It’s no secret that Santa Barbara is home to hiking trails and all things outdoorsy. The surrounding mountains and beaches, coupled with the perfect 70-degree weather, make the city a place begging to be explored. However, many hotspots for venturing can be hard to reach for those without a car, myself included.
As a frequent user of public transportation and a lover of the outdoors, I set out to explore as many nature-related locations as I could find via the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (MTD) — more commonly known as the city bus.
My outdoor excursion began bright and early at the downtown Transit Center — the hub of the Santa Barbara’s MTD. I decided to board Line 5, which would take me through the Mesa and Hidden Valley, with its final stop at La Cumbre Plaza. My schedule guide in hand, I stepped through the bus’s glass doors, eager to become one with nature.
My first stop was the Douglas Family Preserve. This 70-acre plot of land provides space for recreational activities: hiking, dog walking, biking, and in one area of the park, hang gliding. The preserve welcomes nature enthusiasts and their dogs alike, allowing the furry, four-legged friends to walk off-leash in specified areas.
While the bus doesn’t take you directly to the preserve, it stops at Cliff and Alan Road — just across the street from the path leading to the preserve. My first encounter with nature included a view of the Arroyo Burro Estuary. In this watershed, fresh water from Mesa Creek comingles with its salty counterpart from the Pacific Ocean.
Along the remainder of this path, a quaint, wooden bridge greets you. The bubbling water of Mesa Creek combined with the melodic chirping of birds drowned out the cacophony of street traffic and construction along Las Positas Road. A plethora of trees and greenery line the brief, inclined walk leading to the flats of the Douglas Family Preserve.
This stretch of land fosters a variety of trees ranging from oak to cypress. Overlooks of the ocean aren’t the only ones I encountered on the outer nature trails. Views of the Santa Ynez Mountain range are equally as beautiful as those of the sea. However, one of the most picturesque outlooks is that of Arroyo Burro Beach and the hillside homes of the Hope Ranch neighborhood.
After seeing the beach views, I had to take a trip down there. Better known as Hendry’s Beach to locals, the shores run for six acres and are a hotspot for whale watching and sandy strolls. The Line 5 bus drops you off at the parking entrance, which couldn’t be more convenient considering Arroyo Burro’s small lot fills quickly.
As you walk in, to the right, you’ll find a grassy picnic area with charcoal grills available for use. If you’re not much for grilling, Arroyo Burro’s Boathouse restaurant acts as a nice substitute.
The buzzing conversations of beachgoers mix with the roaring crash of the waves along the sandy shore that creates a vibe unique to Hendry’s Beach. Families and their dogs frolic along the water. However, if you need a quiet space, stairs to the side of the Boathouse, takes you up to a slightly secluded area overlooking the beach — ideal for couples and family photos.
Not far from Arroyo Burro Beach is Elings Park. Line 5 drops you off a few feet away from the entrance. The walk from the entrance to the actual park isn’t long but is a bit steep. Elings Park features baseball and soccer fields, playgrounds, basketball courts, and a BMX track for kids.
At the top of the parking lot, you’ll find the Sierra Club Trail that is an estimated 1.5 mile uphill walk. The trail can be extremely narrow in some places, but aside from that, it makes for a tranquil hike. Vibrant green grass and plants line the trail in the spring. Large trees offer a shady sanctuary from the sun. Meanwhile, stunning views of the mountains and Elings Park await at the peak of the trail.
To wrap up my outdoor excursion, I ventured to Hidden Valley Park. A few miles down from Elings Park, Hidden Valley is the epitome of peaceful. Like Elings Park, the same bus line drops you off at the entrance of Hidden Valley. There’s no hiking trail here, but Arroyo Burro Creek runs alongside the park. A cemented path leads you down to the playground. The park’s small size makes it perfect for parents with little ones. The sounds of the creek and birds singing make Hidden Valley a prime spot for meditation or general relaxation.
My bus ride from Hidden Valley Park back to the Transit Center, passed by Elings Park, Arroyo Burro Beach, and the entrance to the Douglas Family Preserve. While these locations may not have the glamor of more popular spots, the four places I visited offered experiences as unique as the city itself.
Thanks to Santa Barbara MTD, the great outdoors are more accessible to the public. It might help to remember this when you’re frantically searching for parking at Hendry’s.
Where will you go next?