By Tracy Shawn
Just a handful of miles from the hustle and bustle of Santa Barbara’s winter parades, downtown caroling, and holiday shopping is something both locals and visitors can benefit from: a natural dose of peace and calm. During the winter months, Santa Barbara’s beaches and trails offer places for quiet contemplation and awe. With cool, crisp temperatures and stunning ocean sunsets, winter in Santa Barbara creates a unique refuge from holiday stress. The beaches, of course, are less crowded during these cooler months, and extreme low tides provide beachcombers with endless tide pools (alive with starfish, sea anemones, crabs, mussels and urchins), plus miles of accessible coastline.
From Carpinteria State Beach, which lies 12 miles south of Santa Barbara; to El Capitan State Beach, 20 miles west of downtown Santa Barbara—and the plethora of beaches between—beachgoers have their pick of wide, sandy shores within a few feet of public parking as well as more secluded trail-destination beaches below bluffs.
A favorite seaside destination for tourists and locals alike is Arroyo Burro Beach, which residents refer to as Hendry’s (the Hendry family owned this beachfront paradise in the early 1900s). Popular with dog walkers, families and surfers, Arroyo Burro Beach provides ongoing swells for the ocean-bound and a long, broad shoreline (which varies with the tide) for the sand-bound. Also, an excellent seafood restaurant, The Boathouse (boathousesb.com), sits within feet of the shore, guaranteeing patrons up-close views of translucent-blue waves and a stunning panorama of red and orange-strewn sunset skies.
For a more “off-the-beaten track” experience, visit More Mesa Beach. Located below the More Mesa bluffs, this out-of-the-way beach is known to be clothing optional (if one turns right (toward Goleta) at the bottom of the stairs—and by local rule—not clothing optional if one turns left (toward Santa Barbara). Generally, though, the shell and driftwood-strewn More Mesa Beach is unpopulated, except for the infrequent runner, especially during the winter months. The 300-acre bluff top above the beach is a great place for an incline-free hike or trail run amongst coastal sage scrub, oak woodlands and meadow-like swaths of grass to enjoy mountain and ocean views.
Santa Barbara trails also offer a natural antidote to the holiday hubbub. With humid summer days long past, traversing Santa Barbara trails during the winter months presents hikers with a variety of brisk, breezy excursions through vibrant foliage and babbling creeks.
One of the county’s most popular hiking destinations, Inspiration Point, is a moderate, 3.5-mile round-trip trek that winds through sycamores, oaks and chaparral. At the summit, hikers are rewarded with gorgeous views of the city, ocean and Channel Islands—and if timed right—another spot to view the glow of a winter sun melting into the sea.
Another beloved hiking destination that lies within minutes from downtown Santa Barbara is located in Rattlesnake Canyon Park. Named for its sinuous, snake-like shape—not for the poisonous reptiles—picturesque Rattlesnake Trail follows a creek as it gently climbs to a meadow. For hikers seeking a more strenuous adventure, there is a connector trail just past the meadow (keep going straight) that goes up the mountain for a spectacular view—and workout!
Whether by the shores or in the mountains (or both), find your own winter bliss this season, Santa Barbara style!
Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.