Nowadays, Santa Barbara is home to a mix of upper, middle, and working class residents. While I wouldn't go so far as to say there are dramatic differences between neighborhoods, they definitely have their own unique feel. Montecito is clearly the upper-echelon of the region, with many if not most of the properties topping well above $1 million. Other neighborhoods like Goleta feel a bit more like your typical middle class working environments, and are still beautiful locations with gorgeous homes.
Downtown State Street, the main boulevard that cuts through the downtown of Santa Barbara, is lined with shops, restaurants, theaters, and more. There is everything from luxury boutique shopping to large mainstream stores like Nordstrom and Macy's to mom-and-pop specialty stores. It is difficult to find a bad meal amongst the multitude of culinary options the area has to offer.
The beaches are of course what is most associated with Santa Barbara. It truly is a beach town, and the weather agrees. Summers are mild in the 70s-80s and the winters are not so bad with the coldest times being nights that drop to the low 50s at worst. The ocean is as warm as you can find in California, certainly not like Hawaii or the Gulf of Mexico, but manageable. Famous surf spots like Rincon where pro surfer Kelly Slater keeps a home are within short drives.
I hope that gives you a better idea. Santa Barbara is one of those places that you get a great feel for in the your first experience, one which is difficult to forget. It truly is a one of a kind place.
For me, the perfect day ends at Carlitos sidewalk cafe enjoying their wonderful ceviche with a margarita as the sun goes down.
All the answers to your question are good and accurate. SB is a beautiful place. And it is relatively safe. As a man, I don't know a single area I would feel uncomfortable walking in at night. Women might feel differently, but in general it is a very low-crime place. (Gangs are an exception, but tend to keep their activities and hostilities to themselves. I frequently don't bother locking my door, and never worry about it.
I am a Realtor here, so if at some point you decide you would like to house your son in a condo, which can be a very good investment property for you, please let me know. Condo prices are down 10-15% now, so it's a good time to buy.
Sotheby's International Realty
I have recently had the pleasure to actually visit and stay at Santa Barbara during the past few months; thanks to my son, who just started UCSB. Yes, like Jennifer mentioned below, UCSB has a reputation of being a party school, but I guess most of the others too. UCSB actually has a great reputation and is now oen of the top universities in the country. According to my husband and families, probably due to the gorgeous location of UCSB - there are many Nobel Prize winners teaching in UCSB now and the university is working hard to stay away from the party image and build a better reputation. My son's dorm has academy floors and he has been working very hard as a freshman.
Enough of trying to protect UCSB reputation.
I took a detour driving from Marin to Santa Barbara and discovered the hill side, the beautiful state parks, upscale homes and even smaller high priced homes. The weather seems to be overcast in the morning but the fog burns off and the town is warm and clear in the afternoon and evenings.
There are nice tourist areas, great upscal shopping and restaurant, gives a feel of being in the Hamptons, Carmel area, there are also secluded large homes ,probably some of the uptem $$$ homes. Places around UCSB is also quite nice, so I don't feel so bad for my son away from home.
I have also seen some not so nice areas for lower income housing; perhaps where the students are; which I might check into and will report back.
Lush, sun-drenched, relaxed and nestled seductively between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Santa Barbara is one of America's best-kept secrets. From State Street and the Santa Ynez Mountains to the Channel Islands and the wine country, Santa Barbara basks in sunshine, natural bounty, creativity, cultural sophistication and an appreciation for taking life at your own pace.
It really is a great place that is all about lifestyle from the restaurants to the architecture to the amazing culture to the weather. It is a great place to be and live.
Please let me know if you have any other questions. Look forward to hearing from you. You can contact me directly at 805-689-6877 or http://www.KevinSchmidtchen.com