The Side Streets and Alleyways of Upper Oak Park

Years ago, my first real walk around a Santa Barbara neighborhood—beyond the usual spots (Presidio, Funk Zone, etc.)—was in upper Oak Park. My husband had a long medical appointment, so I wandered until he was done. And I was delighted by what I found. When I recently returned for a stroll, I wondered if the area would still deliver.

The neighborhood in question is more or less the triangle made by De La Vina Street, Pueblo Street, and Alamar Avenue. I parked at the corner of De La Vina and Pueblo, taking this wedgy hedge as a good omen. I like to think each neighbor had a different idea of how it should be trimmed.

All balloons are bad for the environment, but mylar balloons are the worst. Let’s keep them indoors, OK?

The centerpiece of the neighborhood is, of course, Cottage Hospital. It’s a pretty appealing building, at least from outside—even the bus stop has flair. I have yet to set foot inside. (Excuse me while I go knock wood.)

As one would expect, Cottage’s older Knapp building is even better.

And Cottage’s parking structure is much worse. Given how visible the building is, what a shame more effort wasn’t made to make it fit in with the neighborhood. It looks like Irvine.

Sansum’s main building, meanwhile, is such a dog you can practically hear it bark. So much for a more tactful 2022!

Might as well go all in: the first building below looks like a prison, the bottom one like a by-the-hour motel.

And I honestly don’t know what to think about this. I think I’d like it more if it were concrete.

Sansum’s Ridley-Tree Cancer Center is much more successful.

And I love seeing so many small old buildings repurposed as medical offices.

UCLA Health takes the blue ribbon on that front. Note the sexy little bike rack, as if the earth had gotten a piercing.

I found it remarkable how many commercial buildings are awkward from the back—if you park in their lots, it’s the part you’re likely to see first.

Here’s hoping this new one on Pueblo, by DesignARC, addresses the problem better.

There are actually very few contemporary commercial buildings. Instead, you see quite a lot of midcentury motifs.

There isn’t so much medical doodadery. I think the first one is an orthopedic clinic; those aren’t leftover Halloween decorations.

Let’s take a break from all the architecture. Gotta love a whale-tail bench, although they do make more sense near the water.

If this sign said “brain surgeons,” I’d steal it and put in outside my house.

That’s a “Chinchilla Xing” sign.

Now we know what happened to the dinosaurs: they rusted to death.

Another photo for my collection of apartment complexes named for women. Although I only have one other one so far, so perhaps I should move on.

How about buildings with ambitious names, like McColm Manor?

Or weather vanes! This city has many great ones.

Inevitably, I return home from these walks and learn something by Googling. For instance, the Little Cottages on Bath Street are part of Cottage Health, and they “provide overnight accommodations in a quiet, supportive environment [for] families of patients during medical crisis.” I resisted the urge to explore the courtyard visible in the second photo.

New House III, across from Cottage Hospital, is a sober-living facility. The background:

On March 31, 1949, a small group of Santa Barbara citizens met with Marty Mann, founder of the National Council on Alcoholism [….] They incorporated in October of that year, calling themselves the Santa Barbara Committee on Alcoholism.

Local facilities for alcoholism were inadequate, and in May of 1955, under the direction of Elmo Little—an electrician from Knoxville, Tennessee—the first New House was opened. The original supporters were pledged to keep New House self-supporting and free from government tangles and restrictions. Elmo had told one of the many men he sponsored, William Donahue, that what many alcoholics need in Santa Barbara was “a new house on a new street in a new city for a newfound recovery.”

New House became independent of the Committee on Alcoholism in 1974, and in 1978 opened New House II [on W. Haley]. In February of 1991, New House III was purchased at 2434 Bath Street, increasing the New House capacity to 100 men. The original New House facility was retired and replaced by a Grad House on Castillo Street in 2001.

I assume that’s the original New House in the second photo.

Back to architecture! The Union Bank on Nogales Avenue is lovely, and one rarely sees a bank branch on a side street. Speaking of lovely, how about that courtyard oak elsewhere in the neighborhood? And that driveway?

I thought the apartment complex at Alamar Avenue and Tallant Road was more appealing than the photo might indicate, and the shingled one on Quinto Street has all sorts of woodsy charm.

Now I’m going to bombard you with houses. There are so many adorable ones. I always expect people to protest my taking these photos, but no one did. And I couldn’t help but think about the recent time when I heard someone outside our gate, so I peeked over, only to catch him in the act of taking a photo. He scurried away, but I’d be the last person—or a huge hypocrite—to give anyone trouble on that front.

My very favorite. Even the utilitarian side is wonderful.

In November, historian Betsy Green announced a survey of hitching posts. I’m sure she already knows that this part of town is chockablock with them. One you start noticing them you won’t stop.

