Local surfer-artist offers things to do in Santa Barbara

DJ Javier fired up his van to take me on a tour of Santa Barbara, his Santa Barbara. I’d been to the city hundreds of times, but this visit would be different.

The 28-year-old graphic designer, brand builder and passionate surfer loves his hometown and has chosen to stay here rather than chase fame in L.A. or New York City (though he has created works in both of those cities). He’s also creative director at retro sneaker company SeaVees, based in Santa Barbara; works on collabs with everyone from the local modern art museum to gift retailer Huckberry; and paints murals you can see in the city — if you know where to look.

DJ Javier’s sketches fill notebooks that he created during downtimes at the start of his art career.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“Local people, that’s the community I want to support,” he said during our midsummer tour. Javier and other creatives are making their mark in the city known for its coastal charm. The mission, zoo and State Street reliably draw visitors, but Javier’s vision of the city is charged with an artistic spirit that values collaborations and commitment to community. That’s the Santa Barbara he thinks visitors are missing.

We met at his studio in the Funk Zone, the former industrial area between the ocean and the 101 Freeway where cafes, galleries, tasting rooms and shops now flourish. Inside, stylized art leaps from the walls — vivid colors with a street art edge, figures that look like Day of the Dead characters overlaid with influences of surfing, tattoo art and his Filipino American upbringing. These images carry an inclusive vibe too.

Javier (who shortened Daniel John to DJ) grew up in a middle-class neighborhood away from downtown in what he now calls his bubble. “I remember the first time I went to downtown Santa Barbara in high school, I thought, ‘Whoa, this is crazy … I’m in a new place.’ Now I’m on that other side of town planting my little flag.”

He met his wife, Courtney, while the two were volunteering at their church youth group. There he mentored high school kids who still drop by to see him. He had his first child in May, a boy named Duke, named for surf legend Duke Kahanamoku. Javier credits how he developed his brand of self-marketing to his dad’s hard work in the U.S. It’s the immigrant story, overlaid with skateboarding and surf culture.

His love for Santa Barbara inspired this minitour to under-the-radar places he thinks deserve the spotlight, places where his friends showcase what he sees as the city’s emerging vibe. Here’s where we went. Add these to your favorite must-see sites in Santa Barbara.

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