The change has been a long time coming – but State Street has finally gone pedestrian! Yes, Santa Barbara’s famous downtown shopping and dining street has gone car-free and the 500 and 1200 blocks are now clear for foot traffic, bicycles, scooters and even baby strollers.

state street no cars

Restauranteurs, merchants and residents would argue that it’s one of the positive things to come out of the COVID-19 lockdown, as the situation pushed forward an idea that had been 30 years in debate among the City Council.

Blocked off completely to car traffic, except where cars can cross at intersections, State Street has been transformed into what some liken to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. And folks are loving it!

walking down state street

To give a boost to restaurants and cafes and help them get back some of that lost revenue, the council agreed to let restaurants place tables on the sidewalks, on the street and on curbside parking spots. The outdoor dining “experiment” is set to run until September 8 to allow restaurants and bars to compensate for seating space that would otherwise be lost as a result of social distancing requirements for reopening.

As anywhere in the nation, Santa Barbara’s local restaurant scene was hit hard by the lockdown. And although allowed to reopen, requirements for seating areas at least 6-feet apart meant that many Downtown restaurants just wouldn’t have enough square footage to meet the distance requirements and make it profitably worthwhile to open. So, it seemed an opportune time to push forward with the pedestrian zone project.

Now, with cars removed from State Street, merchants and restauranteurs are getting creative with street patio dining. Many cafes and restaurants have even constructed wooden patio foundations and set up heat lamps, lighting and plants for a cozy décor that is still physically distanced.

The concept of pedestrian, car-free zones is one that has caught on recently in other parts of the world, but especially in Europe, spurred largely by environmental consciousness and the micro-mobility movement of electric scooters and e-bikes. Santa Barbara has long been a bike-friendly town and both local cyclists and visitors renting bicycles are enjoying the convenience and safety found in this new car-free zone.

bike riding state street promenade santa barbara

Visitors and residents are still need to wear face masks and practice social distancing and safe health practices, such as washing hands and using hand sanitizer with 60%+ alcohol. Pedestrians and those on bike or scooter are advised to stay alert and be courteous, as everyone – both young and old – is sharing both the road and sidewalk. But at least for now, finding a place to park is one less thing to worry about these days.

Where to stay in Santa Barbara near State Street’s new pedestrian zone

View a vacation rental home within walking distance to State Street’s car-free zone. State Street is blocked to cars from Sola Street down through Haley Street. West Beach is by far the closest location to the beach and State St. Search vacation rental properties located just a few short blocks from the harbor and pier and those which are also walking distance to the beach and Funk Zone… save the gas in your tank for the drive home!