Distance – 1.5 miles
Elevation Gain – 148′ to intersection with Highway 154
Difficulty – Easy
Topo – Santa Barbara
Though this is a relatively short hike, and not terribly wild, San Antonio Creek is a wonderful place to take children. Tucker’s Grove is perfect for a picnic, and it has the best playground equipment for kids anywhere in Santa Barbara. The hike is level so you can take even the littlest tots on the trail. The riparian community found along it is an excellent place to teach kids about the local environment.
From Santa Barbara drive northbound on Highway 101 to the Turnpike exit in Goleta. Turn right and drive 0.6 miles north to Cathedral Oaks. Drive straight through the intersection into Tucker’s Grove County Park. Curve right and continue through the park and across San Antonio Creek to the last parking lot. You can pick up the trail there near a small sign that says “Bridle Path” or walk through Kiwanis Meadows.
SETTING THE SCENE
San Antonio Creek Trail begins at Tucker’s Grove. In the late 1800s this sheltered oak grove served as a favorite picnic area for Santa Barbara’s Scottish-American population. It was privately owned by Charlie Tucker, a popular valley resident who maintained the sylvan retreat for public use free of charge until he died in 1912. Shortly thereafter it was purchased by rancher George S. Edwards who deeded it to the county, thus allowing it to become one of the valley’s first public parks.
This is one of the most pleasant of the short hikes, especially for those of you who want to take younger children along with you. In the spring, with the cascading waters of the creek flowing cool and clear, the oak woodland and canyon vegetation provide just the touch of color, richness, and variety for an hour or two of relaxed hiking.
If you look closely, in most places you will still see the effects of wildfire in the canyon, though after a decade of re-growth the canyon has returned to what it looked like before the fire. The Painted Cave Fire began about 6 PM on June 27, 1990 near the intersection of Painted Cave and Highway 154. Though high in the mountains, thundering santa ana winds caused the flames to roar down the mountainside and across San Antonio Creek in less than 45 minutes. More than 600 homes and apartments were destroyed by the fire, and with the exception of the larger trees, the oaks and sycamores, the canyon was reduced to a barren condition.
The trailhead is near the rear of Tucker’s Grove at the end of an area known as Kiwanis Meadows. Although you can begin immediately by taking the Bridle Path across the creek (it re-crosses in a hundred yards), most hikers continue through Kiwanis Meadows because this eliminates a stream crossing.
Though the trail is unmarked, the well-used path is relatively easy to follow. Just past Kiwanis Meadow a canyon section begins. The hillside is covered with ferns and sorrel and is shaded by numerous oaks. There is poison oak along here as well, so take care, especially with children.
The trail follows the east side of the creek for a quarter mile to a large oak meadow that has numerous trails radiating through it. The air has the sweet smell of bay and California sage and in the early morning, light filtering through the trees gives this grove a cathedral-like atmosphere.
From here the trail opens for a while, then closes back in. In places the path is not much more than a shoulder-width wide and is rutted a foot deep in the sandy soil. The tunnel-like enclosure hems one in with the aroma of the soft chaparral. Nearby are the sounds of the hidden creek and numerous birds.
The trail reaches an opening once more, this one filled primarily with sycamore, and the canyon makes several lazy “S” curves. The trail crosses and re-crosses the creek several times. There is a farm along the back side of one of the curves which looks like it must be a wonderful place to live. Immediately beyond the farm the trail crosses the creek and heads up onto a bench, which leads to a large flood-control dam.
There the trail crosses the dam and turns upstream along the left side of a large flood control basin. Above the basin, several trails appear to be leading upstream from this point, but the main path turns right and crosses the creek and passes by a long chain-link fence, which you can see before you make the crossing. The other trails lead up onto San Antonio Creek Road to provide horse riders access to the canyon.
Once on the east side of the creek, the trail wanders through a most enjoyable section, thick with oaks, thistle, and blackberry. Here and there, large cream-colored boulders provide a very colorful accent to the greenery. In a half mile the trail intersects with Highway 154, where the trail ends under the bridge, near the beginning of the Vista Del Mundo Ranch.