So You Want to Live in ... Carpinteria, California

Fran Gealer
Beguiling Southern California beaches, neighborly spirit, and a relaxed pace appeal to anyone in search of the small-town good ol' days.

On Carpinteria's abundant sunny afternoons, locals stroll Linden Avenue, usually in flip-flops, and stop for a burger at The Spot. Guarded by palm trees and lined with galleries, cafès, and clothing stores, the avenue is the heartbeat of "Carp," as residents refer to Santa Barbara County's southernmost town. (Spanish explorers named the area La Carpinteria―the carpenter's shop―when, in 1769, they saw Chumash Indians splitting redwood logs for seagoing canoes.)

Proud of its safe shores and year-round mild weather, Carpinteria is known for being family friendly, says Tami Robitaille, co-owner of acclaimed Robitaille's Fine Candies. After 12 years in another location, in 1989 she moved her shop to Linden, where, Tami says, "We've experienced the avenue's renaissance. Stores moved in, cafés opened, and people started spending time―and money―here. Kids ride their bikes up and down the street, people leave their cars unlocked, parents stop for coffee-talk while their children play together."

At Zookers Cafe, farmers sit alongside real estate agents, gardeners next to artists. "There is no 'other side of the tracks' here," says Mary Nabi, of Coastal Properties. "Wealthy retirees may [buy] a cottage next door to an avocado farm worker [whose family has lived there 20 years]."

"Our town is eclectic and artsy, one of the surviving California beach communities," says Fran Puccinelli, owner of a collectibles and gifts store, SOAP. "I came here 26 years ago, because I saw its potential for revitalization. I practically grew up on Linden. I had The Coffee Grinder, then a deli, and now this store. As I've evolved with my business, Carp has grown up, but it hasn't lost its original flavor."

Surfers have flocked to Carpinteria's Rincon Point for decades. One of them, Rob Holcombe, opened A-Frame Surf to attract business to the area and point surfers to the beach. "[Some] landowners wanted to restrict access to what had long been a kind of locals-only beach," Rob says. "But we distributed petitions and worked with the Coastal Commission to keep this beautiful spot open to everyone." Rob's store occupies a spot on Santa Claus Lane, which has experienced a renaissance reminiscent of Linden Avenue's.

"Our shop's motto is to have a conscience about the area, to enjoy the lifestyle, and to be a watchdog for our beaches," says Rob. "I like to think we're working to keep people from taking this place we call home for granted."

For a free copy of the Chamber of Commerce destination guide, Carpinteria Valley Magazine, call 805/684-5479.

published 2004

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