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

Ruth Hartnup
Flickr Creative Commons

Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara, boasts surreal Lotusland, 37 acres of exotic gardens created by Madame Ganna Walska, thwarted opera singer and compulsive marrier of millionaires. 


Here, explore the world’s finest private collection of cycads—pine-tree relatives that look like palms—also cacti, succulents, luxuriant ferns, weeping euphorbias, an aloe-and-abalone-shell “forest,” lily and lotus ponds, bromeliads, orchids, and roses. A bit pricey, and you’ll need a reservation.

Summerland and Carpinteria, next south, are undiscovered, at least compared to Santa Barbara. The Spiritualists, a sect known for séances and such, settled on former mission lands in Summerland, in 1888—thus the derogatory local nickname “Spookville.” California’s offshore oil-drilling boom came next, in the 1890s.


These days Summerland offers a county park, nice beach, and a boom in antique shops, restaurants, and B-and-Bs. But the town’s most entertaining feature disappeared decades ago—my favorite street sign, which read: Population 3,001, Feet Above Sea Level 280, Established 1870, Total: 5,151.


Carpinteria was once a Chumash village. Cabrillo stumbled upon it in August of 1542, and Portolá later called it Carpinteria or “carpenter shop” because of the natives’ skilled canoe-making. The naturally occurring tar you’ll still find all over area beaches made them watertight. Carpinteria State Beach features a large campground, picnic area, and playground. But the real draw is its mile-long “safest beach in the world,” because the surf breaks 2,000 feet from shore, beyond the reef, and there’s no undertow. The town’s annual California Avocado Festival in early October is a big deal too.


By the way, note the impacts of global warming and rising sea levels on Santa Barbara and Ventura County coastlines. Area military bases, power plants, harbors, homes, hotels, and businesses are battered and left to bail out after major storms and related floods. Creating resilience is now a local priority. 


Anyway: Heading straight south takes you to Ventura—another old mission town, with the active 1782 mission basilica church and intriguing museums tucked into an old-fashioned, historic, but lively downtown just blocks from the beach. Ventura is also the only departure point for commercial boat trips to and from Channel Islands National Park. The park’s visitor center is also down at the harbor.


Or, from south of Carpinteria, take Hwy. 150 to hip and artsy Ojai, one setting for Shangri-La in the Frank Capra movie Lost Horizon. June’s adventurous Ojai Music Festival, sprouted from early community roots in the Theosophical Society and Krishnamurti talks, showcases contemporary classical music. Festival music directors over the years have included Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, and Michael Tilson Thomas.


Drive on to Santa Paula in the Santa Clara River Valley, perfumed by citrus groves, as California’s top lemon producer. Note the California Oil Museum, in Union Oil’s original 1890s headquarters. Nearby too is the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, though at last report both museums were still closed.

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:


Photo Credit #1

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.