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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. 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. The old ranch is rich in early California history and has an abundance of outstanding natural features.

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. Enjoy 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.

Visitors are invited to come explore its beauty and diversity with a required, free reservation.


  1. Arroyo Hondo Trail Map
  2. Guide to the Nature of Arroyo Hondo
  3. School & Family Resources | Recursos para escuelas y familias
  4. Aerial tour of Arroyo Hondo by filmmaker Rick Ray

Your donations help operate the Preserve and assist with restoration of this incredible canyon.

How to Visit


Everyone is welcome to hike, picnic, paint, volunteer, or do research with required advance reservations.

For individuals and small groups a suggested donation of $5 or $10 per person would be appreciated to help operate the preserve. Click here for more ways to give and get involved.


The Preserve is open the first and third full weekends of each month. Free nature hikes with one of our knowledgeable docents are held at 10:00am on Saturdays of weekends that are open to the public.


The resources in the canyon are sensitive; dogs, mountain bikes, horses, hunting, fishing and campfires are not allowed.


Schools are invited at no cost to come out for a fun and fascinating Environmental Education field trip led by our trained docents, contact Education Coordinator Sally Isaacson at [email protected] or make school group reservations here.


The Preserve is available for large events of up to 100 people for a fee, which varies with the type of use. Contact Preserve Manager John Warner at [email protected].


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, the entrance to Arroyo Hondo is one driveway past the Tajiguas Landfill at the bottom of the next hill. 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, move to the left hand lane. Using the left hand turn lane, make a u-turn onto the northbound lanes of the U.S. Highway 101. In a mile, make a sharp right turn into the Preserve after the Tajiguas Landfill on the right hand side.

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

Vincente Ortega, last Ortega family member to live at Arroyo Hondo

Vincente Ortega, last Ortega family member to live at 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.

J.J. and Barbara Hollister with Land Trust President John Helmer at the dedication of the Hollister Family Meadow in 2002.

J.J. and Barbara Hollister with Land Trust President John Helmer at the dedication of the Hollister Family Meadow in 2002.

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.

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