Making the Switch from the Dorms to Adulting in Isla Vista: A Guide for the UC Santa Barbara Gaucho

By Sarah Carlin, Mariyah Lewis, and Alexandra Gessesse

Moving from the UC Santa Barbara dorms to Isla Vista is undoubtedly one of the most exciting experiences in a Gaucho’s college career. Students can say goodbye to the strict rules of the dorms, and move from tiny, cramped bedrooms on campus to slightly bigger, cramped bedrooms in IV. Nonetheless, despite the crazy conditions that many of us put up with, living in this crowded, beautiful beach town during college is a defining aspect of our UCSB culture. Along with the new living arrangement comes a host of responsibilities that may be foreign to some students who are living on their own for the first time. 

Amid all the excitement, transitioning from living in the dorms to IV is a switch that many of us make at just 19 or 20 years old, and there are many things that we don’t think to consider. Living on your own, without a meal plan or quiet hours, is a whole different experience than the dorms. For UCSB students who are moving into their first rental in IV, whether you are feeling thrilled or nervous, we have provided a guide for navigating your new housing experience. This guide covers a range of topics from the transition to IV, housemates, study habits, partying, budgeting, and transportation and other necessities when navigating a new city. 

Before Moving In: 

Understanding Your Needs:

For the most positive living experience, try to start thinking about the environment and dynamics you want for your home before you find housemates or sign a lease. Some factors to consider or know about yourself and your potential housemates are: 

  • Are you a night owl or early bird? Think about your class and work schedules, when you study best, and how much you value sleep. 
  • How social are you? Do you value alone time, or will the house be a hangout or party spot for friends? 
  • Are you clean, or on the messier side? Think about your preferences for spaces like bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. 
  • How flexible are you and your potential housemates in general? Are there certain requirements that someone needs, or is everyone more relaxed? 

Starting a conversation about these topics before move-in creates an open line of communication and allows the group to better understand each other’s needs. It is unlikely that a group will agree on all of these topics, so flexibility and understanding are also key. However, if your potential housemates have vastly different ideas about living style than you, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. It may be hard to pass up living with your best friends, but think about who you are compatible with as a roommate, not just a friend. There is nothing more avoidable than ruining a friendship because of roommate tensions.

Moving In: Making Agreements

Once you move into your new house in IV, there are some things that you should establish right away. These agreements will help prevent frustration later in the year: 

  • Make a chore chart – This may seem overbearing, but some people will bear the brunt of cleaning unless you set up clear guidelines about what should be cleaned, and how often it should be done. Further, come to an agreement on how these chores should be done. Many people have different ideas about what constitutes a clean bathroom. 
  • Decide what you will share – Some roommates may share certain foods or drinks, while others may get annoyed if their favorite item gets eaten by someone. Make agreements on what is/isn’t fair game. The same goes for cleaning supplies. Either switch off who buys them or agree to reimburse those who do. 
  • Make guidelines for guests sleeping over – Discuss how often you want guests over, and how to communicate when someone is visiting.
  • Agree on partying – Communicate about what days are okay to host get-togethers, and what kind of events you’re comfortable with in your home. 

Deciding on these aspects of your living experience right when you move in will help create clear expectations to last the year. Also remember that it is the first time everyone has lived alone, and that everyone was raised differently. Strive to communicate respectfully, and know that you will have to make compromises along the way. 

Picking the Right Location:

Although housing can be found all across IV, it is good to think about what kind of mini “neighborhood” you want to be a part of, as they all come with their benefits and drawbacks. IV is laid out from the “65 block,” the cross-section closest to campus, to the “68 block,” which is the furthest from campus. Here is a sample of some of the unofficial neighborhoods, and their characteristics. 

68 Blocks: 

The 68 blocks are known for being the calmest in IV, dominated by single-family residences that are often better maintained than IV rentals. There are more long-term residents and families in this area, who may be less patient with rowdy college students. It is also the farthest area from campus, but the closest to Deveraux and Sands beaches. 

