Santa Barbara with the Family on a Quarter or Two


Traveling as a family typically goes hand in hand with traveling on some kind of a budget. Costs add up quickly when dinner for two doubles to dishes for four, and you take up a majority, if not all of the row on the airplane. So when you stumble upon an unexpected bargain when on vacation, like Santa Barbara’s Downtown-Waterfront Shuttle, it stands out like a shining star.

The trolley-esque electric shuttles have two routes that connect Santa Barbara’s Downtown to the Waterfront. The Downtown Shuttle goes up and down the bustling stretch of State Street, from Sola Street to Stearns Wharf. The Waterfront Shuttle covers the coast from the Santa Barbara Zoo to the Harbor. Shuttles run about every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the time of day and season of the year.

Ready for the best part? Drum roll please, the one-way fare is just 50 cents. You read it right. You can ride for just two quarters, and kids under 45 inches ride free. Don’t be surprised by all the locals on board. You’ll need a Shuttle Transfer when you switch from one route the other, but they’re free too. Just ask the driver to print one for you when you first get on the shuttle.

The walk down State Street to Stearns Wharf isn’t horribly long and there’s plenty of distractions to entertain while you cover the mile or so distance. Shop. Eat at Norton’s Pastrami and Deli. It’s a few steps off State Street, but the pastrami is worth every step and then some. If you’ve got a sweet tooth stop for an ice cream cone made with those cone shaped scoops of Thrifty Ice Cream now sold at the counter inside the Rite Aid on State Street.  

You’ll be at Stearns Wharf in no time. Check out the Ty Warner Sea Center. The first floor is loaded with colorful touch pools, where there’s a good chance the kids will wind up with a wet sleeve or two. Look for the sunflower star. The fastest moving sea star cruises around the tank likes it’s training for a marathon. After learning about all the critters that call the ocean home, it’s a good time to head there yourself, especially if the kids are already a bit damp. After you play in the sand and dip your toes in the chilly waves, no one will be dreading the walk back to the hotel when they see the Downtown Shuttle that will take them home parked near the dolphin statue at the entrance to the Wharf.

If the crew isn’t quite ready to go home, but too tired to keep walking, the Waterfront Shuttle route is a nice tour in itself. Head North and you’ll pass Santa Barbara City College and Pershing Park before turning around at the Harbor and heading back. Head South and you pass Chase Palm Park and a visitors center before the route ends at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Just stay on and the shuttle will bring you back right to where you started, though your kids might have the sudden desire and energy to get off when they see the spot the colorful playground and carousel at Chase Palm Park. Go for it, you’re on vacation. They’ll be another shuttle in 15 minutes or so.

Dana and her family were given complimentary tickets to the Ty Warner Sea Center, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own.


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