State Street: Santa Barbara, California


Running through the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, State Street has served as the social, economic, and cultural center of the city and southern coast for over 150 years. Officially named in 1850 to honor California's recently declared statehood, State Street runs from the historic Stearns Wharf, to the waterfront district and continues through the center of downtown. Its unique Hispanic architectural style and landscaping, pedestrian amenities, proximity to the Pacific Ocean, views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and cultural sites provide 24-hour activities for residents and visitors.

Designated Area

Stearns Wharf at Cabrillo Boulevard to Sola Street.

La Arcada Streetscape. Photo courtesy City of Santa Barbara.

Planning Excellence

Since the 1960s, the city has invested in projects to re-energize the street by widening sidewalks, providing a strong retail core environment, increasing support for the arts, banning street parking, creating ample off-street parking, and providing an electric shuttle bus program. 

The "Plaza Concept" aims to draw visitors into an aesthetically pleasing streetscape through the use of landscaping and pedestrian amenities to encourage walking and cycling. Paseos, or pedestrian avenues, link State Street to off-street parking sites while offering opportunities to stop and rest at small fountains or plazas sheltered from the main thoroughfare.

Paseo Nuevo Interior Plaza. Photo courtesy City of Santa Barbara.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Architecture and Planning

  • Santa Barbara began concerted effort to revamp its image to honor its Spanish Colonial Revival style (1917) and established Community Arts Association and Plans and Planting Committee (1920) for this purpose
  • After a major earthquake struck Santa Barbara in 1925, much of State Street was reconstructed in a consistent Spanish Colonial Revival Style
  • Creation of El Pueblo Viejo Landmark District ordinance centered around State Street and advisory Landmark Committee aided in review for the new district (1960)
  • The parking district was created with eight lots and one structure, eliminating parking on State Street, providing free parking, adding bike lanes and bike parking to the street (1968)
  • To protect unique architectural heritage, city developed Historic Structures chapter to the Municipal Code and began a survey of historic resources and subsequent designation of significant historic resources as city landmarks (1977)
  • State Street pedestrian pass under Highway 101 connected lower State Street, wharf, and beach to the commercial core of State Street and Paseo Nuevo Mall (1989) as part of Lower State Street Revitalization Project
  • State Street Beautification Project completed in four phases from 1999 to 2007; $8 million in redevelopment funds used to replace sidewalks, crosswalks, and landscaping
  • Santa Barbara has an active citywide historic architecture preservation program; State Street has 15 properties designated on the National Register of Historic Places including Southern Pacific Railroad Station, Andalucia Building, Faith Mission, Granada Theatre, Arlington Theatre, and El Paseo

Features and Events

  • Paseo La Aracada, a pedestrian mixed-use passage that invites idling, was designed by architect Myron Hunt; features an open courtyard lit with wrought iron chandeliers, fountain with live turtles, public art, outdoor seating, access to museums, and retail boutiques (1926)
  • Paseo Nuevo was Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency's biggest project with a budget of $42 million; a 462,000-square-foot open-air hub of downtown shops and parking structures (1990)
  • Built in 1924, the historic Granada Theatre underwent a $60 million restoration to refurbish original chandeliers, vibrant murals, proscenium arch, the original Granada Alhambra drop curtain, and period fixtures and decorative elements (2008)
  • "Old Spanish Days" is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2014; this iconic and cultural parade and educational events pay homage to Santa Barbara's Spanish roots with a five-day fiesta celebration featuring traditional equestrian shows
  • Santa Barbara International Film Festival celebrating 30th anniversary next year; celebrities, fans, industry professionals, and guests are drawn to the theaters of State Street for movie premieres each year
  • Downtown Holiday Parade and Summer Solstice Parade celebrate the changing of seasons annually; weekly farmers markets and "1st Thursday" highlight downtown arts, culture, and entertainment with free events each month

Historic Granada Theatre. Photo by Alison Grube.