It’s Only Milpas Street (But I Like It)

The New Yorker in me (a) still can’t get over how long it can take to get a coffee in Santa Barbara, (b) is convinced more than half the drivers here are stoned, and (c) misses a little grit now and then. So I set off for N. Milpas Street, parking in the Sprouts lot and heading northwest.

The Indian laurel fig trees lining the street are one of the few things more easily admired while driving than walking. I had to venture out into traffic to get this photo, graced by a bird.

The sidewalks do get a little Jackson Pollock-y, though.

I could try looking up what the yellow ornament is supposed to signify—probably a sun shining down, possibly spaghetti drying in the breeze—but I think I’d end up preferring the mystery.

Speaking of mysteries, what’s up with this bus stop? Are the chairs for social distancing? (“The bus stop benches were removed pre-Covid and replaced with the single chairs to avoid loitering and ‘camping,” says E. “It has been an improvement.”)

The running theme of this walk is going to be how much I had never noticed on Milpas, even though I drive it all the time. For instance, there are a lot of houses for such a predominantly commercial street. (And look at those trees!)

The sun started coming out, which made the photos look better—and the Riviera more visible in the distance.

There really are a crazy number of liquor stores on the street. Residents in the area understandably hate the behavior associated with drinking, and their current thinking seems to be that if you reduce the number of stores, the problems will go down, too. But I’m pretty sure that people will walk a couple of blocks for a drink, if they have to. And liquor stores might be better than vacant storefronts.

When I drive on Milpas, I pay extra attention, which must explain why I had no idea that the following businesses exist. The second one is Moto Action SB Rentals, which rents motorbikes; Big Speak is a talent agency for public speakers; Jams is a music school; Dollyia Psychic Palm & Card is self-explanatory (but she’s also a life coach); and Aikido is a martial-arts academy.

And then there’s Santa Barbara Monumental Co. Two questions: Why “Monumental” and not “Monuments”? And could this be the company behind the Eucalyptus Hill marker that resembles a headstone?

How on earth did these folks decide the word “concepts” made sense in the name?

Another benefit of walking is that it’s easier to pop into a business even if you have no reason. For example, I made it into Chapala Market for the first time, and it didn’t disappoint.

At one point, I crossed over to the other side—literally, not metaphorically—for a breakfast burrito at Taqueria El Bajio. It was good, if a bit spicy for my pathetic gringo palate. I still haven’t found a breakfast burrito I liked as much as the Better Burrito ones; here’s hoping the company starts up again. Anyway, while I was waiting for my order, the proprietor of the barber shop next door came out and put up his barber’s pole. I guess it would get stolen otherwise.

Milpas has an impressive variety of restaurants, and as I passed by some, I thought of dishes I had particularly loved—the dumplings at Shanghai Chinese Restaurant, the doughnuts at Bossie’s Kitchen, the rajas at La Super-Rica…. The former Stone Age restaurant space is ripe for something cool; you’d think the location would appeal to folks living in the Upper and Lower Riviera, and it even has a parking lot. As for Sam’s to Go, I suspect the building is more my style than the food.

How about that font on the Mecca Sports Bar? And La Pachanga? (In Spanish, a “pachanga” is a raucous party.) The younger me would’ve wanted to drop a birthday party there….

I have yet to try Tacos Pipeye, but it’s definitely on the list. Another thing I had never noticed before is the way one-block Jennings Avenue splits to accommodate the restaurant. Also, Pipeye’s motto (“Diga no a la pirateria!!”), written alongside the name, translates to “Say no to piracy,” which I assume reflects irritation with imitators. (Update 10/28: “The Pipeye slogan is a cheeky homage to a popular anti-piracy phrase used in the 80’s and 90’s in film and music,” says E.)

Milpas has some of the better signage in town. The Milpas Rentals one is crazy glamorous, like the gate to an old Hollywood studio lot.

And this had me laughing out loud.

Do you think whoever made the city’s mask signage was inspired by pull-apart glazed doughnuts? (I’d get the one at Bossie’s way before the McDonald’s one.) Because I’m not sure what kind of hairstyle that’s supposed to approximate.

Two sexy old brick buildings for you…. I love the way 435 N. Milpas (at Haley) juts out into the street.

