By Ben Brown:
The Experience in a Nutshell
I am walking down Del Playa Street, clothed in long pants, a wife beater, and a large Star of David Necklace. It is a shame I’m not allowed to bring my baseball bat outside, then my Bear Jew costume would be complete. Thankfully it is no matter. I donate my necklace to my friend wearing a hotdog outfit. He is now a kosher wiener. Two beautiful girls are next to us, one dressed as a tornado, the other clad in gold and blowing bubbles. She is champagne. We are four of around 50,000. This is crazy, I think to myself. How did this come to be? It’s 1 a.m. but the festivities show no signs of slowing down. People are just cheering louder. Every house we pass is packed with people. I can’t believe the beach is just on the other side. A myriad of voices shout comments out way. I can’t discern one from another, but can only assume everyone is in the Halloween spirit.
Location: Santa Barbara, California
Season: Fall, begins several days before Halloween and goes through Halloween night
Avg. Temperature: ~72? F daytime, ~62? F nighttime, humidity: low
Main attraction: Costume parade along Del Playa Street
Additional attractions: Beautiful beaches, parks, and college town
Cheap eats: The line of casual restaurants and take-away eateries on Embarcadero Del Norte
Misc: Target age group is 18-24. Hotels often sell out several weeks beforehand. Taxis to and from Isla Vista at night are very hard to come by. Police roam the streets with a no-tolerance attitude.
Del Playa Street can be reached from any of the Isla Vista exits of the 101 freeway. The best way to get to Isla Vista is by car. I personally took a road trip with several friends from USC, leaving around 2:30pm to beat traffic, and exiting onto Los Carneros Road from the 101. The drive takes about 2 hours, factoring in a minimal amount of the inevitable LA stop-and-go.
Parking can be a problem with so many people coming into the town, but several residences, fraternity houses, and other living areas will open up their parking lots for visitors. For the typical out-of-towner, this may cost upwards of $50, so be prepared. And for those parking on Del Playa, police close the street from 5:30pm-dawn, so plan to arrive ahead of time and don’t plan on using your car that night.
By Train: Amtrak does have a train stop in Santa Barbara, labeled ‘SBA’ on. From Union Station in Los Angeles, the ride is 2-1/2 hours and goes for $23/ticket.
By Plane: For those looking to fly, Santa Barbara’s airport, SBA, connects to most major cities on the west coast. Tickets can be booked at the airport homepage.
The best and most affordable housing is, obviously, to stay with a friend who attends or is in contact with someone who attends the University of California Santa Barbara. I was fortunate to stay at a good friend who lives on Del Playa Street. Houses on the west side of this street each have a spectacular ocean view. For a moment I assume this is a place for people to retire after a successful career. Then I hear people yelling profanities from the sand and remember this is a college town.
There are several hotels located just a few miles from UCSB, with prices starting at $78/night. A listing of hotels can be found on Priceline.com.
Or for the out-of-towner looking for an alternative approach to housing, there is the affordable, albeit risky, alternative of crashing on a couch at any house you may find yourself in past 3am. I opened the balcony door around that time for someone to come into the house, sit on the closest couch he could find, and promptly fall asleep there on the spot. My friend walked in several minutes later, quite surprised to see the stranger asleep on his couch. After a short burst of frustration, he acknowledged that was just the way things worked here, and so long as this person was asleep and not trying to cause trouble or steal anything, he could spend the night and leave in the morning. I wouldn’t recommend this approach, but am just throwing it out there as something that happens from time to time.
Food: Freebirds Mexican Food
Talk to anyone on the street for their personal recommendation, but almost everyone will lead you to the main drag of casual eateries on Embarcadero del Norte, just a few minutes east of Del Playa.
We went to Freebirds, also known as Freebirds World Burrito, a popular Mexican food stop among the UCSB community. An assembly line of workers churn out burritos and nachos by the dozen. I learned most eateries in the area limit their menu choices on Halloween to make food faster for such a large crowd. The line was out the door but it took less than 10 minutes to get a delicious $7 burrito. And as is the case with most places in the area, Freebirds is open late, perfect for the post-midnight meal.
