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Urban Hike: The Mesa
updated: Feb 26, 2011, 9:45 AM

By Stacey Wright and Peter Hartmann

What do a lighthouse, magnificent views of the Pacific, a celebrity's compound, excellent urban planning, an enduring produce stand and the ultimate recreational lifestyle have in common? The Mesa, of course.

We urban hikers continued our quest of walking each and every street within the city limits of Santa Barbara. All 256 "centerline miles" of them, to be exact. And so, with the thoroughness of a window washer, the inquisitiveness of a 5-year old, and the dedication of an Edhat staffer, we hit the streets, and over the course of several hikes, headed to the Mesa to visit this quintessential Santa Barbara ‘hood.

This neighborhood's motto could be "Life's a Beach (and then you die)".

Over the course of several hikes we covered all of the streets between Cliff Drive and the ocean, between the Wilcox property and La Marina - see the map for details.

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Our impression of the old Mesa is that it's a neighborhood where people, lucky by birth or circumstance, wind up living the good life, and hanging out until they either die or go to live elsewhere for care. Most of the people we encountered on the Mesa were either recreating or on their way to or from their recreation. We saw power walkers, joggers, folks teaching their children to ride bikes, surfers, fishermen, paddle boarders, cyclists, children on the playground, skateboarders, and did we say surfers? The Mesa is the perfect place for all this and more.

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On the Mesa, there are two unusual beach access routes, both of which are City Parks; one is 1000-Steps,

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and the other is the stairway at Mesa Lane

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Strangely, at 150 steps, 1000-Steps (at the end of Santa Cruz) has fewer steps than does Mesa Lane (at 241). Either way, that's a lot of stairs to travel down and back, just to get to the beach. On our most recent walk, we noticed that someone must have realized that they wore the wrong shoes for their Mesa Lane recreating, and shed them right in the middle of the street.

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We can't help but wonder if this was before taking the steps to the beach or after...anyway, they look like decent shoes for the right occasion...

Adjacent to the stairs at Mesa Lane, is an interesting little property, thanks to its purely California appeal. It's a cluster of 6 homes, most likely condos by now, that once belonged to Mike Love of the Beach Boys. Rumor has it that Mike lived on the property for many years before selling it in 1997. If you are interested in seeing Mike being interviewed there in 1991, check out the U-Tube video, "Merrell Frankhauser and Mike Love Interview" - it's not terribly exciting, and it's a little stale but at least they discuss how cool the property is.

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One of the alluring things about the Mesa is that, thanks to some pretty decent urban planning, some things are quite streamlined for the people who live there. Consider the decent array of shopping opportunities, good restaurants and generous watering holes. It seemed to us that many Mesa people like to support their local vendors, and would rather stick to their ‘hood than go downtown to shop and hang out. We were especially impressed with our visit to Mesa Produce. Despite global warming, an economic downturn, and the proliferation of chain store conveniences, Mesa Produce has been a mainstay on the Mesa for over 21 years. It started out at the gas station that is now the location of Giovanni's Pizza, and 6 years ago moved up the street to its new funky home. There is something so beautiful to these urban hikers about an old fashioned little produce place...

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Another very quaint and useful feature of the Mesa's urban plan is the little footbridge that takes hikers, bikers and baby joggers from the older residential section to the hub of the ‘hood. The bridge starts at the end of Camino de Luz, off Oliver (where the street sign reads DEAD END), and ends in Mesa Park, near the Lighthouse and the strip mall that is home to Super Cuca's, Blenders and other establishments. We're not sure who decided the DEAD END sign was accurate, but we guess it has to do with cars and other motorized vehicles, because that street is definitely NOT a dead end. The day we hiked this area, this little bridge was well traveled by a variety of people in the midst of a variety of activities. And to top it off, at the other end of the bridge we came upon a sweet little creature who represents the most ubiquitous non-domesticated mammal we have encountered during our hikes around the city.

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We've gotten so wrapped up in describing all the man made marvels of the Mesa that we seem to have forgotten to mention the amazing views this neighborhood has to offer - but then again anyone who's ever been to the Mesa already knows that you can't beat it if your goal is gazing toward the Pacific. We reined in our enthusiasm and included only a few shots, one of which was taken this week when snow dusted our local mountain tops... so we encourage you to head to this neighborhood yourselves and take a seat on any number of the public benches. From that vantage point you will enjoy one of the finest views the world has to offer...

