October is probably not when you think of Christmas lights, but if you want to go on the Trolley of Lights around Santa Barbara, you’ll have to buy your tickets then. They’ve been doing this tour of best decorated houses for ten years now and it’s become very popular. Some friends of mine bought tickets online the first Friday in October and we went on the ride for the first time this year.
We boarded in front of Wheel Fun Rentals, the place that rents those surreys you see on the bike path by the beach. Hot apple cider and cookies were included in the $21 price. The tour goes rain or shine and as luck had it the storm hadn’t blown in yet. Our trolley driver, Bill, greeted us and started his commentary as we headed up State Street. Bill included plenty of humor as well as trivia, such as how many lights are on each tree? The answer is, the Downtown Association puts a brand new string of 400 lights on each tree every year. That adds up to over 80,000 lights we saw before we past the town tree in front of the Arlington.
As we traveled through the West Side, somebody said, “Look at all those pretty green and red lights. Oh, those are traffic signals.” We saw plenty of real holiday lights as the trolley wound up to the Mesa and over to Hidden Valley, where we found some of the most spectacular displays on Veronica Springs Road. One house stood dark between two decorated to the delight of the Edison bill collector, and Bill pointed it out as Scrooge’s house. In one yard lighted deer stood surrounded by blowups of Santa and Frosty, and colorful lights hung everywhere. Their energy conservationist neighbor simply had a lighted arrow and the word “ditto” on his roof pointed their way.
The drivers clanged the bells as we went along, signaling people to come out and wave to the train of eight trolleys. Bill counted down, “One, two, three,” and we all yelled “Merry Christmas!” Up off La Cumbre a boy had set up a music stand in his driveway and each trolley paused as he serenaded us with “Come All Ye Faithful” on his clarinet.
The soundtrack for our ride included everybody’s favorite holiday songs, even “It’s Christmas Once Again in Santa Barbara.” When we hit a stretch with few lights to gawk at, Bill cranked the volume and we had a sing-along, although nobody knew the words to the third and fourth verses of “Jingle Bells,” but somebody did chime in with “Batman smells…” Then came “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and when we sang the sidebars, “Like a light bulb,” “Like Pinocchio,” I never realized before how many different reindeer games they didn’t let Rudolph join in: baseball, monopoly, hopscotch…. The music was timed perfectly, and just as we turned off Milpas then down Alisos, “Feliz Navidad” came on.
The climax of the tour was a huge house on Quinientos Street with lights strung on every inch of the house and yard. I tried taking photos, but most didn’t come out because although we went by slow enough to see the lights well, we were still in constant motion.
We got into the Milpas roundabout and circled it several times, waiting for the other trolleys to catch up. All eight trolleys got in at the same time, going around, ringing their bells and the passengers yelling “Merry Christmas!” Yeah, it slowed traffic, but it must’ve been a sight to see.
The trip concluded with Bill racing another trolley along Cabrillo with the sound of the ocean in the distance. If we weren’t in the Christmas spirit when we started the tour, we certainly were by the time we stepped off the trolley.