The Highs and Lows of Harbor Hills

When writing about a city, getting the neighborhoods right isn’t nearly as hard as understanding the prepositions and articles associated with them. For instance, as a former New Yorker, I have to resist saying “on the Upper East” instead of in it. (Not to mention adding “Side” at the end.) But people live on the Mesa, not in it. Something I still don’t know is whether Alta Mesa should be preceded by “the.” Enlighten me!

My walk of this part of (the?) Alta Mesa, which I always think of as Harbor Hills, began in the northwest corner, and it got off to an auspicious start when I came upon a storage Pod—nah, just kidding. I prefer not to think about the Pod full of stuff that my husband and I have rotting away somewhere in Oxnard; I can generally forget it exists until I see the monthly charge on my credit-card bill. I will say that the drivers’ skill in delivering and removing the Pod is impressive.

Much more pleasant: a sign for Americans United for Separation of Church and State—a fundamental principle on which our great country was founded, which too many people forget.

This part of town has three main sections, at least in regard to how I walked it. First was the upper area, mainly La Coronilla Drive and Harbor Hills Drive. Judging from the signs, people must come through in a hurry—perhaps the idea is that they’ll slow down to admire the cuteness.

How handy to be able to hang your child on a doorknob!

The owner of 1750 La Coronilla has an antique Ford (with a license plate frame that says “Less is bore”) and a pimped-up mailbox. I like how the street number has been customized, too.

Is this golf cart nearby trying to hide from that Ford?

A bunch of houses on La Coronilla have the midcentury lines of an airplane hangar.

And a few have been updated (or are in the process) in interesting ways. The views from the glass-walled room atop the first house below must be extraordinary. And the garage at the second one used to have a tall, arched door, presumably to accommodate an RV. (UPDATE 3/19: “The house on La Coronilla, with the giant garage, was specially permitted for the owner, who was handicapped, and drove a bus for the city,” explained Heidi. “He got special permission to park the bus at home. We were so so sad to see it converted to a regular garage door opening.”)

A driveway to the Vic Trace Reservoir has been turned into a makeshift basketball court, where someone dunked too hard. By the way, was Vic Trace a person? The name Vic has such a midcentury to ring to it, probably because of Vic Damone and Trader Vic’s.

Cue the Pebbles track.

The first of four Little Free Libraries I encountered included a book I both recognize and recommend, which is rare: Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. It requires some patience at first.

In true Santa Barbara style, the sidewalks occasionally end abruptly.

The owner of this tree on La Cresta Circle festooned it with small disco balls that cast vibrating specks of light all over. I should have attempted a video.

And at the end of the La Cresta cul-de-sac, you get a good look at the 1973 octagonal house at 1547 La Coronilla. Photos and a floor plan are still online from when it sold in 2019. On top is a roof deck.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a car cover with a license plate window. It’s not a legal thing, says Reddit.

The mountain views from La Coronilla are insane. You’ll want to keep an eye on where you’re walking, though. Someone has embedded large rocks in the sidewalk.

The houses on the north side of the street were built down the hillside, so to reach the front door, you take a bridge from the street. The longer the bridge, the more dramatic an entrance you get to make. Sashay! Shantay!

The first of many glimpses of the ocean.

But I was more interested in the patchwork retaining wall where La Coronilla meets Harbor Hills Drive.

This Little Free Library included a jar of what appeared to be snacks; I didn’t investigate. I’ve read a lot of Ian McEwan, but never Solar. Of his more recent novels, I particularly enjoyed Nutshell and Machines Like Me.

The western end of Harbor Hills Drive is a cul-de-sac with a Neoclassical villa (here are some photos from when it was listed in 2020—I’d love to see how it turned out), and a super-contemporary one (the gray box to the right of the second photo). Bookmark that one in your mind, because we’ll get a much more satisfying look at it later. As you continue down the street, the architectural styles keep coming and the view really opens up. This is a stretch that’s sure to dazzle your out-of-town guests.

I love a flag lot with an impossibly scenic driveway.

Harbor Hills Lane is a spur dangling off of Harbor Hills Drive. Maybe I was tired of looking at houses, because I only took photos of the trees.

At the northern/eastern end of Harbor Hills Drive—it’s a funnily shaped street—is a contemporary house with real curb appeal. I was surprised by how few windows face the street, because there’s nothing beyond the house, and across the way is hillside.

As I always do, I noticed different things while retracing my steps up Harbor Hills and La Coronilla. Look, parking can be hard, and I take great comfort that you can legally be up 18 inches from a curb. But sometimes you have accept that you have failed and start over.