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Lastly, we have two more photos to share with you, and a historical anecdote as well ...both photos were taken in area North of the shopping center (across that little foot bridge). One represents a unique little Mesa pad, and the other is a sign that is either telling people not to jump, or to go ahead and jump...we aren't positive, and surmise that one's interpretation of this sign will depend on the sort of day he or she is having ...

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And now - putting all silliness aside - we want to tell you about one last interesting Mesa feature - the Lighthouse on Lighthouse Rd. We like it because it is both functional and historical. The lighthouse, built in 1856, was constructed in less than 1 year using labor from the local Chumash community. After becoming operational, the first person to tend the lighthouse was Alfred Williams. He tired of the job after only four years, and turned it over to his wife, Julia. In the process of raising the couple's 5 children, Julia tended the lighthouse for over 40 years, and it was only after falling and breaking her hip in 1905, that - at the age of 81 - she gave up the job. Rumor has it that Julia loved her job so dearly that in 40 years of service she was away from her duties for only two days, and both of them were so that she could attend the weddings of her two sons. Apparently, even after she slipped and injured her hip, she stayed on for four days until she was forced to go to the hospital for treatment. Sadly, the quake of '25 demolished the lighthouse, but after 10 years it was rebuilt, and it is still in operation today.

The Mesa is a world unto itself, full of beauty, activity and history. And so as always, we encourage you to go out into the world, hike the streets of our town and above all, expect the unexpected.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 149264 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-26 10:03 AM

Really like your guys reports, thanks. I live on Elise Pl and walk the bridge with my girl most nights. Those rabbits have multiplied and there are about 15 to 20 now.


 COMMENT 149274 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-26 10:30 AM

Thanks. What a nice neighborhood report.


 COMMENT 149415P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-27 07:46 AM

I love living on the mesa, and like (sort of) Julia, find it hard to leave. One characteristic that bears mentioning is that so many of its residents are artists and craftspeople and people who value art and crafts. I feel this adds to its intangible but present atmosphere along with nature's beauty.


 COMMENT 149418 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-27 08:17 AM

I've lived on the Mesa for 47 years, and even though I've been offered lots of money for my house, I can't imagine living anywhere else. It's like a village all its own.


 COMMENT 149423 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-27 08:57 AM

Looks like a domesticated rabbit, probably turned loose. Surprised the coyotes haven't found them. Thanks for the tour of the Mesa. Sounds enticing!


 COMMENT 149434 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-27 10:03 AM

I moved to this area (Hidden Valley) last June and discovered the Mesa pretty soon after that. I love the neighborhood's beachy, artsy-craftsy feel. It's got its own little micro-climate that made it cooler during our heat wave in October, but a tad chilly and foggy sometimes when it's warmer and sunnier other places. I might just mention that Super Cucas isn't in the same strip mall as Blenders, not even close, so using both is not a good reference point for directions. I think the writers were talking about the strip mall with Blenders, Mexican Fresh (or something like that), and the UPS store. Super Cucas (haven't tried this one, but the one on Micheltorena is fabulous!) is up near Albertson's and the Montecito Pet Store, right across the street from the fresh vegetable stand. One of my favorite places is the Mesa Bookstore -- great little used bookstore!


 COMMENT 149444P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-27 10:59 AM

Can the public visit the lighthouse on the Mesa?


 COMMENT 149472P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-27 12:14 PM

You are right, JUDYINFO. We incorrectly identified the Mexican place near Blender's. In reality, it hasn't been Cuca's for a number of years. We should have fact-checked more thoroughly, but the deadline got the better of us Urban Hikers...thank you for the clarification.


 COMMENT 149476P agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-27 12:18 PM

The Coast Guard now operates the Lighthouse. There appear to be a few homes on the property and a security gate out front. I'm not sure if the Coast Guard allows visitors, but given that this lighthouse has an interesting history, maybe they could open it to the public on rare occasion. Any Edhat readers in the Coast Guard or know someone in the Coast Guard?


 COMMENT 149500 agree helpful negative off topic

2011-02-27 03:14 PM

my first apartment was on the mesa. I think I paid $250 month, utilities included for a studio. Nice. When did you say the book was coming out??


 ARCHIE agree helpful negative off topic

2011-09-24 08:39 AM

Another Urban Hikers fan looking forward to the book!


 COMMENT 245290 agree helpful negative off topic

2012-01-02 10:03 AM

Great coverage of this piece of paradise. The steps in Shoreline Park provide a third beach access from the Mesa.


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