The Upper Upper East Is Busting Out All Over

When my aunt-in-law, Tracey, was in town, I figured she’d be up for one of these excursions; she can outwalk me. And since she’s a plant enthusiast—and on her way to becoming a Master Gardener—I wanted to take her somewhere we could admire gardens. So we headed off to what I think of as the Upper Upper East, the area bordered by State Street, E. Constance Avenue/Garden Street, and E. Los Olivos Street. If nothing else, it seemed bite-sized.

All that rain over the past few five months has really made the gardens pop—everything is abloom. It’s as if someone put an Instagram filter over our city, ramping up the beauty on an already beautiful place.

For Tracey, the flowers were the star; her flower season back home in Maryland is much shorter. After years of drought, however, I get as much enjoyment from how all the plants are deliriously happy. That nasturtium leaf was the size of a dinner plate.

Tracey hasn’t spent that much time here, so she’s amazed at seeing rosemary cascading down a wall. (It’s a rite of passage for newcomers to buy rosemary at the supermarket once before realizing it’s everywhere.) I was more into the fluffy plants next door, which brought to mind marabou feathers.

And the hedges! It’s as if they’re singing. The second one, which forced us to walk single file, could stand a trim.

But that’s better than what’s happening over on E. Pueblo Street. Yikes. You actually see this happening all over town—the wet soil has to be putting pressure on the old walls. Am I the only person who’s a little freaked out by driving the part of Alston Road where the retaining wall appears to be slanting even more toward the street?

We saw plenty of edible flora, too. Blood oranges are terribly sexy, especially on the tree. Figs are as well, of course, but then I first saw INXS’s “The One Thing” video at a very impressionable age. And if I spot an orange tree in flower, I will stick my nose in it.

We took a pass on the proffered kumquats, though. I had hoped to wind up at the Mission Rose Garden, where the kumquat trees often put on a show, but we didn’t get that far.

With a few exceptions, trees were not a highlight, which is surprising for an older part of town.

There weren’t that many cool vintage cars, either.

Or maybe we simply had too much else to gawk at. I took photos of at least three dozen houses. These were from Anacapa Street alone….

The variety on every street is just—well, it’s splendid.

My favorite is at the corner of State and E. Pueblo, although I would not want responsibility of that roof. Enlarge the second photo to see it (and the kooky hedge) in all its glory.

For all my enthusiasm, the neighborhood does not exactly earn tens across the board, what with the sixties infill popping up here and there. You can get whiplash from gazing lovingly through the iron gates at an old estate and then moving on to something far more prosaic.

Or you might fantasize about living in this beauty—only to realize it has a view of car canopies.

But who am I to judge? I thought this stucco patching looked kind of cool.

Tracey and I felt obliged to pause for a garage sale on State Street. The owner (or possibly a relative) said the house dates from the 1960s, despite the way it carries itself.

The Upper East is the land of churches, as you are likely aware. Because I am a heathen through and through, I didn’t know what was up with the flower-bedecked cross in front of the First Presbyterian Church (although even I could guess it’s Easter-related). In fact, I’m such a heathen that when I read “Lo… I am with you always” on the adjacent mosaic, my first thought was of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, whom Humbert Humbert often refers to as Lo.

Are people allowed to go up in the tower at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? I’d love to. I promise not to bring up Lolita, or even child brides in general.

And then there’s the Monastery of Poor Clare (or Poor Clares, depending on the door). From the nuns’ website: “We strive to remain faithful to the ideals of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, adapting to modern times without accommodating to the ways of the world. Our community observes the reform of Saint Colette, dating back to the 15th century. As Poor Clare Colettines, we have retained the traditional habit, night rising, perpetual fast and the observance of papal enclosure. We also continue to go barefoot as a sign of Gospel poverty and in witness to the transcendence of God.”

The monastery’s wall at the corner of Santa Barbara Street and E. Los Olivos Street has a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, which I’ve driven by countless times but never stopped to read.

I don’t know that Tracey would consider herself a heathen, per se, but she’s a vocal non-believer, so we skipped the Mission. We did, however, peek at the outside of the Junipero Serra Hall. Several websites say it’s rentable for events, but it’s not on the Mission’s list of venues and Google labels it “permanently closed.” When I emailed the Mission to ask, the staffer who responded refused to say why it’s closed and whether it’ll reopen.

Some lovely driveways and gates….

We were particularly fond of this one—watch your step!—and its Mini-Me around the corner.

The indisputable winner.

E. Junipero stops east of Anacapa and then restarts on the next block. I normally get excited by a dead end, but this one was kind of a dud. I’d be curious to know the thinking behind the brick platform that looks like a parking spot (but is up at sidewalk level, with no curb cut).

The standalone block of E. Junipero between Garden and Santa Barbara was notable for not having sidewalks at all.

If you go back and look at the map (or click here), you’ll see parallel alleys between E. Pueblo and E. Los Olivos. The first time we passed them, we couldn’t tell if they were public or private—public alleys elsewhere in the city tend to be signed as such—so we skipped them. (Weirdly, Google’s Street View car drove one but not the other.) When we came upon them from the other end, we decided to go for it.

The alleys don’t have names, but there are houses in the middle that can’t be reached any other way. According to Google Maps, what look like six or seven properties are really just four—two with addresses on E. Pueblo, and two on E. Los Olivos—with various buildings that don’t appear related but are, kind of like a de facto subdivision.

Cornhole or a climbing wall?

The other alley had a house under construction, a remarkably large motor court (with two basketball hoops) for downtown Santa Barbara, a sweet little gate, and a very precise speed limit sign.

Back on the streets proper, there was a Little Free Library and a sidewalk art gallery.

We spotted other curiosities, too. Like fake animals.

Maybe one day the mailbox man and the doll can hang out together….

And several residents are having fun with rocks. We obeyed the last one, but I’m not going to tell you what happened. Life needs mystery.

As we walked on Garden Street, Tracey asked what the various driveways were for, and I had to admit I didn’t know. But I do now! 2442 Garden Street is a house on a flag lot.

The next two gates are for the same property (comprising three lots with the same owner); the house, 2420 Garden Street, is well off the road.

2300 Garden Street is the former St. Anthony’s Seminary on 11.37 acres, on the market since August 2022 for an undisclosed price. From the listing: “The Property features six portable classrooms, a sprawling open grass field, basketball courts, picturesque ocean views [and] gardens [….] Since 1987, the Property has been occupied by various private schools. In recent years, several projects were completed including the refectory, which was effectively rebuilt and updated, adding a library, a commercial kitchen, a teaching kitchen, and a cafeteria. […] The zoning is RE-15, and includes residential single units, but potential additional uses may include luxury senior housing/assisted living, group residential, education, hospitality, and many more, which may require conditional use permits and city approval.” If the listing agents read this, I’d be delighted to tour it and would even bring cookies.

This seems as good a place as any to end.

P.S. Or maybe this.


Walk With Me…

Downtown Santa Barbara
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

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
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

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
• 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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I drove into the Seminary, curious as I love to photograph SB architecture. Within 2 minutes a man (caretaker?) came out and gruffly told me I had to leave immediately. He should be thankful that I didn’t refer to it as what was stuck in my head: “Pedophile Village” ????

[Thank you for celebrating-or holding accountable-our town!]


Owned by a private, tax exempt foundation controlled by the notoriously private Sperling family – owners of Phoenix University, Apollo Global Management among other clever tax shelters…..

Manny Corpus

What did you expect? It’s private property. And why should he care how you refer to it? He’s just a working stiff. If you have valid accusations of sexual abuse (and there are certainly many), bring them to those responsible and/or to law enforcement.