The State Gems: How to Survive Downtown


Editor in Chief & Entertainment Editor

Sure, you know about Antique Alley and the French Press. Maybe you’ve ventured over to the Farmer’s Market or Tuesday Morning a time or two in your day. I mean, it’s downtown, after all. It is newly-weds-or-nearly-dead mecca, the alleged pearl of Santa Barbara. The guarantee to run into that one person you don’t want to run into. The place where all the tourists and their moms walk around in white Reeboks. Where if you were going to count the sunburnt preteens holding iPhones on your fingers, you would need to sprout a couple hundred new arms.

So I don’t blame you if you want a break from it, but rest assured: you don’t actually have to leave it.

This list is by no means definitive, nor are the items listed in any particular order. It purely stands to represent the underrepresented — the surprisingly unsung heroes of Downtown Santa Barbara. Maybe you’ve heard of all these places; maybe you’re a regular at some. The purpose is to restore your faith in our downtown, overrun by chain food and clothing stores and the aforementioned Reeboks – generally accepted by society but nonetheless an eyesore and should be the last possible option. Except for Chipotle, of course, but that should go without saying.

1.   Book Den (Anacapa)


The local interest and first edition section of the Book Den.

As of print date, this is the only bookstore in downtown Santa Barbara. Featuring used, new, and out-of-print titles, Book Den is the oldest used bookstore in California. In 1933, Max Clemens Richter moved a recently-purchased Oakland bookstore to Santa Barbara, where his family owned considerable property. The Santa Barbara News-Press from February 19, 1933, contains an article announcing the opening of The Book Den. The entire store smells like books, and it’s dimly lit; it is exactly what you would want a bookstore to smell like. The first editions section is also a treasure trove.

2.   Art Essentials (Victoria)

This is my favorite art store in Santa Barbara. It’s massive, with concrete floors and high ceilings, chock full of every art supply you could ever hope for, and dozens you’ve never heard of. It’s one of those stores you may wander into on a whim, because you’re interested in checking out the very-cool remnant textile store next door (which is amazing,  by the way), and then suddenly be rung up for a hundred dollars in neat pens. You’ve been warned.

3.   Granada Books (State)

Slated to open on June 20, Santa Barbara’s newest bookstore is planning to be the community center that Earthling Books once was, with a courtyard in the back to hold events. Opening two years since the closing of all major book chains in Santa Barbara, the new store — which holds no affiliations to the Book Den or Chaucer’s — is located a few doors down from the Granada Theater and has plans to have an extensive children’s section and a highlight on local authors. Check it out Solstice Weekend!

4.   Warbler Records (De la Guerra)


Kurt Legler, co-owner of Warbler Records, stands at the desk of Santa Barbara’s newest music store.

I discovered Warbler a couple weeks ago, on this year’s Record Store Day on April 21. It has been opened for two years, and is one of only two music stores downtown. Warbler has a variety of used and new records, as well as used CDs, hip/indie/hipster/retro/hippie merchandise, cassettes, and record players. (For those who don’t know, cassettes are small rectangular prisms that music for cheap people in the late 1900s came in.) An alley behind the store serves as a small concert venue.

“I really think people who bag on music released these days aren’t paying attention to amazing music being made off of Top 40,” said co-owner Kurt Legler. “Which has its place, it’s popular for a reason — but music today isn’t worse than music of the past. It’s just different. That’s why there has become such a demand for records, a classic sound, for newly-released music.” and on Facebook

5.   Jeannine’s Bakery (Figueroa)

There are also locations on way-Upper State and Coast Village Road, but after a visit to the Central Library, an iced coffee sure sounds like heaven. The family-owned set of restaurants and bakeries has been around for a quarter of a century, and no wonder: if you’ve never tried the Espresso scone, they’ve figured out how to turn coffee into a carb, and it is a true art form. Jeannine’s is truly a Santa Barbara gem and, at this rate, will remain as such. Just remember: you’re never too young to brunch.

6.   Sakura (Paseo Nuevo)

You’ve probably passed this tiny Japanese/Asian takeout joint countless times and never given it a second thought. I certainly didn’t, until starving one 2010 afternoon when a friend steered me in and ordered two Chicken Teriyaki Bowls. Located in Paseo Nuevo across from Clare’s, the little restaurant also serves sushi and vegetarian options.

7.   C’est Cheese (Santa Barbara)

the best one yo

C’est Cheese, as it open currently. An addition, including a cafe and bakery, is under construction.

If you’re looking for the American Riviera Ultimate Foodie Corner for Middle Aged People who Probably Subscribe to Bon Appetit Magazine (ARUFCMAPPSBAM), the corner of Santa Barbara Street and East Canon Perdido is it. Not only is it also home to Handlebar Coffee (see #8), but it is also an amazing cheese shop. An ideal spot for a post-Warbler Records-shopping-spree sandwich or salad, C’est Cheese — they even have a pun in the name, no wonder I love it so much — also offers cheese-making classes and a Cheese of the Month program. Renovations are planned for this year, quadrupling its square footage and adding a breakfast and lunch cafe.

8.   Handlebar Coffee (E Canon Perdido)

handlebar best

Handlebar Coffee, one of the best coffee shops downtown, is owned by two former professional bicyclists.

I am a recreational coffee addict, and I blame the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for it; for a period of time, I was attending school regularly AND working 40-hour weeks covering that festival. I wouldn’t have been able to do it — the highlight of my career and the reporting I live for, no doubt, but nonetheless — without an average of six cups of coffee every day. So we know the best coffee shops on every block of Downtown.

This one is unique; owned by two former professional cyclists, it’s off the main drag, so it doesn’t attract very many no-coffee-in-my-coffee-drink folks, or even exhausted-from-walking-up-the-courthouse-steps tourists. No, this is a place for locals; people who love good, home-roasted coffee and an A+ atmosphere.

9.   Soho Music Club (State)

It’s upstairs and kind of out of the way; people who have never been often don’t know where it is, even though it is, in my opinion, the best small-scale concert venue in Santa Barbara. A great lineup has been released for this summer, to offset the horror that is Summer Roundup’s: Devendra Banhardt, Capital Cities, Camera Obscura, and Wildcat! Wildcat! is among them. Pro-tip: if you’re debating whether or not to go to a show just because you don’t know the opener, go to the show. Even if it’s no good, you’ll still get to stand in awkward camaraderie with a bunch of college students trying not to spill beer on you. Can you think of a better weeknight? I thought not.


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