my backpack. Planning this trip was straightforward with Google maps, selecting the bicycle view — I started with the stops on the higher part of town and worked my way down towards the ocean to make the riding mostly downhill until the last leg home. You can also see the Traffic Solutions bike map here, or download their great app.

Norton's MapIf you’re interested in riding and want to know how to get started, consider taking a class from a League Certified Instructor at the Bicycle Coalition. If your business or organization would like to have classes taught onsite, please contact me at

Read more about Getting Around Santa Barbara by Bicycle in my blog: or follow me on Twitter: SantaBarbaraUpClose

8 Responses to “Santa Barbara by Bicycle”

  1. Sandra

    How are those tandem bikes? My husband and I always are interested when we see them but if you just want to run to the store or go for a solo ride are they OK?

  2. Dan Seibert

    You sound like a responsible bike rider, with all due respect I wonder why you would ride down DLV in a traffic lane when there are dedicated bike lanes two blocks to the left on State, and two blocks to the right on Castillo.

    • el_smurfo

      Because even responsible bike riders have a chip on their shoulder. It’s sewn in to their shiny shirts at the Italian Shiny Shirt and Plum Smuggler Factory

  3. Anonymous

    Because State St. is like being between a hard place (sidewalk and curb) and a rock ( autos and big trucks). The traffic lanes on State are narrow, vehicles can barely get it right. Parked trucks and cop cars blocking the bike lane spell disaster. The street is filled with gawking tourists and gawking locals who are gawking and sort of driving. For a gawking cruise, State is definitely it on a bike. Trying to get somewhere not so good.

    A full traffic lane gives more room, increases the size of the bubble. If you ride a bike a lot you learn where there is going to be less hassle, just like you learn that from driving a car around a lot. Experience.

    For wisdom, go from armchair to bike.

    • I have nothing against bike riders, but there are far too many in SB who do behave arrogantly and seem to court disaster.
      I very seldom drive, mostly walk and bus these days, so I’m not speaking from a car-centric perspective.

      Wasn’t 1109 State the old Longs? I think Thrifty is/was in the 800 block? I do remember the cheapo ice cream cones circa 1991 when i first came to SB. Maybe it was a Thrifty before Longs and my memory is failing me here.

    • Dan Seibert

      I’m talking about three streets in SB, that’s it. I ride up State to Victoria and feel safe because the speeds of cars are so low. Riding down State from Alamar is blast, coasting most of the way to the beach. And riding down Castillo is a mellow gentle ride.

      Now, you were saying something about gawking, and bubbles, wisdom and hassles?

      I’m in my armchair, please continue.

  4. Barbara

    Am enjoying this column. Thanks Steve! I do love riding my bike to get places and not having to deal with parking, and I do generally find that drivers really appreciate when bicyclists are considerate of them. I’m sure many would agree that so many are not. Now that we agree, we can stop complaining, which generally does not help!

    • Anonymous

      Steve, great article , thanks for sharing it , hope to see you on the road sometime