Having Fun (Without Partying) at UCSB
by Dawn Marie Howell


When I told friends and relatives that I was going to UCSB, I received one of two reactions. People responded either with “Congratulations! That’s a great school” or, more frequently, “Dear God, you’re going to a party school.” I was mortified by the continual emphasis on the latter.

There is plenty to do in and around our beautiful campus that happens outside of the Isla Vista party scene. In my time as an undergraduate, I have managed to keep away from the partying and have spent my time enjoying many alternatives. This article will serve as a concise field guide of all the ways I have had fun and spent time at UCSB. 

Perhaps the most prevalent non-partying activity out there would be club involvement. About 85 percent of UCSB undergraduates engage in one or more extracurricular activities (other than sex, so get your mind out of the gutter). Currently, we have over 460 clubs and organizations on campus covering a wide range of interests. Clubs provide ample opportunity for students to transition more easily into the campus community through social activity. In my first year, I became part of a student theater troupe which helped me to immerse myself in familiar territory of drama while I transitioned into the new world of college. My second year, I became a tour guide for the Gaucho Tour Association.  I represented UCSB, which enhanced my public speaking skills as well as offered me community service hours. Many students root themselves to the school and make terrific friends through involvement in clubs just as I had. 

Of course, there are plenty of things to do outside of clubs. And for something outside of the residence halls as well, there are plenty of cultural events in the neighboring communities to keep students engaged. Our Arts and Lectures program invites many world-renowned artists, authors, speakers, and politicians to speak to students on campus. The best part: student tickets are subsidized and often times even free to students. In my time here, I have been able to see John Cleese three times (which is a huge deal for any Monty Python fan) and for so much cheaper. I also had the opportunity to see Amy Tan speak, watch an Academy Award nominated foreign film, several documentaries, and William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, all of which were in Campbell Hall. 

On the other side of campus, IV Theatre serves as the primary venue for Magic Lantern Films, a student run program that brings in independent and box office caliber films to the community and students for the ridiculously cheap rate of four dollars a screening. Every Friday during the quarter, Magic Lantern offers two screenings of the week’s movie. In the years I’ve been going, I have had the opportunity to see such films as Happy Feet, Stranger than Fiction, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Enchanted and many others. In the same venue, Associated Students puts on free Tuesday night movies throughout the quarter, sometimes with double features. 

Another Friday favorite is Improvability, UCSB’s own hilarious improvisation troupe. Every Friday night in Embarcadero Hall (across the street from IV Theatre), Improvability performs and for the rate of three dollars for students, sometimes for cheaper if you decide to dress up for a themed show. One time I managed to get into the “Emo Show” for free because I taped my wrists. If Isla Vista is too far of a trek, the UCSB After Dark program can provide ample opportunities for dances, concerts in the Hub at the UCen, and much more. As with many of the aforementioned activities, this programming is offered at subsidized rates or for free. And who doesn’t like a free show? 

Outside of the party scene, Isla Vista itself sports quite a few spots for students to hang out. The parks serve as venues for the Chilla Vista festival and other such events throughout the year. Many shops and eateries provide students with cheap and tasty food. My particular favorite place to eat is Naan Stop, the Indian restaurant next door to Deja Vu Cafe and across from Pita Pit. At Naan Stop, any combo meal comes with free garlic naan and a small soda. Next door, Deja Vu Cafe has all of the usual college grub for relatively low prices. Blenders in the Grass, a smoothie joint that makes Jamba Juice taste like SlimFast, is on Pardall Road adjacent to Java Jones cafe.  And speaking of coffee, the Coral Tree Cafe near Cheadle Hall has rather good coffee and tables outside to provide a quite place to work… or nap, as the case may be. 

Now that I have covered everything to do outside of “stay in your room and hide,” I have to cover the not-so-fun bits. For the most part, we have a very safe campus community, but it is never a bad idea to be cautious. If you wouldn’t leave your front door unlocked at home, don’t leave your dorm room unlocked either. When I checked the crime statistics for the campus community, the vast majority (93 percent of crimes in the past year) were property related, with theft as the number one crime. Bikes are often primary targets, so bring an older, crappy-looking bike (I call mine the Jalopy for a reason) and a good U-lock (easily purchased in the bookstore and bike shops in the area). 

And, of course, drinking, attaches another set of worries. I am sure that you’ve heard enough horror stories and cautionary tales. I just want emphasize that the best strategy to avoid a compromising situation is to not put yourself in one in the first place. Most of you will encounter a party and will likely drink, so just be careful and be aware. I have stressed to parents before that it is good that we have the party scene because it somewhat brutally teaches us how to manage our time between work and play. I have plenty of friends who go out on the weekends from time to time and still have incredibly high GPAs. Balance and acknowledgment of your own limits matters. In my own experience, I have been able to perform just as well when I went out on the weekends as I did the first two years when I never partied at all. While I neither condone nor condemn partying, it is an active scene which needs to be understood for what it is. Many people, like me, enjoy their time out in IV with friends, but it is important to remember is that there is so much more going on outside of the party scene. 

In writing this article, I realized that my view on how to have fun is highly subjective. Looking back on my three years at UCSB, I have more than enough fantastic memories, the vast majority of which happened when I was working on a play, making short films with my roomie, or walking along the bluffs and taking in the smell of the ocean. I have had the good fortune of meeting fantastic people and coming across wonderful opportunities throughout these past three years. And that is what college is all about. College should be about carpe diem, about leaping at new challenges and finding out what it is that makes you excited. All I can hope for you in your coming adventures is that you listen to that little impulsive voice that says you should try journalism or sky diving or ballroom dance or ultimate frisbee. College is the one place where all of these things can be tested simultaneously, so experiment away.