Drink: Keg ‘N’ Bottle Market
Even if you don’t need to purchase anything, this liquor store is a sight to see. Located right past the line of eateries, this place features two stories of alcohol, shelved from floor to ceiling. Pretty much everything you can think of. The ladder that slides across the floor for those hard-to-reach bottle reminds me of something you’d see in a library. But the similarity stops there. In the likely case you do need to stock up on something to spice up your night, this place has almost anything you can think of. We found a few bottle of champagne for a combined 10 dollars to be a pretty good acquisition.
Do not under any circumstance consume anything on the street or anywhere in public. Details regarding this are stated later.
The Main Event: Del Playa Street The street itself is your typical 4-lane residential street and goes about half a mile. And while there is no way to keep an exact count, anywhere from 50-65,000 people flock from across the nation to Del Playa Street every year.
Even during the day, foot traffic is relatively heavy, with students roaming from house to house, walking to the beach, or to the local shops to prepare for the night. Many of them are already in costume. I had a strong feeling they never changed out of them from the night before. People playing drinking on their front lawns. Others tossing the football from the backyard down to the beach 50 feet below, where friends stand at the feet of the cliffs. Music blares from all ends until 5:30pm, when noise complaints can come into effect. But while the tunes may stop, the festivities are just getting started.
The sun sets and the street closes down. More and more pedestrians pass by. Those wearing costume come to outnumber those wearing street clothes. Lines for food on Embarcadero are out the door at every restaurant. Every store with an alcohol license is filled to capacity.
10pm. Del Playa is packed. Tens of thousands of people form a chaotic parade marching up and down the street with no rhythm or sense of destination. Hundreds more flock to DP from nearby cross streets. People leave at the same rate, venturing off to the bounty of parties in the surrounding area. The houses on DP light up with the onslaught of partygoers. With a few exceptions, the doors are open everywhere, all the time. People stand on fences, balconies, and rooftops to overlook the pandemonium below. Everyone is yelling,
If you can think it up, someone’s wearing it as a costume here. Every animal, every movie character, every famous politician, every holiday symbol, every food and household object, every concept or idea that can be worn, is. I went out as “The Bear Jew” from the hit movie ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ only to meet several other Bear Jews within minutes. I saw Pacman weaving through the crowd, running from two Pacman enemies. One year featured literally 300 people marching down the street as the ‘300′ movie cast in full uniform.
The girls took a more minimalist approach to their Halloween costumes. I’ll leave it at that.
The festivities go until 3am, when the police close the street to pedestrians. Activity dies down in the houses around this time as well. I arrived back at my house at 3am to hear music blaring from the floor above me.
Liability, the Police, and the Law This event is an obvious safety threat, and all possible precautions are taken to minimize risks of harm. This is why Santa Barbara residents and UCSB students are discouraged from hosting people for the holiday. Police are called in from surrounding counties to help patrol the scene, and there is an absolute no-tolerance policy for acting out of line. Officers, ambulances, search-and-rescue units, and additional officials stand by checkpoints at cross streets leading to Del Playa. They search all bags and examine people for public intoxication.
More than 300 people were arrested during this event in 2008. Do not be one of those people in the future. It is entirely in your control to enjoy this event while remaining safe and orderly to avoid this kind of conflict altogether:
-Do not bring an open container of any type onto the street.
-Do not display signs of intoxication in public
-Do not carry anything that can be used as a weapon. Fake guns, projectiles, etc. as a part of a costume will be confiscated and you will likely be written up. I made sure to put away my baseball bat before leaving my house.
-Do not engage in disorderly conduct with anyone else in public. Physical conflict, etc. will be recognized immediately
It is easy to follow these obvious guidelines to make your Halloween experience the best it can possibly be. It’s always a treat in Isla Vista.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Benjamin Samuel Brown is a senior broadcast journalism student at the University of Southern California. Born and raised in San Diego, California, Ben’s travel experience spans across more than a dozen countries over four continents and both hemispheres. His preferences tend to stray away from the typical excursion, however—from hiking for backcountry ski slopes in New Zealand to volunteering on an army base for the Israeli Defense Force.
In college, Ben is currently pursuing the honors curriculum in the Annenberg School of Journalism while obtaining a minor degree in sculpture.