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Up The Road: Where To Now? North Of Santa Barbara

Harold Litwiler

One thing about Santa Barbara is how hard it can be to leave. One thing making that easier, for most of us, is how insanely expensive it is.


The cost of living in Santa Barbara—and, of course, visiting—means that scouting out options and alternatives up and down the coast is just part of life, for residents and visitors alike.

One possibility: Park yourself at county and state parks on the beach, just up the coast. (But heads up: coastal erosion is real around here.) About 20 miles north of SB is Gaviota State Park, a geological gem with small beach, train trestle, and 3,000 acres of chaparral plus picnicking, hiking trails, hike-in hot springs, and seasonal camping.



Credit Harold Litwiler / Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons
Vineyards in autumn Santa Ynez Valley.


Just 12 miles north of town is Refugio State Beach, a white-sand cove fringed by palm trees near Refugio Creek, protected from pounding surf by a rocky point. Refugio, “shelter” or “refuge” in Spanish—some people say Ray-FOO-Gee-Oh, a little Americanized—also offers picnicking and camping. About two miles east is El Capitan State Beach, with sandy beach, tidepools, tree-shaded El Capitan Creek, and more picnic and camp sites. 


Not far from Gaviota is the authentic Danish town of Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley—wine country, these days. Solvang, “sunny meadow” or “sunny valley” in Danish, was founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants who wanted a pastoral spot to establish a folk school. This little Denmark is now a well-trod destination, complete with Scandinavian-style motels, restaurants, shops, even windmills—and authentic Danish bakeries. In summer and on many weekends, tourists take over the town. So come other time, for the authentic feel of Denmark.


Area wineries welcome visitors year-round. The surprise hit Sideways was filmed here in the Santa Ynez Valley. But Santa Barbara Wine country is everywhere. It includes six to nine American Viticulture Areas, depending on how you count them, at least nine wine trails, many special events, and upscale everything.


Next there’s La Purisima Mission State Park, just outside Lompoc. This is California’s largest and only complete mission complex, situated on 1,000 unspoiled acres. Eleventh in California’s chain of coastal missions when it was built in 1787, most of the original was destroyed in 1812 by a devastating earthquake and deluge.


An oddity at this historically accurate re-creation is the building arrangement, all lined up like ducks in a row along El Camino Real, rather than surrounding an interior courtyard. This fine restoration was done mostly in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Mission Purisima was reestablished from the ground up, with handmade adobe bricks, tiles, and dyes essentially identical to the originals. The hand-hewn redwood timbers, doors, and furniture, even the artwork and decorative designs, paint an authentic picture of mission life.

Up the Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel

Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen:

Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.