Hidden Gems of SB
Santa Barbara is a beautiful city with many exciting activities to enjoy. Often referred to as “The American Riviera,” the combination of coastal scenery mixed with the elevated chaparral of the Santa Ynez range creates a unique environment with a plethora of exciting activities to enjoy and opportunities to seek adventure. Spots like the Santa Barbara Mission and Stern’s Wharf are incredibly beautiful and are recognized as popular destinations to visit whether you’re a tourist or local. However, Santa Barbara County has much more to offer beyond the postcard scenes that draw tourists from far and wide. Following are a couple of the hidden gems which our beautiful city has to offer:
- Santa Cruz Island – The largest of our Channel Islands, Santa Cruz Island can be accessed through a ferry service that runs from Ventura Harbor or private boats from Santa Barbara or Ventura. After crossing the channel, which contains all kinds of sea life. You can choose between a variety of activities ranging from hiking along the many trails traversing the island, to exploring the sea caves on a guided kayaking trip. As a national park, all wildlife on the island and in the surrounding ocean within the nature reservation is protected by law. This is for good reason, as the island chain holds a great diversity of animals and plant life, some of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Two of the best ways to experience the incredible beauty of Santa Cruz Island is by taking advantage of the world class diving in the kelp forests off of Smuggler’s Cove and Cavern Point, or by going backpacking to the many campgrounds across the landmass, visiting spots like Scorpion Ranch and Devil’s Peak. It may take some decent planning to get out to the island, but the rugged and remote beauty of Santa Cruz makes it all worth the effort.
- The Playground – Lizard’s Mouth is a well known hiking and climbing spot with an incredible view of the city. The Playground is a similar rock garden located on West Camino Cielo road, but it is less commonly known due to its more remote nature. However, I would claim that this makes The Playground even more enjoyable than the more popular spot, Lizard’s Mouth. Arguably one of the best rock climbing spots in the Santa Barbara area, The Playground is full of crevices, wind caves and interesting geographic features to explore, all with an uninterrupted view out over Santa Barbara, Goleta, IV and beyond. If you’re not interested in climbing, The Playground is part of a network of beautiful hiking trails. Once you complete the short hike from the parking spaces on West Camino Cielo to the rock garden, trails branch out for you to explore. Whatever your interests are, sticking around long enough to catch the sunset will be worth the wait, as the view from The Playground is a magnificent spot to enjoy the end of the day.
- Naples – Beyond Isla Vista and the urban limits of Goleta, there are golden, rolling hills of undeveloped land reaching northwest out to El Capitan State Beach, Gaviota, Hollister Ranch and all the way to the tip of Point Conception. This mostly untouched stretch of coastline has been protected from development due to its natural beauty. If you take Calle Real all the the way out in Goleta as far as the road goes, it ends next to the 101 by the gate to the an unnamed ranch. If you park on the side of the road, on the other side of the 101 is a trail that goes across the meadow to the bluffs that overlook a spot known as Naples. Naples beach is one of the most remote beaches within Goleta city limits, and is a beautiful spot to explore. The beach continues up the coast for miles. Although rarely large enough to break, the Naples reef can be one of the best big wave surf spots in Santa Barbara county. As a protected marine life sanctuary, the reef can be a beautiful spot to go diving if there’s no surf. While it can be tricky to get to, Naples is a remote area to enjoy the natural beauty of the Santa Barbara area.
- La Cumbre Peak – The tallest point along our coastal side of the Santa Ynez mountain range, La Cumbre Peak is a truly incredible location that I recommend everyone goes to see. The peak can be accessed from two routes along the ridge of the mountain range, making the drive up very scenic and enjoyable. Once you reach the top, you can park underneath a grove of pine trees and take a short walk up to an area where there is a flat open space and a couple of tables. From this area, you can enjoy an uninterrupted, almost 360 degree view of the city, the crest of the mountain range going both east and west, and the valley down to Cachuma Lake. In terms of good spots to watch to sun rise or set, you can’t beat La Cumbre Peak. The summit stands at an elevation of 3,997 feet above sea level. High enough to stand up above the clouds on some days, La Cumbre Peak is an amazingly unique and breathtaking spot to check out.