Seeing Santa Barbara on a Segway Tour

by Matt Kettmann

After more than a decade of having friends and family come
visit, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered the perfect
method for touring Santa Barbara. I’d led visitors on drives around
town, but while we covered a lot of ground and grabbed some great
views, all the exotic shrubbery, ornate architecture, and friendly
faces along the way got lost in a 35 mph blur. I’ve walked tourists
through town too, at a pace that allows for intimate encounters and
easy pit stops but is too slow to really cover all of the town’s
highlights. And then there’s the bicycling option, which was my
favorite for a long time because visitors can cover more ground,
see more sights, park easily when they want, and breathe the fresh
air. But biking has it flaws too, as emphasis is often put on
speeding downhill, pedaling hard uphill, and worrying about getting
somewhere rather than enjoying the ride.

My dilemma was quashed a few weeks ago, however, when I joined
the folks down at Segway of Santa Barbara for one of their new
tours around town. A Segway, if you haven’t heard, is the
two-wheeled, gyroscope-­stabilized contraption that was billed as
the next generation of transportation when it was released a few
years back. So far, it hasn’t lived up to the revolution that was
promised, but there are small pockets of life where the Segway is
the right way. And touring Santa Barbara is exactly one of those

The three-and-a-half-hour, $90 “Mission Tour” begins at Segway
of S.B. headquarters, located on Mason Street in the Funk Zone, a
neighborhood that’s got both a storied past as the hub of the early
shipping industry and a healthy future as a hub of artistic
activity. (Other tours range from the shorter “Old S.B. Tour” and a
“Sunset Special” to the coastal tours to Butterfly Beach and
through Gaviota.)

After a helmet fitting and brief indoor/outdoor training on the
Segways — where the mother/daughter pair joining me on the morning
tour and I learned to stop and start, weaved through cones, and got
comfortable atop our 21st-century steeds — we were off, under the
expert guidance of Trish Caron, who owns the rental/sales shop with
her boyfriend, Jerry Mahoney.

The first stop was the train station and the nearby Moreton Bay
fig tree — the world’s largest, of course, where hippies once got
their mail delivered — before heading up State Street’s bike lanes
and sidewalks to the grins of pedestrians. The tour meanders
through our town’s considerable and colorful history all the way to
the mission, including everything from the Chinatown shootouts and
the Upper East’s massive estates to the proper semantics of the
Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens and the stuffed grandmother who
tends a garden a few blocks away from Garden Street. But unlike
those stereotypical tour guides that deliver too much rote
information without context or humor, Trish’s delivery was
light-hearted, funny, and friendly, as she’s able to poke fun at
our town’s curiosities and quirks. But she didn’t shirk on the tour
guide-y info either, providing fresh anecdotes and solid historical
information the entire time.

Touring aside, the two most common concerns for Segway neophytes
are safety and style. Safety is a pretty easy one — crashes only
occur when riders get freaked and let the wrong reflexes take over,
so just stay calm and follow instructions. The Segway style, on the
other hand, is still gaining acceptance, so baffled looks, more
pointing fingers than if you were wearing a clown suit, and the
occasional cat-call from teen punks can be expected. But for the
most part, these reactions are rooted in jealousy, for who doesn’t
want to ride this millennium’s transportation revolution?

By the tour’s end, the bulk of Santa Barbara’s highlights are
bagged, and you’ve still got plenty of time to enjoy the rest of
the afternoon. The Segways are more extensive than trolley riding
or car touring, less exhaustive than bike riding, and cover far
more ground than merely walking. Finally, we’ve got Santa Barbara
at the perfect speed.

4·1·1 Segway of Santa Barbara’s tours range in
cost, length, and destination; visit, call
963-7672, or stop by the store at 24½ E. Mason St. for more


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