Del Playa, or DP: 

DP is infamous for hosting crazy parties and being loud. This is definitely true to an extent, especially on weekends. Rents are generally higher, and most houses on DP are designed for bigger groups of 8-15 people, which can be fun for some and a nightmare for others. 

65-67 Sabado Tarde, Trigo, and Pasado: 

These 3 streets lie smack in the middle of IV, and are known for being social, but not quite as wild as DP. This central location is beneficial for quick bike rides to campus, while still feeling like they are in the middle of the community. 

The Loop and Up: 

The Loop is a horseshoe-shaped area on Embarcadero del Norte, Embarcadero del Mar, and Pardall Road, where most restaurants and businesses are established. It is the most “downtown” of IV, with a lot of foot and bike traffic, and is close to campus. Moving east toward El Colegio Road is where most fraternities and sororities are located. Depending on your proximity to these residences, be advised that it may be loud!

As you survey your housing options, it is very helpful to stop by the houses and speak with the current tenants. This is a very common practice and most people are friendly enough to chat with you and even show you around inside. If you have the opportunity to do so, don’t be shy! Online photos from renters can be deceiving. Inquire about the landlord, if there are any pests, and the tenants’ overall experience. 

Santa Barbara Hot Spots and Transportation:

The next most important thing after moving is becoming familiar with the city and all its amenities. Your home may no longer be walking distance away from dining commons, and social gatherings will most likely be at your doorstep. In addition, living on your own in your own home means you have extra responsibilities around the house that may require some shopping. Getting equipped with the city and how to get around, given most college students don’t have access to cars, is critical to successfully transitioning to your adult life in Isla Vista. Here’s a list of reasons why knowing the city is critical to your successful transition to adult life in IV:

  • You should be aware of the affordable and healthy grocery stores in the area that support your eating habits 
  • You should be aware of nearby doctors’ offices and government agencies like the DMV or the post office
  • You should be aware of the types of industries in the city so you know what jobs and networks of support are available to you outside of UCSB
  • If you have to pay utilities like gas, internet, or electricity, you should know where these offices are located in case any problems arise at your home
  • You should be aware of the nearest health clinic or hospital that provides services that the UCSB health center does not
  • You should be aware of shopping centers, restaurants, and event center so you can add a splash of excitement into your student life

Goleta is the small town adjacent to Isla Vista and hosts a number of families and students alike. Right down the street from UCSB is the Camino Real Marketplace that’s home to several stores like Target, Ross, Home Depot, Albertsons, the Camino Real Theater, and much more. There are also tons of restaurants and fast food places that run 24 hours for those late-night study sessions. 


Further South of Goleta is Downtown Santa Barbara where there’s shopping centers, the courthouse, and clubs. Downtown is where all the fun happens in Santa Barbara. It also provides a great internship and job opportunities and a place to have a cool time with more. There are also tons of restaurants and fast food places that run 24 hours for those late-night study sessions. 


Further South of Goleta is Downtown Santa Barbara where there’s shopping centers, the courthouse, and clubs. Downtown is where all the fun happens in Santa Barbara. It also provides great internship and job opportunities and a place to have a cool time with friends.

The Bus System:

Getting familiar with the bus system is important because most students don’t have cars and the bus is an easy way to get around. Every UCSB student in good standing receives free bus swipes. The Metro bus system has direct routes to Goleta and Downtown and back to UCSB. There are also bus routes to the campus if you’re uninterested in riding a bike to class. They also provide real-time bus arrival times, so you know when to be at the bus stop.

Another great resource is Bills Bus, a party bus that picks you up in the heart of Isla Vista and drops you off directly in front of Downtown clubs and bars. It comes back when the club shuts down and drops you off in back in IV. It’s a great and worthwhile experience that’s only $10. 

You can click this link to check out the Metro Bus System and this link to check out Bill’s Bus operating hours and prices. 

