Release Date: November 28,2019
Viktor Bernald and Emma Kopp participate in a virtual reality experience at Surreal Virtual Reality Studios, which opened recently in downtown Santa Barbara. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
By Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @JECMolina | November 28, 2019 | 2:41 p.m.
Who says there's nothing to do in downtown Santa Barbara?
Now, you can fight a race of giants, battle aliens while navigating through a swamp, and even kill zombies in a post-apocalyptic world.
Surreal Virtual Reality Studios has opened near the corner of State and Haley streets. The experiential attraction offers a distinct alternative to the breweries and restaurants that have popped up in droves downtown and in the Funk Zone in recent years.
Alejandro Carvajal, a 24-year-old Westmont graduate, opened the studio in October, and has catered to a steady stream of curious gamers who want to flirt with fantasy in a far-away world.
"If it can be imagined and coded, it can exist in virtual reality," Carvajal said.
Alejandro Carvajal is the general manager of Surreal Virtual Reality Studios. A self-described computer nerd, he said his virtual reality studio is not just for gamers, but for anyone looking for fun. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
People wear goggles and can play tethered or tetherless, while maneuvering on a square pad. The gamers are showered in nightclub-style blue and purple light, and can play in intervals of 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes.
People can do individual or group play.
The studio at 436 State St. Suite B is inside a spacious building, with clear glass windows that offer a dazzling display for passers-by. An illuminated red exterior sign that says "Virtual Reality" catches the eye.
In addition to the more combative games, the experiences also include Fruit Ninja, where players slice watermelons, and Beatsaber, where you slash musical beats. You can also visit Saturn, and experience the planet as though you were a tourist.
Carvajal said he owns many of the high scores at the studio, and has always been "pretty nerdy when it comes to computers."
There's no experience like it between Thousand Oaks and Solvang
"There’s a demographic for it," he said. "Virtual reality is becoming more popular around the world."
The studio's opening comes at a time when downtown Santa Barbara and many historically strong retail areas have struggled with how to survive and compete against online and internet shopping. Many malls and retail strips around the country are turning toward experiential destinations, the kind of things you can't buy on the web.
"Other than bars and breweries and restaurants, there’s not a lot people can do downtown," Carvajal said.
On recent evening, the place buzzed with couples and kids.
"It was really scary, but it was so much fun," said Emma Kopp. "I hate heights, and we were on like a spacecraft, and it looked like you were going to fall of the craft."
It was the first time she and her friend experienced virtual reality.
"I play a lot of video games, but this was a totally new experience," said Viktor Bernald.
Prices range depending on the experience and length of time, but people can pay a flat fee of $15 for 15 minutes or 30 minutes for $25. There's also a happy hour with discounted prices between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Carvajal said virtual reality is for everyone.
"People think VR is for gamers," he said. "It's really something you can do for 30 minutes or an hour before dinner or to top off your night."