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Jonathan Stull | 10.11.2016

The fall in the outdoors is a wonderful time of year. The summer crowds thin, the temperatures mellow, and, depending on the region, the fall foliage traverses the color spectrum from green to radiant gold and red hues. So much is true for Santa Barbara, too: home to sycamore, cottonwood, liquidambars, vineyards, and even the sanguine poison oak, the forests of the Santa Ynez mountains erupt with color, and the Pacific, having slumbered for much of the spring and summer, awakens with the best breaks of the year. With the arrival of the sometimes howling Santa Ana winds, which actually make fall the hottest time of year to visit Santa Barbara, the mountains and ocean are yours for the taking. Here are some adventures to get you going!

1. A Real Blue Flame Special

One of Santa Barbara's choice right hand point breaks. Photo by Aron Bosworth.

The unfortunate orientation of the Channel Islands south of Santa Barbara doom ideal point breaks to semi-annual dormancy, but guess what? That happens during the spring and summer. Western swells begin to roll onto Santa Barbara beaches in the fall, when the big ole blue transforms from flaccid to fantastic. Check out El Capitan State Beach. Alternatives: Sands, Campus Point, Tarpit and world-famous Rincon, among others.

2. Old Standby

Where there are wild places, there are trails to explore them. Santa Barbara is backed by the Los Padres National Forest and has dozens of trails to wander. By Thanksgiving, these trails through sycamore and cottonwood will be alive with color. Head to Inspiration Point for an easy hike to a view of the Santa Barbara area, too.

3. More Than Just Hot Air

The Sundowner winds of autumn bring hot blasts of air and the highest temps to the normally mild Santa Ynez Mountains. In fact, the hottest temperature recorded in Santa Barbara, and for 75 years the hottest recorded on earth, occurred when desert air exploded over the range in June of 1859 and spiked temperatures up to 133 degrees. Higher temperatures have happened only twice since, so the event is exceedingly rare, but when the Santa Ana winds breathe fire into Santa Barbara, you’ll want to be near water. The ocean is always a great idea, as is Red Rock Pool.

4. Thou That Madly Seekest

The California Coast is a year-round destination for humans, yes, but far larger and more dramatic visitors can be spotted in the waters of the Pacific. According to a recent census, a gray whale herd numbering around 28,000 whales passes the coast of Santa Barbara twice annually during their winter and summer migrations, and that’s just one species. Take a whale-watching tour to get up close to these giants, or grab a handy pair of binoculars and scoot on over the Jalama Beach.

Sunset from Jalama Beach. Photo by Denis Leblanc.

5. Continental Wrinkles

We’re regularly reminded that Southern California is a place designed, forged, and remade by fragmented crust that just can’t stop reshuffling, but there are benefits to living and visiting one of the most tectonically active regions in the world: mountains and rocks. The Santa Ynez Mountains have both, and as long as the Santa Ana winds aren’t blowing, the conditions in the fall are perfect for throwing up a line. Word is there are easy bouldering problems at Inspiration Point. Trad and sport climbers should head on over the Gibraltar Rock or the Toxic Waste Wall.

6. Pitch a Tent

The beaches of Southern California have been hotspots for campers for decades, and the allure of an oceanside campsite isn’t out of style. There’s always something nearby to do, whether it’s picnicking or hiking along the sandy shores. Try El Capitan State Beach Campground or Carpinteria State Beach Campground, which is one of the few to have direct views of the ocean.

7. Or Don't

If a camping setting without the camping stress is more your style, there are options for that, too. West of Santa Barbara, the El Capitan Canyon Nature Resort offers pre-pitched safari tents, yurts, and they have cabins for a backcountry camp with more structure to it.

8. Watch the Pincers

The California crabbing season wraps up in the fall, when the six-legged crustacean makes a break for deeper waters, but you might be able to find stragglers hanging loose in the waters at Mesa Lane. While you might be out of a meal, the bird watching at Mesa Lane is excellent, and late in the fall the birds should be in the middle of their winter migrations.

Marbled godwits along Mesa Lane. Photo by Jake Jarrell.

9. Astride a Cycle

Southern California’s rolling hills and open chaparral are ideal for mountain biking. Ride the shuttle up Downieville, an advanced, 16-mile ride with fun drops and water sections. The Forest of Nisene Marks and the Demo, or the Soquel Demonstration Forest, offers fantastic and technically advanced mountain biking trails, but be ready to tackle longer ascents.

10. In Nomine Patris

California has a colonial history dating to the 16th century, and Native American tribes have lived there for tens of thousands of years. While this hasn’t always been a harmonious relationship, the Old Mission Santa Barbara offers an escape in the city to a Catholic mission established around the time of American independence and still run by Franciscan friars. Knapp’s Castle is another Southern California vestige, the ruins of a mansion built by a petrochemical executive and largely destroyed in a wildfire.


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