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In a recent trip, I traveled south to California for a weekend getaway with friends. We spent our time evenly between the bustling and romantic seaside cities of the Central Coast and the majestic hinterlands and rustic towns beyond. We also rounded out our excursion with a short jaunt to the Bay Area. This wasn’t my first time in the state, and by no means will it be my last. Whenever I go places, I seek out the very best of what they offer: urbanism in all its forms. And in this last trip, I was struck by one bit of California urbanism: spaces for people. It was everywhere; this wasn’t just an isolated observation. Every city and town worth its salt had spaces built for people: promenades, plazas, and piers.

There’s a certain narrative out there that says Californians are completely obsessed with driving and highway culture. Common stereotypes suggest that it is a place of lavish automobiles, endless traffic, and infamous spaghetti freeways crisscrossing entire metropolitan areas. We’re told that the car reigns king, and that places like Los Angeles are nothing more than mere storage places for these mechanized behemoths. But that’s just a overstated misconception borne by mainstream media. Get on the ground, in the cities, and you’ll see that California puts people first. From my experiences, Californians cherish spaces where they can walk and bike, eat and drink, sit and talk, shop and even recreate. And, to add credence to this thesis, I want to share some images that express this kind of Californian urbanism best.

State Street, a pedestrian-oriented boulevard, in Santa Barbara.
State Street, a pedestrian-oriented boulevard, in Santa Barbara.
Stearns Wharf pier, made for people watching and walking, in Santa Barbara.
Stearns Wharf pier, made for people watching and walking, in Santa Barbara.
Fisherman's Wharf, a classic carnival pier, in Monterey.
Fisherman’s Wharf, a classic carnival pier, in Monterey.

The Santa Monica Pier, a carnival pier, extending into the Pacific Ocean.
The Santa Monica Pier, a carnival pier, extending into the Pacific Ocean.
The Santa Monica oceanfront promenade for biking, jogging, walking, skating, talking, and more.
The Santa Monica oceanfront promenade for biking, jogging, walking, skating, talking, and more.
The Paseo de San Antonio Walk in Downtown, San Jose.
The Paseo de San Antonio Walk in Downtown, San Jose.
The Promenade flanked by restaurants and housing in Downtown, Long Beach.
The Promenade flanked by restaurants and housing in Downtown, Long Beach.
Seal Beach Pier, a place to observe the ambience of the ocean and do some fishing.
Seal Beach Pier, a place to observe the ambience of the ocean and do some fishing.
The Santa Monica Third Street Promenade with arcades, vendors, fountains, street performances, and more.
The Santa Monica Third Street Promenade with arcades, vendors, fountains, street performances, and more.
N 2nd St where pedestrians and light rail share space on a wide promenade in Downtown, San Jose.
N 2nd St where pedestrians and light rail share space on a wide promenade in Downtown, San Jose.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for promoting sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He advocates for smart policies, regulations, and implementation programs that enhance urban environments by committing to quality design, accommodating growth, providing a diversity of housing choices, and adequately providing public services. Stephen primarily writes about land use and transportation issues.