Santa Barbara County


Brown Pelican
Symbol of the Central Coast Birding Trail
Copyrighted Photo courtesy of: Peter La Tourrette

Welcome to California's Central Coast

Like all four counties of California's Central Coast, Santa Barbara offers many recreational opportunities in a beautiful natural setting of coastal plain that includes the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria River estuaries, forest-canopied mountains and interior valleys. Elevation varies from sea level to 6828 feet at the summit of Big Pine Mountain. Vandenberg AFB, Santa Cruz Island and the Los Padres National Forest are Globally Important Bird Areas.  Good birding opportunities extend beyond the 25 official trail sites. The Central Coast Birding Rally is held each October. Field trips are regularly offered by two Audubon chapters that sponsor four Christmas counts. The Santa Barbara count is regularly in the nation's top five. Channel Island trips originate in the city of Santa Barbara. 475 bird species have been recorded in the county including a Little Curlew. Most of these species are represented in the mounted specimen collection of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Please visit the La Purisima Audubon Society and Santa Barbara Audubon Society  web sites for more information on birding in Santa Barbara County.

In addition to the trail site descriptions below, please visit: 
Other good Santa Barbara County birding areas: More Santa Barbara
Specialty birds of the Central Coast Birding Trail: Trail Specialty Birds 
Pelagic Birding on the Central Coast Birding Trail: Pelagic Birding 
Event Calendars:
  Central Coast Events
Local attractions after birding is done: AfterHours
Resources for birding the Central Coast Trail Areas: Resources

And, if you are visiting the Santa Barbara County area, be sure to check out the 
special offers from our Green Tourism Partners .

Click on the White Numbers for Individual Site Descriptions and Directions.

 Then click on the site links (where available) for more information and photo album

Gaviota State Beach ParkNojoqui Falls County ParkSweeney RoadRiver ParkMiguelito Canyon County ParkLa Purisima Mission State Historic ParkOcean Beach County ParkWaterfowl Natural Resources AreaBarka SloughWaller County ParkSanta Maria Water Treatment PlantRancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park Carpenteria Creek and State Beach ParkSB Harbor, Beach, Bird Refuge & ZooRocky Nook Park & Museum of Natural HistoryChannel and Island CruisesPatterson Avenue and Atascadero Creek Bike PathGoleta Beach County ParkLake Los CarnerosEl Capitan State Beach ParkRefugio State Beach ParkLake Cachuma County ParkLake Cachuma Dam OverlookRefugio RoadHappy Canyon RoadCachuma Creek CampgroundFigueroa Mountain

  Return to the Birding Trails Master Page

Go North to San Luis Obispo County Go South to Ventura County

For further information contact:

La Purisima Audubon Society
PO Box 2045
Lompoc, CA 93438

Santa Barbara Audubon Society 
5679 Hollister Ave., Suite 5b 
Goleta, CA 93017 

Rare Bird Alert Hotline  

Channel Islands National Park  
(Access) (805-658-5700)

Gaviota Coast Conservancy
 PO Box 1099, Goleta, CA 93116. The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is a non-profit organization working toward permanent protection of the Gaviota Coast for its unique natural, scenic, agricultural, recreational and cultural resources.

Los Padres National Forest  
Roads/Camping (805-967-3481)

Chambers of Commerce and Visitor's Centers:

Audubon~California (National Audubon Society)
711 University Ave
Sacramento, CA 95825

The mission of Audubon~California is to conserve and restore California's ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.


Santa Barbara County Sites

Santa Maria Valley Area

1. Rancho Guadalupe Dunes County Park  -  See Photo Album
[Day use only. Parking, handicapped access, restrooms.]
Beach and ocean, estuary and brackish fresh water marsh with "lake" or muddy flat, depending on whether river mouth close; weedy fields, willow woods along road to dunes; 1 of 4 large saltmarshes in Santa Barbara County.
Location: take Hwy 166 exit west from US 101, 14.0 miles to park at Santa Maria River mouth.
Best Season: All Year: phalaropes, gulls, water birds, Peregrine Falcon, sparrows, Greater Roadrunner, Turkey Vulture. Spring to Fall: Least Tern, Snowy Plover, Belding's Savannah Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Brown Pelican, shearwaters, scoters and loons offshore.