I mentioned a while back that this walk has three main parts. The second section is bordered by Meigs, La Coronilla, and Dolores. On a map, it looks kind of like the paddle attachment on an electric mixer. And it’s less photogenic than parts one and three. Nonetheless, the observant walker always gets a reward. Below: moderate sidewalk infringement on Dolores, along with a gorgeous tree.

The Vic Trace Reservoir lot also borders Dolores, and some of the land has been turned into a park that seems to be mainly for dogs. I got a chuckle from the idle threat, and I wondered what happened to the missing chunk by the sidewalk. Did someone take a big chomp out of it?

I don’t think this is a mailbox, but what else could it be?

Highlights from the Calle del Oro cul-de-sac: a fulsome stone pine, some very happy (and fruiting) sago palms, and another Little Free Library. Pity the dictionaries of the world.

Turning left on Ricardo Avenue, I entered part three of the walk. I don’t know if it was the color or the architecture, but I felt compelled to capture this blue house.

Ricardo Avenue bisects the squiggly street of La Vista del Oceano. Having been chided in the past for walking on private streets, I resisted the urge to explore to the left, and I made a note to investigate later whether it really is private. The “no skateboarding” sign made me think that perhaps the residents are simply doing whatever they can to discourage skaters. The house above the sign is a behemoth, or at least appears so from the street.

As you might deduce from the name, the southern half of La Vista del Oceano has amazing views of the Pacific. Most of the houses, however, were rather similar; at one point, I had to work to figure out where one ended and its neighbor began. Envy may have been part of the problem.

The lower end of the street was clearly not developed all at once. The house that looks Jeff Shelton-ish is actually the work of his brother, David by an unknown architect, but Shelton’s brother David made the mailbox. (There may be no zippier mailbox in town.) I wished that the cool little truck nearby belonged there. UPDATE 3/17: Jeff Shelton’s office and I had a miscommunication.

Even the bottom of the street has an ocean view.

Climbing back up La Vista del Oceano didn’t sound appealing, so I took Cliff Drive, exploring Miramesa Drive along the way. It ends in a neat little circle. And I stopped to take photos of an underachieving drainpipe and side-by-side houses with quirky entrances.

This was my first sighting of a Kamala Harris bumper sticker. People like to complain that she has been ineffectual, but that seems to go with the territory of being a vice president. To be the first woman to hold the office is no small achievement.

The main reason I chose to walk Cliff Drive was to stop for a scoop of McConnell’s ice cream at Sweetie’s.

I headed up Meigs and turned right onto Dolores Drive, back in the less interesting second part of the area. The Holy Cross Church’s large lot extends all the way from Cliff Drive. As I passed the church’s driveway on Dolores, I noticed a little marker, and I thought, Oh, cute, something for the kids. But then I got close enough to read “Jesus is condemned to death.” The marker commemorates the first of the Stations of the Cross, and there were more farther into the property.

Finally, the homestretch…. There was some acute sidewalk infringement, a matched set of trees on Vales Street, and the final Little Free Library. I had no idea that Portia de Rossi published a memoir in 2010. Take it away, Amazon: “In this searing, unflinchingly honest memoir, actress Portia de Rossi shares the truth of her long battle to overcome anorexia and bulimia while living in the public eye, and details the new happiness and health she has found in recent years—including her coming out and her marriage to Ellen DeGeneres.”

And I can think of no happier ending than a Pleasure-Way. It sounds like something you’d find in a men’s-room vending machine back in the day.

P.S. Back home, I asked the city’s Public Works department whether the northern half of La Vista del Oceano is public or private. It’s city-owned, the rep said. Moreover, I was told that “the City’s municipal code defines where skateboarding is prohibited,” and there’s no mention of La Vista del Oceano.

Naturally, I went back to check out the street. And I noticed that there’s a “no outlet” sign on Ricardo Avenue, just past Dolores Drive—which is strange, because you can walk, bike, drive, or even skateboard all the way to Cliff Drive. [UPDATE: “I live on Ricardo—that’s our kid painted little free library!—and when I first moved to the street (2009) there truly was no outlet,” commented Sarah. “I can’t remember exactly when they opened it up but the city never bothered to remove the sign at Dolores/Ricardo.”]

The pavement is different on the north and south parts of La Vista del Oceano, which made me wonder whether the city rep was wrong, and the north side is indeed private. If so, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.

I soldiered on anyway, and I was glad I did. Look at that amazing border. And that Santorini-esque house.

The “no parking this side” didn’t strike me as official.

As on the lower part of La Vista del Oceano, a lot of the houses are similar to each other.

This one was an outlier.

And this one was see-through.

