Five Must-See Santa Barbara Nature Spots for Gauchos Who Love the Outdoors
Written by: Julia Barerra, UCSB Alum
Looking to get your nature fix while going to UCSB? You have certainly come to the right place! Santa Barbara, commonly known as the American Riviera, is home to a wide range of scenic landscapes to explore including beaches, mountains, foothills, rivers, and more. Factor in its amazing weather, and Santa Barbara has all of the nature spots you need to destress, hang with friends, or have a thrilling adventure.
However, it can be overwhelming to decide exactly where to go, especially if you have a specific experience in mind or limited transportation options. So here are five must-see Santa Barbara nature spots ranked from most accessible to most adventurous for any type of Gaucho who loves the outdoors.
If you’re looking for a relaxing day…
1. Campus Point
- Accessibility: Accessible by foot and by car, parking with a paid permit
- Level of Adventure: Mild
Situated across from the Anacapa Residence Hall and Bren School of Environmental Science, Campus Point is the perfect getaway five minutes from the heart of campus.While the entrance is a bit rocky, most of the beach is smooth sand with many spots to sit and relax in after hours of studying. Campus Point is also a great spot for water recreation, including boogie boarding, surfing, paddleboarding, and kayaking.Beachgoers can even rent gear like kayaks and surfboards from UCSB Adventure Programs right on the beach.
2. Tucker’s Grove Park
- Accessibility: Accessible by car, with free parking
- Level of Adventure: Mild
Tucker’s Grove is a Santa Barbara County park located off Turnpike Road in Goleta. Just six miles from UCSB, Tucker’s Grove Park is a short and easy drive with a great payoff.This spot has sprawling green fields, beautiful woods, and large communal areas for barbecues and parties. In case you’re in the mood for a little more adventure, Tucker’s Grove is also home to hiking, equestrian, and biking trails that span sixteen acres. However, keep in mind that if you want to host an event in a common area of the park, reservations must be booked and paid for ahead of time.
If you’re looking for a little challenge…
3. Parma Park
- Accessibility: Accessible by car, free parking, five entry points at Stanwood Drive West (main entrance), El Cielito Drive, Mountain Drive South, Mountain Drive North, and Stanwood Drive East.
- Level of Adventure: Medium
Parma Park is the largest open space park in Santa Barbara. Spanning 200 acres along the Sycamore and Coyote Creeks in Montecito, Parma Park features five miles of hiking trails including Plateau Trail, Creek Trail, Stanwood Trail, and Ridge Creek, the last of which leads to a beautiful view of the Channel Islands. This spot is for those who are a bit more adventurous, so make sure to bring your hiking boots and plenty of water as you traverse rocky inclines and grassy hills. Also, beware of poison oak along the trails, a three-leaf, shiny vine plant that can leave a nasty skin rash.
4. Santa Ynez River
- Accessibility: Accessible by car, free parking, all-terrain road
- Level of Adventure: Medium
The Santa Ynez River is one of the largest rivers on the Central Coast and we have access to it in our own backyards. If you’re looking for an outing a little farther away from campus, you can take an approximately thirty-minute drive on Highway 154 to Paradise Road where you can find the Santa Ynez Recreation Area. With waters waistdeep, the Santa Ynez River is perfect for swimming and other fun recreation. Surrounded by forest trails and shallow creeks, the area also provides a scenic place to hike during the colder months. However, make sure you bring sturdy shoes to avoid slipping on the muddy banks or stumbling on the rocky river bed!
If you’re looking for an adventure…
5. Lizard’s Mouth Rock
- Accessibility: Accessible by car, free parking, remote, one-lane road
- Level of Adventure: Medium-High
Lizard’s Mouth is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places for adventurous Gauchos to explore, featuring breathtaking views of the foothills, the coast, and the Channel Islands. Located off Highway 154 and West Camino Cielo in Los Padres National Forest, Lizard’s Mouth is home to sprawling clusters of sandstone rocks and brush that form an outcropping that looks like a frog or lizard’s mouth. You’ll definitely need your hiking boots, water bottle, and climbing gear for this outing, as the area has many caves, ledges, and boulders, often on an incline. This area is quite popular with college students, so beware of glass and other trash that might be harmful; Lizard’s Mouth is also located adjacent to a gun range, so don’t be afraid if you hear gunshots in the distance as the spot is completely safe for visitors.
In Santa Barbara, there are nature spots for anyone looking to spend time outdoors, regardless of accessibility or level of experience. Whether it is walking on the shores of our very own Campus Point beach or hiking to the precipice of Lizard’s Mouth Rock, Gauchos are sure to find a fulfilling adventure whenever they need a break from their studies.
Want more chances for local nature connection?
Become a WYP Volunteer!
What qualities does a good/ideal volunteer need to have?
- Age 18 and older
- Ability to receive and respond to e-mails
- Curiosity about nature & the outdoors
- Can commit to either 1-2 weeks in the summer, or once a week for about 10 weeks during the school year