Arroyo Hondo Preserve
Called the “Jewel of the Gaviota Coast,” the 782-acre Arroyo Hondo Preserve is a magnificent canyon located west of Santa Barbara between Refugio State Beach and Gaviota State Park. The old ranch is rich in early California history and has an abundance of outstanding natural features.Within its steep canyon walls is a hidden place of extraordinary beauty and serenity. Cool, stream-side paths through the bay and sycamore trees transition into trails past ancient oak trees, tall yucca blooms and aromatic sages up the high ridges of the Santa Ynez Mountains. There, you are greeted with sweeping vistas of the Gaviota coastline and the distant islands of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The watershed is home to thousands of plant and animal species, including several that are considered threatened or endangered. Purchased from the Hollister family in late 2001, Arroyo Hondo is now protected forever and managed by the Land Trust as a natural and historic preserve. Visitors are invited to come explore its beauty and diversity. For the AH Trail Map, click here.
To make a reservation to visit the Arroyo Hondo Preserve, call (805) 567-1115 or email us.
Everyone is welcome to visit the Preserve to hike, picnic, paint, volunteer or do research but advance reservations are required. The Preserve is open the first and third full weekends of each month, and every Monday and Wednesday for school and community groups. Free nature hikes with one of our knowledgeable docents are held at 10:00am on Saturday and Sunday of weekends that are open to the public.
Due to the sensitivity of the resources in the canyon, dogs, mountain bikes, horses, hunting, fishing and campfires are not allowed.
For individuals and small groups a suggested donation of $5 or $10 per person would be appreciated to help operate the preserve. To become a Friend of Arroyo Hondo and support the preserve and programs we offer you can make a donation on site or online. Annual family membership is $75 and individual membership is $50. Schools are invited at no cost to come out for a fun and fascinating Environmental Education field trip led by our trained docents. The Preserve is available for large events of up to 100 people for a fee, which varies with the type of use.
From Santa Barbara: Traveling northbound on the U.S. Highway 101, the Preserve is about a thirty minute drive from downtown and approximately four miles past Refugio State Beach. After the Refugio exit, pay attention to the blue CalTrans call boxes spaced one mile apart on the right hand side. The Arroyo Hondo entrance is located at call box 101-412. Make an immediate right hand turn into the driveway.
From Buellton/Lompoc: Traveling southbound on the U.S. Highway 101, approximately 6 miles past Gaviota State Park and a mile after the Vista Point Rest Area, look for the blue CalTrans Call Box #101-403. Be in the left hand lane. Just after the Call Box, make a u-turn (turn lane provided) onto the northbound lanes of the U.S. Highway 101. In a mile, make a sharp right turn into the Preserve immediately after blue CalTrans Call Box #101-412.
If you miss the U-turn, the next turnaround is at Refugio State Beach about four miles south. Come down the driveway, cross the bridge and park near the barn.
To return to Santa Barbara: Head north a few miles to Mariposa Reina exit, get off, go over bridge and enter southbound on ramp.
History of Arroyo Hondo
The earliest known inhabitants of Arroyo Hondo are from the Barbareno-Chumash civilization 5,000 years ago. Evidence of a permanent Chumash camp has been discovered buried deep in the lower canyon.
Rancho Arroyo Hondo was part of the original 26,530-acre Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mexican land grant to former Santa Barbara Presidio Commandant Jose Francisco Ortega in 1827. The adobe house was built in 1842 by the Ortega family and was used as a stagecoach stop on the route between Lompoc and Santa Barbara in the late 1800s.
As the railroad and highway were being constructed, the adobe also served as a bar and eatery for the workers. Historic photos show a small schoolhouse where children along the Gaviota Coast came to school.
The canyon was also known to be a refuge for several well-known outlaws including Joaquin Murrieta, Jack Powers and Judge Edward McGowan and a vineyard site for the Santa Inez Mission Padres.
Mission-era grapevines still grow amongst the tall Sycamore trees in the lower canyon. Jennie B. Hollister purchased the ranch from the Ortega family in 1908, and her family held the property until the Land Trust purchased it in 2001.