At the end of the street, across the ravine, is the Harbor Hills Drive house I told you to bookmark earlier. The land sold in 2017, and the owner appears to have built the plans that came with it. Very cool!

The views are insane. If this street is indeed public, it’s one of the most stunning walks in town.

A bench labeled “El Campo de Beckham” has a sign that encourages people to sit there during daylight hours. I declined, but I did take a second to think about how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place, and how easy it is to lose track of what matters.

The next day, someone on my swim team died unexpectedly. He was a lovely guy, gone way too soon, and the shock of it is with me still. I believe the best way to honor those we’ve lost is to never take one moment of this life, or the people we choose to spend it with, for granted.

UPDATE 3/18: “The upper part of La Vista Del Oceano is indeed public, despite the (old) signage,” commented Anthony. “Welcome! It’s my bench shown in the opening photo. From the circle at the top of the street, take the trail alongside 1703 down to Santa Fe Place and Cliff Drive for a scenic circuit. The trail is a public easement over private property, so stay on it. And go at your own risk.”


Walk With Me…

Downtown Santa Barbara
The Gritty Glamour of the Funk Zone
The Upper Upper East Is Busting Out All Over
• The Presidio: In the Footsteps of Old Santa Barbara
• Brinkerhoff, Bradley, and Beyond
• Mixing Business and Pleasure in East Beach
• It’s Only Milpas Street (But I Like It)
• The Haley Corridor Is Keeping It Real
• The Small Pleasures of Bungalow Haven
• Is There a Better Neighborhood for a Stroll Than West Beach?
• E. Canon Perdido, One of Downtown’s Best Strolling Streets

• Where the Eastside Meets the Lower Riviera

Oak Park / Samarkand
• The Side Streets and Alleyways of Upper Oak Park
• The Small-Town Charms of Samarkand

The Riviera
• Scaling the Heights of Las Alturas
• High on the Lower Riviera

Eucalyptus Hill
• On the Golden Slope of Eucalyptus Hill
• Climbing the Back of Eucalyptus Hill

San Roque
• Voyage to the Heart of the San Roque Spider Web

TV Hill / The Mesa
↓↓↓ Walking in Circles in Alta Mesa
• West Mesa Is Still Funky After All These Years
• A Close-Up Look at TV Hill

Hidden Valley / Yankee Farm / Campanil
• Campanil is a Neighborhood in Flux
• An Aimless Wander Through Hidden Valley
• The Unvarnished Appeal of Yankee Farm

Hope Ranch / Hope Ranch Annex / Etc.
• A Country Stroll on El Sueno Road

• Out and Back on Ortega Ridge
• The Heart of Montecito Is in Coast Village
• Quintessential Montecito at Butterfly Beach
• Once Upon a Time in the Hedgerow
• Where Montecito Gets Down to Business
• In the Heart of the Golden Quadrangle
• Up, Down, and All Around Montecito’s Pepper Hill
• Montecito’s Prestigious Picacho Lane
• School House Road and Camphor Place

Summerland / Carpinteria
• A Stroll in the Summerland Countryside
• Admiring the Backsides of Beachfront Houses on Padaro Lane
• Whitney Avenue in Summerland

Goleta / Isla Vista
• A Tough Nut to Crack in Goleta
• Where the Streets Have Full Names
• The Past Is Still Present in Old Town Goleta
• Social Distancing Made Easy at UCSB


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Kamala lacks bumperstickers, or any real recognition etc., as she is a less than one hit wonder. Own it!


I live on Ricardo (that’s our kid painted little free library! and when I first moved to the street (2009) there truly was no outlet. I can’t remember exactly when they opened it up but the city never bothered to remove the sign at Dolores/Ricardo.


Your ‘walk with me series’ is wonderfully addictive. To see it pop up in Siteline is the best treat. Thank you!


I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.
Your tree photos are really wonderful, but the idea of sitting on that bench gives me vertigo!


I’ve walked almost every street in Santa Barbara, and La Vista del Oceano is easily one of my favorites


The upper part of La Vista Del Oceano is indeed public, despite the (old) signage. Welcome! It’s my bench shown in the opening photo.

From the circle at the top of the street, take the trail alongside 1703 down to Santa Fe Place and Cliff Drive for a scenic circuit. The trail is a public easement over private property, so stay on it. And go at your own risk. Enjoy!


I live on Ricardo (ours is the house under construction, come see it when it’s done!) The house on La Coronilla, with the giant garage, was specially permitted for the owner, who was handicapped, and drove a bus for the city. He got special permission to park the bus at home. We were so so sad to see it converted to a regular garage door opening.