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Finding your way around Santa Barbara: Good luck!


o find your way around Santa Barbara, you have to remember one basic rule: Nothing makes any sense whatsoever. Santa Barbara provides a textbook case of the Murphy's Law of street smarts. For example, this is the only place where:

  • The Pacific Ocean is to the south, not west where everyone knows the Pacific Ocean is supposed to be

  • Parts of the Westside lie east of Upper East.

  • Downtown streets are half-cocked at about a 45-degree angle to the compass, so east is really north and west is south.

  • Downtown freeway off-ramps are named Carrillo, Castillo, and Cabrillo.

  • Tourists come nonetheless. If itŐs any consolation, getting around is no easier for the locals.

There's nothing we can do about the ocean. It's just there. After a year or so you get the hang of it. While outsiders say "Highway 101 NORTH to San Francisco," we know you actually go WEST on 101 to get to the Golden Gate.

To be charitable, some streets may follow age-old trails. Still there's not much justification in the off-compass street layout. It shows what can happen when a contract goes to the lowest bidder, who happened to be a sea captain named Haley when the city wanted to lay out its streets in the mid-1800s.

In addition to setting streets at an angle, a possibly apocryphal story says Haley used a rawhide measuring tool which variously stretched or shrunk in fog and sun, creating infernal triangles. (The intersection of Santa Barbara and De la Guerra streets appears to have been knocked off kilter by a giant earthquake). As a bonus, Haley got a street named for him.

Hills, ridges and canyons show up in inexplicable places, making it virtually impossible to go crosstown from, say, the harbor to the back of the Riviera.
There is apparently a city law that streets must abruptly change their names, possibly to see if you're paying attention. State Street inexplicably becomes Hollister Avenue heading out toward Goleta. Foothill Road, the other major east-west artery besides Highway 101, turns into Cathedral Oaks Road somewhere under the San Marcos Pass Road overpass.

Near the Santa Barbara Mission, Los Olivos Street becomes Mission Canyon Road, creating untold dilemmas for tourists who handle the confusion by braking to a dead stop near APS (Alameda Padre Serra to outsiders).

Carrillo becomes Meigs Road as you crest the Mesa. Follow Meigs around and you find yourself on Shoreline, which becomes Cabrillo ...

So, OK. Lompoc's A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H streets may not be such a bad idea after all.

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