When Heather Tulack and Barbara Karpp visited Santa Barbara in college, they walked State Street to shop at the antique and thrift stores. Although not all of their familiar storefronts remained, they enjoyed revisiting the popular downtown street with their families Friday afternoon.
“We walked from here to the CVS, and we absolutely loved Hampstead Village,” said Tulack, who was visiting from Louisiana. “Downtown was accessible and quaint. Next time we would like to visit for a weekend and see the Santa Barbara Zoo.”
The ship made a port call in Santa Barbara on a trip out of Los Angeles that also included stops in San Francisco, San Diego and Ensenada, Mexico.
Visitors like Jessica and Luke Heely packed downtown Santa Barbara.
“My favorite thing was the trolley — we took it to the Paseo Nuevo mall and ate at Sandbar,” said Jessica Heely of Pittsburgh, Pa., who carried an H&M bag. “It was really busy. On the way back we were looking at the hotels along the beach for our next visit. The scenery was beautiful, we loved the architecture and design.”
A barista at Hot Spots Espresso at 36 State St. said they had been slammed all day.
But business depends on the traveler demographic, according to Natalie Olivas of Wheel Fun Rentals.
“It depended on the crowd. If it’s a lot of elderly people, they will stay on the ship,” she said. “Our bike rental was pretty much the same, but the Trolley Tours were really popular. It definitely benefits lower State Street. We love the cruise ships.”
Ashleigh Davis is marketing director for the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization, which pitches white tents outside the Sea Landing and directs visitors.
“It’s great for downtown so we can direct people in the right direction. A lot of people assume downtown stops at the freeway,” Davis said. “It makes downtown more accessible. Ultimately, we’re always trying to promote downtown to regional visitors and hope it will result in return visits.”
While traffic increases at many retail stores, the cruise may not have a major monetary impact on local businesses, Davis said.
“We have heard positive feedback from downtown businesses that they have seen an influx of guests, but we heard that they haven’t seen huge increase or decrease in business,” she said. “A lot of the visitors head to wine country or destinations they want to go.”
These days, there aren’t many specialty shops unique to Santa Barbara, said Fred Sidon, a former cruise industry employee and president of the French Network of Santa Barbara. The city should promote a guided tour that emphasizes Santa Barbara’s historical significance, he said.
“If you go to Saks Fifth Avenue on State, why would you do that?” Sidon said. “I don’t see anything exceptional that I would take home to Princeton, New Jersey.”
The overcrowded downtown streets can be a nuisance, he added.
“Who wants to go downtown so we can go elbow each other at a Macy’s counter?” Sidon said.
While Tulack and Jessica Heely plan to make another visit, Princess Cruises will, too. More visitors will dock on Easter Sunday.
“We can’t wait to come back,” Tulack said.