Pictured is Bill’s bus. Image taken from Bill’s Bus website:

Safe Partying Practices:

It’s unreasonable to assume that as young adults in college the temptation to party and have a good time with friends won’t be an extremely attractive advantage of living in IV. Since IV is known as a party town and DP consistently has daygers, ragers and many nighttime festivities, it’s important to layout some safe partying practices that will ensure you don’t wake up with a hangover or a ticket amongst your new living arrangements. 

  • Employ the Buddy System – it is rather easy to get lost enjoying yourself at a party, but use the buddy system and stay close to friends. Do not accept drinks, unless they are from your friends, and do not venture around the house looking for a bathroom without them. And yes, this rule applies to guys too. We know it is an old age rumor that women always go to the bathroom in pairs, but fellas, stay safe and tag along with a buddy. He may be more drunk then he lets on, or just needs supervising in general.  
  • Pregame at home – too many times we hear the stories of our students being roofied or drugged while trying to enjoy themselves at a party. A good way to avoid any hospital visits is to refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages or other drugs presented at a stranger’s house party. Take the time to gather with friends and get lit together before the party starts. 
  • Avoid police interaction – Despite its one square mile radius, IV is filled with multiple police bodies, especially during nighttime. One surefire sign of getting approached by the police is sitting on a curb. Police assume you are too intoxicated to handle yourself. You should take the time to know your limits. Although we know drunkenness can sneak up on you, communicate your dilemma to your friends so they can help you get home. Call an Uber, or ask the designated sober friend to help you out. Use the resources around you to avoid attention or interaction from police officers – it might get you citation if you don’t! 

Engaging in these tips will help you develop safe partying practices. It is also pertinent that you are surrounded by a group of friends that you trust and that have your best interest at heart when partying in IV. A lot of times students go out with recently developed friends without knowing much about them. It is important to sit down with your friends and communicate how you act when you are intoxicated, what your limits are, and any expectations or boundaries you may have so everyone is one the same page with each other.

Pictured is the busy street of Del Play during Deltopia. Image taken from KCSB:

How to Ball on a Budget: 

With all these new and exciting transitions, you are probably wondering, “how am I going to afford this?” Well, have no fears! Budgeting and saving money can start as early as your first-day of freshman year, and will not require you to make any significant changes. By making small, minor adjustments and taking advantage of all the various resources accessible to students on and off-campus, you are bound to have a few extra dollars stashed away for those fun nights downtown and in Isla Vista! 

Image taken from Medium

Food Security and CalFresh/SNAP:

When transitioning into living in Isla Vista, the first thing that comes to mind is losing access to the ever-so-tasty dining commons (unless you want to pay for an off-campus meal plan, which is super expensive and does not taste the best). Many times, that comes with the headache of teaching yourself how to cook, worrying about wasting money on groceries you do not know how to cook, and where you are going to find the money to even purchase these groceries. Luckily, UC Santa Barbara and the Isla Vista community have a variety of resources, advocates, and case workers on and off-campus who are ready to support and connect students with food and financial resources. What is great about many of these resources is the availability and accessibility to even some of our most marginalized community members: undocumented students, low-income, formerly incarcerated, and non-traditional students. From getting free groceries, to eating free food at on campus events, you will always have a full belly and satisfying meal! Eating healthy and keeping yourself sustained should not be stressful, and here are some quick resources always available to you!