Above Canon Perdido, Milpas turns mostly residential. The house with the blue trim looks pretty fabulous.

Talk about an opportunity for more housing: Milpas has two large vacant lots, one at Ortega and the other at De La Guerra.

If only every parking sign were embraced by bougainvillea.

Two other details worth admiring: the fountain outside the 7-Eleven, and the pretty ironwork at Ryan Technologies’s building, at the corner of Reddick Street. (From its website: “Ryan Technologies is the global leader in forensic, security, and law enforcement product distribution in China.” Who knew?)

A while back, a reader asked me about the auto-body shop at 836 E. Anapamu, across from the Santa Barbara Bowl at the northern end of Milpas. It’s such a great little building, in such a juicy spot. So I tracked down the owner. He asked me not to relay the whole story, but suffice it to say that he has been trying for a long time to convince the city that the building should be put to other use. If anyone with any authority reads this, perhaps you could look into the matter and help him out.

P.S. I only recently learned that Anapamu is not pronounced as if it’s Spanish (ah-nah-pah-moo), but in a way that I have to assume is Chumash (an-uh-pah-moo). You really hit that last syllable.


Walk With Me…
An Aimless Wander Through Hidden Valley
Voyage to the Heart of the San Roque Spider Web
Where the Streets Have Full Names
Once Upon a Time in the Hedgerow…
On the Golden Slope of Eucalyptus Hill
The Past Is Still Present in Old Town Goleta
The Haley Corridor Is Keeping It Real
The Unvarnished Appeal of Yankee Farm
Where Montecito Gets Down to Business
The Small Pleasures of Bungalow Haven
The Small-Town Charms of Samarkand
Climbing the Back of Eucalyptus Hill
Admiring the Backsides of Beachfront Houses on Padaro Lane
Social Distancing Made Easy at UCSB
In the Heart of the Golden Quadrangle
Is There a Better Neighborhood for a Stroll Than West Beach?
Up, Down, and All Around Montecito’s Pepper Hill
E. Canon Perdido, One of Downtown’s Best Strolling Streets
Montecito’s Prestigious Picacho Lane
Whitney Avenue in Summerland
School House Road and Camphor Place


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Hugh Margerum

These walking photo tours are great. It’s really the best way to notice all the fascinating details in a neighborhood. Regarding the yellow lamppost flourishes: they were meant to represent wind blown corn tassels. P.S. you somehow missed The Shop restaurant. Creative casual delicious food!


The bus stop benches were removed pre-Covid and replaced with the single chairs to avoid loitering and “camping”. It has been an improvement.
The Pipeye slogan is a cheeky homage to a popular anti-piracy phrase used in the 80’s and 90’s in film and music.


Love this post! I was one of the Milpas fans on Instagram :) Definitely one of the most underrated parts of town, and one I preferred to frequent when I lived on the Mesa. PS – I also loved Better Burritos! Any chance they’ll be back soon?


Santa Barbara is so great people forget to notice. How many 7-Elevens have a fountain in their courtyard? How many even have a courtyard? Love these walking tours.


Love the tours. You missed Cesar’s Place Mexican food. 712 N Milpas. Shanghai is great!

Christy J

Love that you chose this area. Lots of people would be too scared or too good to walk on Milpas…..

John Jorgensen

That underused lot and building was a gasoline filling and service station long ago.
The possible big dollar question was when it stopped being so. Were the tanks removed?
Today they would be.
Decades ago?


Must have pipeye truck at big brand after 7 pm every day except monday i think. Delicious, Well 7-Eleven now is closed and joins the abandon buildings. It just makes Milpas look more dilapidated. I think it’s going to be the future sight of a mix Hotel and Apartments, joining the four-story at Capitol hardware to fully impact the area. Tobacco store opened up across from Super Rica conveniently located to all the schools. Nice picture it makes me sad to see the current state of the neighborhood. So much potential being run down chronically on the east side


Milpas is Spanish for cornfields or small fields of corn, beans, and pumpkin. The Yellow things are supposed to signify corn -though not sure if it’s the silks or the stalks. When I moved here from NYC 30 yrs ago -this was all over the local news – should they be there or not, blah blah blah…