[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery.]

New Year’s Eve traditions abound. Locally, we celebrate with everything from the preparation of special cuisine, to attending formal parties and not-so-formal get-togethers, to using noisemakers, shooting off fireworks and kissing the person nearest you to ring in the new year. As if we didn’t already have enough choices for merriment, three years ago we Urban Hikers set out to start a new end-of-the-year tradition.

After walking each and every street within the Santa Barbara city limits (256 centerline miles, to be exact) we decided to conclude our project on the last day of 2011 with a celebration. It entailed inviting our friends, family and neighbors to join us as we hiked the final two miles of city streets — and luckily, we had saved the best for last.

On that day, we ended our 2½-year project with a walk into De la Guerra Plaza. About 50 friends and family members joined in that day, including notable local historian, author and stand-up comedian Neal Graffy (who provided historical background, colorful anecdotes and local lore). The following year, Graffy joined us once again as we (and about 70 other walkers) hiked along Santa Barbara’s waterfront and into the Funk Zone, in celebration of our second annual Urban Hikers Invitational.

This year, once again, we collaborated with Graffy, putting together “The Path of the Padres,” an urban hike that started at the Santa Barbara Mission and ended at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park.

The idea was to follow one of the routes a missionary of old may have taken from the Mission into town. As it worked out, in an effort to include as many historical sites as possible, the path became somewhat rambling. We joked that it was less a path of the padres and probably more that of an inebriated parishioner. But we digress.

Many of us assembled at the Presidio at 2 p.m. to catch a Bill’s Bus shuttle up to the Santa Barbara Mission for the commencement of the hike. At the Presidio, we were pleasantly surprised and quite entertained to find a large piece of street art by “Gone,” Santa Barbara’s own noted modern artist.

Our group loaded onto the bus and headed up to the Old Mission, retracing the route of the original Santa Barbara trolley rails, dating from the turn of the century.

Once at the Mission, we met a second group of eager explorers, increasing our crowd to about 140 walkers. David Bolton, executive director of the California Mission Foundation, gave the crowd an interesting talk, which included some history of the mission system as well as information about his foundation’s work to preserve and restore all of the California missions in the chain.

Following his presentation, we set out along a mile-and-a-half route that included several historic homes, churches, gardens and landscapes, an old car, a large dog and an exceptionally historic sidewalk.

We concluded our very informative walk (with its history and commentary by Graffy, and contributions from other walkers) at the Presidio, where we were met by Jerry Jackman, executive director at Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Jackman spoke to the group about the trust’s efforts to restore the Presidio and preserve the downtown Santa Barbara post office, designed by notable architect Reginald Johnson.

At the end of the walk, many of us wandered over to Lovejoy’s Pickle Room at 126 E. Canon Perdido St., formerly known as Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens, for much-needed refreshment and to help support the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. There, in all its glory, was Katherine McCormick’s lovely old Packard, courtesy of Graffy, its current guardian.

For those readers who were unable to make this year’s hike, click on the photo gallery link above to see highlights of our adventure, or to follow the route at your leisure.

We are especially appreciative of our historians, and of course are very grateful for the sponsorship of Noozhawk and its founder/publisher, Bill Macfadyen. We hope the walkers who joined us this year renewed their appreciation for Santa Barbara history, and that everyone is inspired to learn more about our town. As always, we encourage you to go out and explore the neighborhoods, keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all expect the unexpected.

Look forward to our regular contributions, as we continue to explore our community and share our discoveries.

— Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright make up the Urban Hikers team.