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'Psych' Is Known For Its Sunny Vibe, But Was It Actually Filmed In Santa Barbara?

"Psych" is a love letter to the city of Santa Barbara, but that doesn't mean it actually took place there.

By Tyler McCarthy
PSYCH -- "Right Turn or Left for Dead" Episode 708 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dule Hill as Burton 'Gus' Guster, Maggie Lawson as Juliet O'Hara, Timothy Omundson as Lassiter, James Roday as Shawn Spencer

The USA Network original series “Psych” is synonymous with the city of Santa Barbara in California. It’s where Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and Burton “Gus” Guster (Dule Hill) grew up and where they work with the police department to solve all manner of crimes using the former’s faux psychic abilities. However, was the show actually filmed in the gorgeous west coast city? 

It may bum some “Psych” fans out to learn that, no, the show was not filmed in Santa Barbara despite the fact the whole show is essentially a love letter to the city. In reality, a majority of the show was filmed on sets in Vancouver, British Columbia. That’s right “Psych” fans, the USA Network series wasn’t shot in the USA. However, there’s a really good reason for that. 

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Due to lucrative tax incentives, Vancouver has become a fairly popular location for shows planning to film for a while to set up shop. According to the city’s economic commission, it’s the third-largest film and TV production center in North America.

Obviously, Los Angeles, which is roughly a two-hour drive from the real Santa Barbara, is a film production hub as well. However, that two hours makes a big difference as executive producer Mel Damski told The Santa Maria Sun in 2009. 

He noted that series creator Steve Franks had his heart set on setting “Psych” in Santa Barbara after his honeymoon. 

“He knew he didn’t want a big city atmosphere,” Damski explained. “He wanted a place that was beautiful.”

However, there was just one problem. Two hours is just far enough away for it to be a logistical nightmare for filming.

“We wanted to set and film it in Santa Barbara, but the area doesn’t really have enough crew members,” Damski said. “They would have had to live in hotel rooms half the year.”

So, since filming in the actual Santa Barbara was out, it became a matter of finding somewhere cheap that could stand in as a substitute. Thus, Vancouver, with its built-in production community, was the perfect fit. Other popular shows like “Arrow,” “The Good Doctor,” “Riverdale,” “Lucifer,” “MacGyver,” and more already use the city to stand in for various American locations. 

Not only that, it was easy to achieve the look of Santa Barbara. Damski told the outlet that a mere 40 minutes away was a beach town called White Rock that, with a few surfboard and beach towel props, was a perfect stand-in for the bright, sunny beaches of Santa Barbara. The only problem was the temperature. Unlike California’s coastline, it’s not always warm in White Rock. So, when you see Shawn and Gus living it up on the beach, just know the actors were sometimes powering through 50-degree weather. 

Still, the end result is the same. Despite filming in Vancouver, “Psych” showcased the lifestyle of the people of Santa Barbara as well as the beauty it holds. After all, those big establishing shots that gave the show its flavor were indeed of the real Santa Barbara. If the rest of it was all on a sound stage in Canada, who cares?

Catch up on "Psych" on Peacock right now.

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