Pedal, Play, Learn at Lake Los Carneros

Low-Risk, High-Thrill Adventures for Kids

Sophia and Leo race along one of the many dirt trails around the lake.
Andie Bridges

While I’d love to see more parents utilizing Santa Barbara’s bike lanes, many families are not quite road-ready. Parents may feel nervous about riding alongside cars, and children often demand the freedom of independent riding long before they’ve outgrown the wiggly-wobble riding style of early childhood.

Strapping a bicycle to a car can feel like the ultimate oxymoron to an environmentally conscious cyclist. But it may be the best option for sharing the sport with young children who long to pedal under their own power and lack the ability to avoid traffic hazards. And cultivating bike-love in the next generation is something we can all get behind.

Leo finds a bumpy hill to coast down.

Fortunately, Santa Barbarians don’t have to drive far to find an ideal place for a family ride. Lake Los Carneros provides an excellent arena for low-risk, high-thrill pedaling adventures for children of all ages. With miles of dirt paths surrounding the water, ducks to feed, and trees to climb, it is the perfect place for a kid-friendly ride.

Escape into Nature: Park at La Patera Way and begin your ride on the gently curving asphalt road. This main road provides smooth sailing for the youngest tots, but parents may add to the sense of adventure by letting slightly older kids lead the way down bumpy, crisscrossing dirt paths.

Though the lake is less than a mile from the 101, it feels serenely wild. Picturesque views of the foothills and mountains create feelings of peaceful isolation. The lake is a popular site for birdwatchers. Turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers, and even swans are all known to frequent the waters. Along with many species of birds and butterflies, children may also discover a wooden bridge that leads across a small section of the lake.

When the kids start slowing down, present the magic remedy for young cyclists and parents alike – snacks! Pools of shade beneath the trees beg for a picnic blanket, or you can loop back around to the asphalt road to sit at the benches overlooking the lake and recharge.

Sharon pedals while two-year-old Jasmine enjoys bird-watching.

Local History: Nestled beneath the foothills of Goleta, the 25-acre lake was originally a small pond. It was enhanced and enlarged by the Stow family in the late 1800s as part of the irrigation system for their ranch. The Stows began their ranching endeavors in 1871 when William Whitney Stow bought nearly 1,100 acres of Goleta land for $28,677 and appointed his eldest son, Sherman Stow, as land manager. Together, Sherman and his wife, Ida, raised six children at Rancho La Patera.

The Stows were instrumental in the early development of commercial agriculture in the Goleta Valley. Edgar Stow, who was the fifth child of Sherman and Ida, created a laboratory on the ranch to experiment with various grafting and growing techniques and was able to significantly increase production. The ranch thrived under his management and employed many local families.

Outhouses, Tractors, and Trains, Oh My!: At the east side of the lake, Rancho La Patera offers a glimpse into the rich history of the Goleta area. The Goleta Valley Historical Society maintains and operates The Stow House with its surrounding lawns and gardens as well as the new education center. Admission is $8 per adult (kids under 12 are free) and includes a docent-guided tour of the Stow House as well as entrance to the hands-on exhibits in the Cavalletto History Education Center and exploration of the Ranchyard.

Black-and-white photos and antique furniture fill the Stow House. After touring the home and former possessions of the Stow family, head out back to the Ranchyard to see period farm equipment, and a three-seated outhouse that’s sure to get the kids talking. Tours of the Stow House are offered on weekends at 2 and 3 p.m.

Sophia flies down the path.

For added excitement, pedal a little farther down the road to the South Coast Railroad Museum. Step inside a rusty red caboose, watch the model train chug through a scaled-down retro Goleta, and hop aboard a miniature train for a five-minute loop around the grounds. Admission to the museum is free, and train rides cost $1.50. Children must be at least 36 inches tall to ride.

The Railroad Museum is open Thursday through Sunday. Friday afternoon visitors are treated to free train rides courtesy of local sponsors.

Little Kids, Local Fun: Sometimes, just getting out of the house with young children can feel like a monumental task. Loading the car up for a biking adventure may seem overly ambitious. But with its ample parking, open paths to pedal, and lots of opportunities for entertainment, Lake Los Carneros provides a quick getaway that’s easy for parents and great fun for kids.

Parking at La Patera and riding down the asphalt road to the museums and back makes for an easy, relatively flat ride (watch out for bumps and holes near the end) totaling just under two miles. There are restrooms at Rancho La Patera and The Southcoast Railroad Museum, but only a port-a-potty at the La Patera entrance. (Perhaps adding extra motivation for the troops to make it all the way across the lake.) Of course, the trip can be made shorter or longer depending on the enthusiasm of your little adventurers and the quality of your snacks.

Getting There:

_Exit 101 at Los Carneros

_Turn toward the mountains

_Enter the roundabout and make a right onto Calle Real

_Make a left onto La Patera

_Park just after Shamrock Ave. near the locked gate. The lake area will be on your left hand side. Begin your adventure.


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