  • On-Campus Resources:
  • Associated Students Food Bank is a student-ran, student-led  service that is available to undergraduate and graduate UCSB students in the University Center (UCEN). They provide basic food supplies, toiletries, and information about additional resources to students in need. Even in light of COVID-19, students who still live in Isla Vista can swing by the A.S. Food Bank to grab a “brown bag” comprised of basics they normally carry (pasta, beans, sauce, etc.).
  • Food Security and Basic Needs Task Force is located in the Student Needs Advising Center (SNAC) in the UCen (next to Jamba Juice). Here you can find access to CalFresh advocates, campus administrators, and more, to help identify food security resources and personal student needs.
  • Miramar Food Pantry is located in the Sierra Madre Villages court, and is an available food pantry for registered graduate and undergraduate students. 
  • Food, Nutrition, and Basic Skills Program is a great resources for students learning budgeting, planning, and how to cook healthy and affordable meals through workshops and demonstrations
  • Off-Campus Resources:
  • Isla Vista Cooperative provides a list of low-cost, staple foods available to the public and is located directly in the heart of IV! The Co-Op provides workshops, the Budget Basics program, and a “Grocery Store Cheat Sheet” that guides students to make smart consumption choices.
  • Catholic Charities IV provides those living in IV with free groceries every Thursday at 3pm outside of St. Mark’s University Parish’s parking lot!
  • Café Picasso provides free brunch every Sunday 12:30pm at St. Michael’s Church.
  • Food Not Bombs serves free (to-go in light of COVID-19) vegan meals every Sunday at Little Acorn Park, and every Wednesday at Children’s Park from 5pm to 6pm.

Although this list is not exhaustive of all the great resources available to students, it is comprehensive of some of the most accessible and highly used services for those living in Isla Vista! 

One overlooked resource that many students do not apply for early on in their college career is CalFresh. The weighted term “broke college student” should not be taken lightly, especially the folks who throw away nearly $200 a month on food when they could qualify for CalFresh grocery stipends (don’t worry, we learned the hard way too). The greatest part about many of these off and on-campus resources is that they house many CalFresh advocates in their offices to help you apply and enroll in the program! The CalFresh Program, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), can increase students’ food budgets and help put healthy and nutritious food on their table. The program issues monthly electronic benefits on a plastic card, called the Golden State Advantage Card, which can be used just like a debit card. Benefits allow students to purchase food items at most grocery stores and markets. For a full list of stores that accept CalFresh, please click here.

With food expenses minimized, and nearly eradicated, what should we do about income and money management?

Image taken from the Daily Nexus.


From security deposit expenses, to rent, to utility bills, budgeting your money wisely and early can help avoid burning through your credit card and/or taking out high interest loans from the Financial Aid Office. Many of the financial resources that are available to students are housed on-campus in the Financial Aid Office, the second floor of the Student Resource Building, and the University Center. Looking for something closer? The Pardall Center is a great community resource where many campus services hold satellite office hours or consultation services for those living in Isla Vista!

If you are looking for some budget planning tools, look no further! The Office of Financial Aid has provided two great budget planners, one for monthly expenses, the other for simple personal finances.

  • The Simple Budget Planner helps you quickly sum the costs associated with each quarter at UCSB, and potential roll-over money!
  • The Monthly Budget Planner is a detailed planner for comparing monthly income and expenses, and helps you estimate actual amounts!

Filling these out may seem daunting and confusing, and that is okay! It will not be perfect the first time, but like many things, with practice, will get better over time. Budgeting requires that you be honest, patient, and transparent with yourself, which is hard to do at first, especially when it comes down to buying that $6 Hana Kitchen bowl, or staying in and eating dinner at home!

But, talk it out! Chat with friends, family, advisors, and anyone who you feel comfortable asking for advice! Track your Financial Aid, and set aside $5 every paycheck into a savings account. List your expenses. Determine needs and wants, and decide which nonessentials you can trim. Choose the right budget system and learn to eat healthy on a budget. 

Moving into Isla Vista can be a mixture of emotions – scary, exciting, clueless – but it is the first big, soft landing opportunity into the next chapter of your life as an adult! Take if from the IV experts, everyone’s experience in Isla Vista is different! The most important take-away is that you center your studies, take care of yourself, think about your safety, and remember that you are living in a bigger community These quick tips and tricks are bound to land you a good time while you live in the American Riviera!

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