Biking with kids in Santa Barbara

We’ve entered new territory: the kids are big enough for their own rental bikes! Also, kid bikes are more readily available at rental places these days. So are bike seats, trailers, and trailer bikes for kids who don’t have the stamina or skills to ride on their own. And to a lesser degree, cargo bikes. We were on spring break last week and flew to LA to visit family with a day trip up to Santa Barbara for passover with family friends.

Last time we biked in Santa Barbara (six years ago) we rented one of several cargo bikes at WheelHouse (RIP) and I probably would have done that again to keep things simple (carrying kids is simpler than leading kids for me…especially if it’s flatter than home).

I wouldn’t have thought about biking at all for this visit had we not been in the midst of 30 Days of Biking and I’m so glad I did because it was great! I found Wheel Fun Rentals online ahead of time and hoped the kid bikes mentioned on the website were small enough for my kids, but as a backup I knew we could rent a surrey (those four-wheeled four- or six-seaters with canopy). The surrey wouldn’t have been as fun because it can only go on the Cabrillo bike path along the beach and I was really excited about the self-guided bike tour.

Wheel Fun Rentals Santa Barbara bike tour–PDF version here.

I grew up in Santa Barbara and know the terrain so I knew the kids wouldn’t want to ride all the way to the Mission (nor would I!) but biking to Alameda Park (to which we had plans to drive after our bike adventure because Kids World Castle Playground is the best!) and then over to the fig tree sounded perfect.

Note: the self-guided-tour map wasn’t available in print at Wheel Fun Rentals, but it’s totally worth doing so print one out before you go. There were more bike options than shown on the website–like trailer bikes! I bet I could have rented a tandem bike with trailer bike and even if my stoker couldn’t reach the pedals, we would have all been on a communal heavy bike like we’re used to.

As a kid in Santa Barbara I just biked on sidewalks near my house and as a college student I biked all over the place, though I avoided State Street because it wasn’t good for biking back then. I often wonder if my experience biking with kids in Seattle would be different had I lived here before becoming a parent. I can imagine as a [relatively] speedy bike commuter I might be scared to add kids to that mix, but only having started slowly doing small rides with a baby wasn’t intimidating. Not that this experience in Santa Barbara answers that question for me, but it was cool to lead my babies on streets familiar yet better than remembered.

I would have preferred staying in a bunch the entire time, but I knew my seven-year old would want to ride ahead for the downhill/uphill under the 101 while my nine-year old lagged behind. I stayed right in the middle, slightly nervous. Fun fact: in the old days there were stop lights to cross the 101. And I see the latest State Street improvements happened just a few years ago.

State Street is still busy, but traffic (one lane in each direction, scattered parking, left- and right- turn lanes at intersections) moves slowly and there are tons of tourists on beach cruisers in the bike lanes. The bike lanes are ridiculously narrow when sandwiched between straight-going and right-turning car lanes, but for kids (and adults) who are decent at riding in a straight line, it’s OK.

Before returning the bikes within an hour ($25.85 total for our three bikes), we headed a few blocks out of the way to the fig tree. I love how being on bikes makes it incredibly easy to add in little trips! When I was a kid one could climb on the trunks, but it’s protected by a fence now.

I made one interesting observation when we skirted around a car idling slightly in the bike lane/mostly in the right-turn lane near Paseo Nuevo. There’s no Uber (private taxi service) here! [Actually a quick Google search shows that there is Uber in Santa Barbara, but the Yelp reviews reveal it’s so poorly regarded that no on uses it.] It was so pleasant biking in such a bustling area and not facing the obstacle course of idling and mid-block-U-turning Ubers prevalent in Seattle.

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4 thoughts on “Biking with kids in Santa Barbara

  1. Actually, there is Uber here and it is used quite a bit. Not sure why yelp would have said it wasn’t good here… I wouldn’t take kids on a bike on State St. in SB… no way. Way too much traffic and tourists in cars not knowing where they are going. Someone gets hit on State St. almost every day on a bike here (read edhat).

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