Don’t get me wrong I love San Francisco, but I was eager to see a new city on the west coast. Santa Barbara fit the bill.
1. I have a friend (with a car!) who lives there, and seeing a city is much more fun through the perspective of a native.
2. It’s south of SF, so it’s warmer and perpetually sunny. Supposedly it never rains. Though, according to a farmer, they’re in a drought so I guess I shouldn’t be too excited.
3. It’s connected to San Francisco by a nine-hour train ride: Amtrak’s legendary “Coast Starlight,” to be precise. Isn’t that a lovely, romantic name? When I texted my brother where I was he was a bit confused as first; he thought saying “I’m on the coastal starlight” was “a hippie expression for being very happy while visiting the west coast.” Maybe it should be. I did feel awfully happy the entire trip. As a fellow train traveller once told me, “Trains are the most dignified form of travel.” There’s a dining car, a lounge car, and even a parlor car. You can walk about as you please and usually get two whole seats to yourself. But most importantly, you are always certain to spot an Amish or Mennonite family. And there is nothing as cute as the little kids in their simple dresses and bonnets.
That’s actually all I really knew about Santa Barbara before I went there. I made one feable attempt at google-imaging “Santa Barbara,” but that was it in terms of research. Sometimes, as it was in this case, it’s more fun to go in with no expectations or planning, and just discover it as it comes.
But to begin from the beginning:
Though I’ve seen plenty of farmland, California was a nice change of pace from the corn and soybean fields of the Midwest. Plus, it was quite entertaining to pass workers picking the fields and hearing passengers try to guess what the produce was. “Apple” was a pretty confident guess by one passenger for a red thing that grew close to the ground (red peppers, in actuality.)
Then we started getting into the deserts and mountains. While spotting the odd goat every now and then. Finally, we reached my favorite part, when the train rode up right alongside the coast.The nine hours sped by, and I had my first glimpse of Santa Barbara. First thing we did: drive the three minutes to the beach so I could dip my toes into the ocean.
Now, I usually dislike driving, but when the scenery is all mountains and palm trees and farms I feel like I could road-trip for days. After a stop at K-mart for a bathing suit (never go to California without one), we hiked to a sulfur hot spring. It smelled strongly of eggs, but the water was the perfect bath temperature and there were no living creatures in it.
Afterwards, we were a bit productive and got groceries at a little farm where you put your money in a box and go. On the second nature walk of the day, we visited a waterfall dried up from the drought. No mountain lions were sighted.
I took my first red eye back to New York City. After sleeping the whole way, I arrived home ready to start the day back in Brooklyn. Having not missed any daylight hours traveling, California seemed very accessible and nearby. It made me think I could be back every weekend, even though, very sadly, it is on the opposite side of the country.