Another sign of an old neighborhood: marvelous trees.

I thought Amor Towles’s new novel, The Lincoln Highway, was only his third best, but one moment stuck with me. A character talks about how life is shaped like a sideways diamond: as you grow up, the world widens with potential until, at a point you only recognize afterward, it starts narrowing again. I thought of it because part of me wanted to climb this tree—it was made for it—but those days have been over for a while now.

Being middle-aged doesn’t mean I still don’t get a thrill from a pedestrian overpass.

And I’m still young immature enough to find “speed hump” funny. My husband’s idea of humor, meanwhile, is to pronounce “Bath” like he’s a character in a Jane Austen novel.

Remind me to tell you about the time—the two times, actually—I hit people with darts. Accidentally, I should point out.

The eponym of the neighborhood: Oak Park. How old do you think that sign is? Imagine a world where people still drove “house cars” around….

You have to hand it to the horseshoe lobby for getting eight pitches inside Oak Park and the right to keep the lights on so late. Ten p.m. in Santa Barbara is equivalent to 1 a.m. elsewhere.

Crossing Mission Creek causes me trepidation; it seems like a body turns up there every few months. Nothing on my watch, I’m happy to report, although nearby I discovered what looks like a pagan altar.

The best for last: what I loved most about this part of Oak Park, back on my first walk and again this go-round, were the alleys. On Google Maps, they look like streets, but they’re unnamed alleys where the public, as you can see below, is allowed to walk. What you find is sometimes surprisingly rural.

And sometimes just surprising. Could that be a house car?!


Walk With Me…
Quintessential Montecito at Butterfly Beach
Mixing Business and Pleasure in East Beach
It’s Only Milpas Street (But I Like It)
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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Dan Holton

Nice work right there, Erik. I reside in San Roque and I’m no stranger to the same on-foot discoveries nearby. A fan of both architecture and S.B. history, I’m completely aligned with your (many) observations and I appreciated your especially thoughtful word choices. Keep ‘em coming!!

San Roque mom

Do you have any additional information on the Mackenzie Market? My kids go to Peabody with the owners of Teddy’s in carpinteria and everyone is talking about the new owners of Mackenzie market opening up a restaurant ….. another teddy’s..? Or will they open a coffee house like the one they are opening in carpinteria.? So many questions I know but everyone is asking when and what will go in to this spot on state.

Erik Torkells

Sorry, I don’t have any info. They haven’t been forthcoming about their plans, at least with me. Or you could have your kids ask their kids…. (Joking.)

Leslie Westbrook

It’s going to be called “Uptown Teddy’s” (or Teddy’s Uptown, not sure). We LOVE Teddy’s in Carp – great food; fab staff, homemade potato chips and cedar plank salmon rock..Good drinks, too! think y’all got the skinny on the upcoming coffee shop from the same folks on Carp Ave.


I enjoy your walks and commentary posts!

I enjoy driving the backroads of north county – Lompoc has La Salle Canyon ( Dare to Dream Farms is a reward there), Miguelito Canyon rd which has a awesome county park shortly after you wind your way up the canyon, it forks and takes a real deep dive into quiet fields of waist high grasses. Sweeney rd takes you thru most of what Lompoc grows- amazing scenery and vistas. Real people working for a wage out there!


Thanks so much for taking us on your stroll. These were my stomping grounds from the ages of 4-8 years old, way back in the 70’s. It’s nice to see that it hasn’t really changed all that much.
Also, in Cottage Hospital, they have a really beautiful “spiritual” room (what was once called a chapel, I suppose). It’s worth checking out, next time you’re in the neighborhood.


As someone who takes my kids and dog to Oak Park daily, I was very surprised by your comment that “a body turns up there every few months”. So I searched Edhat and Noozhawk, and only found 3 instances of fatalities at oak park in the past decade, none in the creek, none involved foul play… you must be mistaken for the stretch of mission creek by downtown

I’m also surprised you didn’t include any photos or commentary on the gorgeous oak trees or the massive sycamores. It’s such a lovely park! One of my favorites in the city

We work mom

I agree with Lauren I live next to oak park and I am offended by that comment because it’s simply not true. It’s sad that anyone can just say anything they want even if it’s not factually correct.


“ Crossing Mission Creek causes me trepidation; it seems like a body turns up there every few months. ” As you’ve pointed out in your comment, the author was not referring to Oak Park but to Mission Creek.

Carla Trott Lejade

I love your architectural commentaries – especially when you call out some of the horrible stuff that has slipped through the cracks over time. But there’s lots of good architecture left and your pictures are delightful, How about covering the “arts district” around Ortega and Haley and where the new Soviet structure police station will soon replace our beloved Saturday farmers market? Maybe show folks the rendering.
Thanks again for your commentaries…