Including the vivacious Pacific Ocean that laps up the city-wide stretch of beach, Santa Barbara is a whopping 43 square miles.
With a freeway sandwiched in between the mountains and the sea, laden with college students on one end of town and Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe’s Montecito estates on the other, this paradise is more than just a pretty picture.
Businesses shut down for national and local holidays when the balconies and streets fill with confetti and horse-led parades; happy hours begin and end based on how long the sun shines and “traffic” is a 40 mph crawl for an extra 10 minutes in the morning.
While only its inhabits truly understand the magic that is Santa Barbara, there are three specific people, four places and five things that showcase why this place is practically Neverland.
Let’s start with our defining people:
The man, the myth, the legend. Pirate is the most popular transient in Santa Barbara County.
He has proposed to countless bikini-clad beach-goers, can open a beer bottle and proceed to drink said beer with the eye socket hidden underneath his patch and simultaneously has the unwavering respect from the entire community.
No one knows how old Pirate is, but we know the streets of SB are empty without him.
You may know them as a modern reggae band that tours on big stages across the country, but many of us know them as the small town band that resided in the Marley House (a house on Del Playa in Isla Vista with a life-size portrait of Bob Marley painted on the front of it) that performed front yard concerts just because it was Thursday.
It doesn’t matter who pays them or how many tickets they sell; these are the guys who stay true to, “No Shoes. No Shirt. No Problem.” And, we love them for this.
This "Back to the Future" star couldn't care less about fame and fortune when it comes to his daily routine.
You can catch him mid-morning at our somewhat clean, slightly gross and very inexpensive 24 Hour Fitness facility in the middle of downtown.
Hoverboards may not be part of the 2015 travel commute, but you can catch your average 10-plus-person Segway tour every day in Santa Barbara (which likely brings a feeling of familiarity to Lloyd and his happy home).
In addition to these crucial characters who have (and continue to) sprinkle their fairy dust over our Neverland, there are four distinct places in Santa Barbara that bring out the Peter Pan in any resident, no matter his or her age:
Whether you have seen this gross yet beautiful shard of property pressed up against UCSB on television, with thousands of costumed visitors strewn on a four-block alley for Halloween weekend or cried with us as we mourned the loss of safety and individuals in a rampant and brutal shooting, you have heard of this unique community.
The rent is insane, bathing suits are the most acceptable form of everyday clothing and balconies are built for chucking water balloons at wide-eyed freshman; everything that is horrifyingly callous is also the most beautiful part about this place.
IV tests self-discipline, breeds lifelong memories and pushes you to learn to live with a dozen other people under one roof.
Its loud reputation and unsanitary streets are only an outsider’s perception.
Give us a National Soccer Championship, an environmental crisis or an unbearable tragedy, and we will band together fervently and purposefully.
La Super Rica
This popular Taqueria on the East Side of Santa Barbara is notorious for its line that wraps around the block, no matter the day or time.
Julia Child's gritty, serviceless hut is an unkempt secret for not-so-low-cal homemade tacos and more.
While the recent years have brought about a plethora of new and delicious Mexican restaurants (that many locals will argue have surpassed La Super Rica’s taste), there is something quaint and original about this iconic eatery that cannot be overlooked.
Perhaps it is the idea that it is one of a kind, much like the town it resides in.
Even Neverland has to have some sort of central location and for Santa Barbara, State Street serves this purpose.
While this lone street connotatively has an “upper” and “lower” portion to it, most striders typically refer to the southernmost blocks, better known as “downtown” Santa Barbara.
In a space where pedestrians and bikers have the right of way, parking is free for at least 75 minutes and outdoor seating is implied, there is nothing city-like about this area, which is what makes it so special.
The bars don't have a cover charge on most nights, you can hit the Farmer’s Market, the gym and a massage parlor, all within steps of each other, and you certainly don’t need to hail a cab — they are simply waiting for you and your four-minute ride home.
The Funk Zone
While this is a newer addition to the area, this small, dense compilation of wineries and breweries is what Southern California stereotypes are made from.
Whether it’s noon on Wednesday or 5 pm on Saturday, the abundant supply of modern warehouse-type buildings are swarming with live music, beverage-sippers on the patio and a variety of food trucks.
It is a mixture of an outdoor music festival, a vineyard tour and a college-geared day-drinking event all in one age-appropriate, chronic summertime, less crowded and efficiently assembled. Basically, there is something for everyone.
Yes, the people seem like television show characters and the notable places here are unimaginable for many who have not had the pleasure to experience the easy-living, Santa Barbara lifestyle.
There are aspects of this town, however, that set the stage for an even clearer Peter Pan permanence:
This five-day, early August holiday is centralized around historical Spanish traditions and offers something for each and every Santa Barbara resident.
There are stages full of performances, dancers and young girls showcasing homemade flowers; there is a parade complete with floats, animals and a mandatory minimum-day for downtown businesses; there are pub crawls and family festivals, confetti eggs and churro stands, face painting and craft stations. It is the honed-in holiday that has it all.
Santa Barbara, despite its small stature, is one of the most densely populated cities in regard to nonprofit organizations.
Home to both national and local chapters and causes, the community is generous with its time and money.
An average weekend lists at least six charitable events and local spokespeople. Cat Cora, the late Paul Walker and Michael Douglas have advocated for and/or donated to notable causes and community teamwork.
This works well in a place where corporations are few and far between.
To depict the many contrasts and dichotomous opportunities that exist in the social sphere of Santa Barbara, the first Thursday of each month offers two pretty dissimilar activities: The first is an array of local art and wine walk throughout the downtown area, typically strewn with a dressier, booze-hungry crowd, and the second is Bike Moves.
Bike Moves is simply a band of bikes that meets at a local park and rides casually through the downtown area, stopping in a bank parking lot to “hydrate,” admire costumes for the monthly “theme” and then continue downwind all the way to the pier.
The night ends with “bike sumo,” which consists of a human circle that encompasses two competitors at a time who try and knock one another off balance from his or her bike while maintaining two-feet to the pedals at all times.
It isn’t rowdy. It’s just Thursday in Neverland.
The Film Festival
In true, small-town fashion, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is the annual event that allows locals to expose their cultured and curious sides.
The six theaters (all within blocks of each other) are housed within small films and big celebrities for a stretch of days at the beginning of each year.
Somehow, the 2 pm start times seem to work wonderfully with everyone’s work schedules.
Our historic Granada and Arlington theater turns into galas and red carpet events and for a brief moment, we embody the less casual and classier side of Santa Barbara.
The longest day of the year is certainly not unique to our tiny town on the West Coast, but it is done here in such a way that perpetuates the Peter Pans sprinkled throughout Santa Barbara.
Similar to Fiesta, this is a holiday where businesses are expected to shut down in order to “prepare” for the weekend nearest the Solstice.
Complete with a belly-dancing-led parade, margarita stands and an epic park filled with glitter tattoos, a beer garden and live bands, Solstice is an all-day and all-night event.
The mindset of this town is well-represented during this holiday, as there is a mixture of environmental awareness, binge-drinking and family fun.
Santa Barbara is a multi-faceted town full of hard workers, big partiers and community members who care.
It is not one-size fits all, and neither is Summer Solstice. As with most things here, everyone allows room for interpretation.
We are your pretty, sheltered and entitled beach town, but we are also your engineering, advocating and charitable community.
We are loyal and tight-knit and we are varied and misunderstood. We are too small for many, but just right for the balanced dweller.
Santa Barbara is full of Peter Pans who grow up when they’re ready or who find a way to make Neverland work indefinitely.