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A Sober 21st Birthday

What to Do in Santa Barbara When You Can Legally Drink But Don’t


I turned 21 this summer, and like any college student, I’d been counting down to this day for weeks, if not months. My friends wanted to celebrate with me, but unlike most of my peers, I don’t drink, so I had a different idea of what that meant than they did.

As a UCSB student, it’s considered a rite of passage to complete “the loop,” where college students drink copious amounts of alcohol at a variety of Isla Vista watering holes. While I am an active member of the UCSB party scene and someone who loves being around people, alcohol just isn’t for me — and I’m not alone. Many people can’t drink for medical reasons, as it interacts with nearly every medication out there, and others are recovering alcoholics. Whatever your reason for not drinking, it doesn’t have to stop you for having your birthday night out, and I was determined not to let it stop me.

I took my first trip to Keg N Bottle on Embarcadero Del Mar on my birthday, as all good Isla Vistans do, to buy red solo cups and a variety of fun sodas, and I started my night off with a house party at my Isla Vista apartment. My friends celebrated my coming of age by drinking alcohol while I drank (non-alcoholic) sparkling apple cider. And since I didn’t consume a million calories from beer or shots, I didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty for eating several slices of the ridiculously awesome marshmallow and chocolate birthday cake my friends baked for me. After a heated game of Cards Against Humanity, the 18 of us still standing headed down to the beach with blankets to watch a meteor shower at midnight.

Now that I’ve had a few weeks of practice at being “of age,” I’ve found that Santa Barbara has much more to do than Isla Vista, like exploring the Funk Zone, heading to 21-and-over concerts at SOhO and Velvet Jones, and going out with friends for fancy juices and smoothies at Pressed Juicery and Blenders in the Grass downtown instead of spending money on a boozy brunch. Next up on my to-do list is to go gambling with the money I didn’t spend on drinks at Chumash Casino.

Just because you’re not into alcohol doesn’t mean it has to control your social life, and there are many others like you, even if it doesn’t seem like it — according to the UCSB Alcohol and Drug program, 1 in 5 students abstains from drinking altogether. You can still go to parties where other people are drinking, and there’s plenty to do around both I.V. and S.B. if you take the time to look. Your 21st birthday is a time to celebrate you, so get out there and do it however you see fit — with or without a bottle in your hand.



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