Fun in the Funk Zone

“Funk”: 1) a strong, offensive smell, probably derived from the French word funquer—to give off 2) music that combines elements of rhythm and blues and soul music and that is characterized by a percussive vocal style, static harmonies, and a strong bass line with heavy downbeats

Sly and the Family Stone, Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin 1969

Downtown Santa Barbara presents a consistent, elegant visual, even the 7-Eleven disappears behind wrought-iron and stucco. The upscale stores along State Street provide retail therapy for swanky locals and flip-flopped tourists, but…walk a mile to the beach and you will run into the Funk Zone—you are not in mission-style Santa Barbara anymore. 

This used to be the blue-collar, industrial part of Santa Barbara—shipping, manufacturing, and fish processing (thus the funk in Funk Zone). As in so many other cities, rents in the industrial area were cheaper, so bohemian artists, craftspeople, and weirdos looking for an alternative lifestyle made their home next to the railroad tracks in the lofts above the plants, warehouses and factories. Bars, surf shops, and strip clubs followed the residential influx and, with developers focused on spiffing up downtown Santa Barbara, the Funk Zone slipped from notice for twenty years. 

In the 1980s, the real estate types woke up, looked at the potential right along the beach, thought, “Now here’s some money to be made” and moved toward the area to spread their message of red-tiled condo roofs and wrought iron hotel balconies. City Arts Commissioner Patrick Davis said, “Hold on a darn minute” and led walks through the area with the city council in order to save some of the funk. Santa Barbara adopted a code opening development to “tourist-serving, mixed commercial/residential, or marine-oriented light manufacturing” and the Funk Zone was born.

This block is lined with wine-tasting rooms, artisan breweries, and local distilleries.

Pretty girls in flirty skirts zoom around in rented scooters while their handsome boyfriends wait.

I stopped at the Lucky Penny and had a $3 cookie and a $5 ice tea, served in a Mason jar.

I doubt that all the construction going on is meant for the Bohemians.

The Blue Door, similar to Austin’s Uncommon Objects, is a “thrift store” with artful, carefully-curated rooms of vintage stuff—sort of Gramma meets Nathaniel Ratecliff.

Now in my short visit, I saw breweries, small craft-distilleries, upscale restaurants, stuff stores, and art galleries, but I didn’t see much funk. IMHO, you can find authentic funk in downtown Tacoma, mid-town Houston, Austin’s Eastside, Portland’s Chinatown, Old Town Goleta, or Olivera Street in LA—but Santa Barbara, not so much. The smell of fish and the slapping bass thump of funky music are gone along with the quirky, the weird, and the arty. What’s left is a pretty picture painted by flashy developers for the foodies, the shoppers, and the hipsters, with large conglomerates opening The Entrada, a 114 room luxury hotel, the 17,000 square foot Wolf Museum of Exploration, and a four-story mixed-use development project on 1.7 acres. Oh well, the Funk Zone is now family and pet friendly and you can get a great cup of coffee or a hand-crafted beer, served in a Mason jar, up and down the clean streets.

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