As guests return to our town, I think that you, the visitor, will need a real Santa Barbara street guide (this isn’t it), and I sincerely hope you find one — because getting around this town can be confusing. We have intersections that have only one street sign, we have one-way streets that suddenly turn into two-ways, and we recently closed our main street downtown to cars. It seems we go out of our way to make our streets as confusing as possible — but perhaps the worst thing we do with our streets is that we misname them — almost none of them go where they say they’re going. So I hope this quick tour will show you how to avoid being mis-led by our mis-named streets. And, appropriately enough, it begins at a nearby mis-named town.
Let’s say you spend the morning exploring our surrounding wine country. Like most amateur sommeliers, you end up tasting a flight of wine in a small, one-intersection town called Los Olivos — Olive Trees. You scan the streets expecting to see rows of olive trees, but there are none — instead you realize that the streets of Los Olivos are lined with 43 wine-tasting bars. You check your phone to see if you read the map correctly: perhaps this place is called Los Vinos.
Leaving the olive-tree-less Los Olivos to come to Santa Barbara, you must take Highway 154, a number which refers to absolutely nothing. Because there is no reason or logical progression in the naming of California’s State Routes. Highway 153 is nowhere near 154 — in fact, it’s a half-mile stretch of asphalt north of Sacramento. And Highway 155 connects Route 99 to Route 178… in the Sierra Nevadas.
But 154 gets you to Santa Barbara. And the first thing you want to see is our most famous building — the Old Mission. You enter town and turn onto Constance Street — which suddenly becomes Garden Street. But it doesn’t go to a garden — it actually takes you to the ocean. But you don’t want to go to the ocean — you want to visit the Old Mission before it closes. You can go to the ocean later. Because it never closes. So you turn off Garden Street onto Mission Street.
But Mission Street doesn’t lead you to the Old Mission. In fact, it doesn’t lead you to any Mission. Or even anything old. Mission Street leads you to, and dead ends at, Laguna Street — right in front of Roosevelt Elementary School. And, since you probably have an elementary school where you come from, you don’t feel like popping in and having a look at this one.
So, still looking for the Old Mission, you turn right onto Laguna Street, which does, indeed, take you through a part of town where there used to be a lagoon. But no more. Visionary sub-contractors filled in the lagoon so that they could build homes lined with moldy carpeting. Laguna Street dead ends at the 101 Highway. But once there, you can’t actually get on the highway, nor can you get past the highway, nor can you see the Old Mission — however, you can just barely catch a glimpse of the ocean on the other side of the freeway. And, since you’re so close, you decide to go see the ocean.
Now — logically — you would be tempted to take Ocean View Road — but don’t — because Ocean View Road only takes you to a view of Harbor View Road — which doesn’t actually give you a view of the harbor — though you do get a pretty darn good view of the Harbor View Apartments. But you will never see our harbor from the Harbor View Apartments. Because our harbor’s on the other side of town.
Since you are now curious about our harbor, you think that if you take Shoreline Drive you might actually drive along the shoreline which is where you assume a harbor might be found — and you’re right! Then you see La Marina Drive and you think that it will take you right down to the marina — and you’re wrong! La Marina takes you to, and dead ends at, Cliff Drive.
Now you can drive up and down Cliff Drive all you want but you won’t drive by any cliffs. And, according to locals, you are, now, actually, no longer “in Santa Barbara”: technically, you are “on the Mesa.” And, in fact, the Mesa does have its own eco-systems — as in eco-logical and eco-nomic. In other words — it’s damper and cheaper than Santa Barbara. Now, if it suddenly occurs to you that you DO want to see some cliffs, the place to see cliffs is down at the beach.
But you can’t take Beach Drive or Beach Street or Beach Avenue to get to the beach because — even though half the city is surrounded by beach — none of those beach-named roads exist in this beach town. So you give up on your idea of going to the beach and decide to finish your original mission: to find Santa Barbara’s Old Mission.
You take Santa Barbara Street thinking it will get you back to Santa Barbara. But — no. Santa Barbara Street runs parallel to, and thus never touches, our downtown. In fact, Santa Barbara Street is a one-way street which becomes a two-way which dead ends at Constance — and of course you remember that Constance immediately turns into Garden and that Garden takes you … right back to the ocean.
As you drive along Garden Street you decide to give up seeing the Old Mission. Instead you will return to Los Olivos and drink several more flights of wine. So you turn onto Los Olivos, a street named for the olive trees it doesn’t have — just like the little wine town you’re trying to get back to — and of course Los Olivos Street takes you directly to … the Old Mission. Which is, by now, of course, closed.
Standing in front of the Old Mission, you slowly realize that you won’t ever get to Los Olivos by taking Los Olivos Street. Los Olivos, the street, never goes anywhere near Los Olivos, the town. For that, you need to take Highway 154, the road with the meaningless number. And, fortunately for you, you now know exactly how to find Highway 154. It’s easy. All you have to do is retrace your steps.
Excerpted, and edited, from “The Picasso Suicides”, a novel by Rick Doehring, due for publication in fall 2021.
The author wishes to acknowledge that Los Olivos is indeed known for its delicious olive oil, and, though the its streets are not lined with such trees, that there is an abundance of olive trees outside of town. When in town, however, the sound of corks popping is deafening.