Social Distancing Made Easy at UCSB

In an effort to get to know Santa Barbara better, I’ve been embarking on a series of walks—because you see so much more when you slow down.

Despite growing up in Southern California, I had no idea what UCSB looks like. All I knew was that it has an enviable location and, as a result, its students have an enviable lifestyle. While I’m not sure I would’ve gone to check it out if school was in session—there may be no better way to feel old—as it stands now, the campus is a lovely place for a stroll.

You could probably park in the commercial part of Isla Vista, or even on campus—it’s hard to imagine the lots are being closely monitored during the pandemic—but I parked at the Goleta Beach Park. Signs there say the spaces aren’t for UCSB, so you may not want to follow my lead. But if you do, as you walk toward the campus you’ll get a nice view of the airport and, if you’re lucky, a plane taking off.

Another pleasant thing about the campus is that you don’t have to rely on a map. Where you go doesn’t particularly matter. It’s all safe, and there’s nothing of special interest you’re at risk of missing. The point is just to be somewhere that few other people are.

And it’s as if a bomb went off. I had many I Am Legend moments, where I felt like the last man on earth. The lack of people puts the focus on the architecture, which is unfortunate—much of it is monotonously institutional without the chilly frisson of brutalism.

Not only are there no people, you barely see any signs—a few abandoned bikes, no garbage, no graffiti, a lone flyer—that there ever were.

I haven’t been to the rest of Isla Vista, but I assume I’d find some of the scruffiness I associate with a college town. The campus itself has little in the way of quirk, which made the sign below stand out. Questionable logic, though.

Midcentury-style architecture pops up now and again, the flair welcome even when dated.

If I were in charge of making the campus more attractive, I’d create a unified style for signage. It would help the architectural mishmash cohere a bit. That said, the shadow caused by the Chemistry sign was a beaut.

The good news is that this is the last dismissive thing I’ll say about the architecture: the postmodern buildings are the nadir, as if the funding came through at the worst possible moment. What happened in the first photo below—joining two different styles of building with a third, unrelated style—is just plain wrong.

Happily, many of the contemporary buildings are quite successful!

And the many nooks and passageways make exploring fun.

Who doesn’t love a catwalk?

It’s easy to see why this sign is necessary. Even I had the urge to buy Rollerblades and do something stupid.

Somewhere along the line, someone made the smart decision to plant a lot of trees.

Of course, every college campus needs a big swath of lawn.

Near the lawn are two memorials. I thought the eternal flame would be for the people killed in the 2014 tragedy in Isla Vista, but it was a gift from the class of 1968 to foster world peace. The pyramid, meanwhile, was “dedicated by the class of 1984 in their hope for international peace in the Olympic year.”

The bike paths were mostly empty on my visit, but a friend said they’re something to see when school is in session—everyone bikes everywhere, and you have to be alert crossing the bike paths. The second photo is of a traffic circle solely for bikes.

I got very excited whenever I came across a piece of art, which wasn’t often. The kinetic work in the second photo is hidden behind tall trees, while the two murals are outside the Art, Design & Architecture Museum.

Most of the student housing is off in an area I didn’t get to. (I had an important date with an asada burrito at Mony’s.) I thought the building below was student housing, but it’s a club/hotel for “affiliated guests and individuals conducting University business,” as well as reciprocal club members. The location is terrific, with views out to the lagoon.

I’m sorry to report that the Preston Cloud Laboratory is not a laboratory for the study of clouds, a.k.a. nephology. Instead, it was founded by Preston Cloud, “an eminent American earth scientist, biogeologist, cosmologist, and paleontologist,” and it was “originally dedicated to paleomicrobiology and to studies of the first lunar geological samples from the Apollo 11 space mission” (Wikipedia).

The UC system has yet to make a definitive announcement about the fall, but summer classes have been canceled, so you have months to go explore the abandoned campus. The rest of Isla Vista is still on my list, but I’ll wait till the kids are back in town for that….

Previous “Walk With Me” posts:
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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