By Maya Chiodo
If you ever drive North from UC Santa Barbara, whether to visit San Luis Obispo or go home to Northern California for the holidays, you’ll inevitably pass by a series of gorgeous views, pullouts, mountainsides, and interesting slices of coastal traintrack that span the almost 20 mile stretch between Goleta and Gaviota. For many this is the best part of the drive. Early in the morning, at the outset of a mini vacation to San Francisco perhaps, the fog blankets the coast, turning the sky a milky white and the ocean a soft gray. In the middle of the day, the hillsides glow brightly, whether as vibrant green plains that result from recent rains, or as blocks of gold that warn of fire danger, but are nevertheless breathtaking. On the way home from a trip, you may even be lucky enough to time this part of the drive to coincide with the sunset. With the right soundtrack playing, you’ll never want the moment to end.
In total, the Gaviota Coast actually is 76 miles long, all of which lie within the bounds of Santa Barbara County, California. According to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, the area makes up the longest stretch of coast in Southern California that has continued to resist the impending encroachment of developers. Luckily for locals and visitors, this means most of the territory is still open for recreational activities, so outdoorsy folks can enjoy the generally untouched beauty of the landscape.
A favorite of many UC Santa Barbara students who have access to a vehicle (or who are members of clubs that take trips to the area) are the hikes on and around Gaviota Peak. Arguably the most well-known is the short distance trek to the Gaviota Wind Caves, a series of striking sandstone features that are the result of wind erosion. If you happen to look in the right direction as you drive through Gaviota Pass, you may catch a glimpse of the caves, but they are enjoyed best up close. When you get to the top of the short trail, you also get to enjoy a great view of the coast and the mountains in every direction, which may motivate you to trek to a nearby point even higher and with even greater breathtaking views. Namely, Gaviota Peak.
The peak is part of the dynamic chain of the Santa Ynez Mountains, which boasts even grander peaks at elevations almost as high as 5,000 feet. Gaviota Peak has an elevation of only 2,458 feet, but since it sits so close to the ocean, it feels like it could be twice as high. There are two main ways to hike the mountain, but no matter which route you choose, the views at the top are the best part. That being said, you can also visit the Gaviota Hot Springs on your way up, or as its own outing. It takes less than a mile to get to the relatively small cement pools of hot spring water. But the short trip is worth it since there aren’t many other opportunities to visit hot springs in the area.
These are only a few of the diverse trail experiences and overlook options that the Park has to offer. Whether you make the time to visit the area every weekend or explore a single trail once in your time at UC Santa Barbara, make sure to take advantage of the opportunity to check out this local gorgeous stretch of land.
To get directions and more information on Gaviota State Park and nearby trails, try visiting https://www.hikespeak.com/tag/gaviota/.