2. Grassy Fields and Wastewater Treatment Plant - See Photo Album
Roadside, fence line, stubble grass, weed and dirt fields, settling ponds. Birdwatch from road; plant access by permission only.
Location: take Betteravia Road exit west from US 101, 3.1 miles. Best birding west of intersection, both sides. View adjacent pastures and fields at junction of Black and Betteravia Roads. Go 1.0 miles south on Black Road to view settling ponds and fields.
Best Season: Fall & Winter: Burrowing Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Ferruginous Hawk, Western Bluebird, Vesper Sparrow, Horned Lark, blackbirds, gulls, shorebirds, waterfowl.. Call 1-805-964-8240 for rare bird update.

3. Waller County Park - See Photo Album
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone. Food, lodging and hospital nearby.] Suburban park, grass, shrubs, trees. Picnic while watching tame western birds.
Location: take Santa Maria Way exit from US 101, then Lakeview 1.0 miles west to Hwy 135, turn right. Park is on left (west) side of Orcutt Expressway.
Best Season: All Year: Hutton's Vireo, Bushtit, sparrows, Brown Creeper, Western Bluebird, Acorn Woodpecker, Black-crowned Night Heron, Tree Swallow . Spring & Fall: common and rare warblers, tanagers, orioles, other migrants and residents. Winter: Chipping Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch


Lompoc Valley Area

4. Ocean Beach County Park - See Photo Album
[Parking, restrooms, phone. Food, lodging and hospital nearby.]
Ocean, dune, Salicornia marsh, and shore habitats in park; fields and willow-lined channels en route to Santa Ynez river mouth.
Location: from north on Hwy 1 or from north or south-bound US 101, take Hwy 246 west from Buellton, 25 miles to the park. Taking Ocean Ave. (Hwy 246) 8 miles west of Lompoc, turn right 1.8 miles beyond traffic light, but before road goes up hill, cross tracks. Briefly stop for birds at willow thicket and swampy area, then drive to Park.
Best Season: All Year: Savannah and White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Harrier, ducks, pelicans, cormorants, blackbirds. Spring & Fall: Willow Flycatcher, Gadwall, American Avocet breed on river; Snowy Plover, Least Tern, gulls at beach.

5. Waterfowl Natural Resource Area - See Photo Album
[Parking. Food, lodging and hospital nearby. On Vandenberg Air Force Base -- Advance Permission  is required: see Directions for base access]
Man-made ponds, cat-tails; canopied willow forest, scrub; trails to overlook of Santa Ynez River.
Location: from north on Hwy 1, take Ocean Ave. (Hwy 246) to Solvang Gate, 5 miles west of Lompoc, turning right at traffic light.
Best Season: All year: Marsh Wren, Sora, American Bittern, water birds. Summer: Nuttall's and other woodpeckers, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Bullock's Oriole, Warbling and Hutton's Vireos, Yellow and Wilson's Warblers, owls, hawks, Greater Roadrunner.

6. Barka Slough - See Photo Album
[Parking; birdwatch from road.] Riparian woodland, former wet meadow becoming choked with nettles; largest freshwater marsh in county; county side of road, grassy chaparral scrub hillsides.
Location: take Clark Ave. exit west from US 101 to Orcutt, then Hwy 1 south 7 miles, then left (east) on to San Antonio Road. Barka Slough is on the left for the next two miles.
Best Season: Spring to Fall: Wilson's and Yellow Warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Swainson's Thrush, Western Scrub-jay, Lazuli Bunting, woodpeckers; Grasshopper Sparrow, quail, Greater Roadrunner on hillsides.

7. La Purisima Mission State Historic Park - See Photo Album
[Entrance fee. Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone. Food, lodging and hospital nearby.] Unique Burton Mesa chaparral and other native plant collection in park; preserved historic mission.
Location: take Hwy 246 from north or south US 101 at Buellton, go west 15 miles to sharp right onto Purisima Road, 0.8 miles to mission entrance on right.
Best Season: All year: goldfinches and Purple Finch, Hutton's Vireo, Wrentit, California Thrasher, Oak Titmouse, woodpeckers, Sage, White- and Golden-crowned Sparrows. Spring to Fall: hawks, Swainson's Thrush, hummingbirds, warblers, orioles.

8. Miguelito Canyon and County Park - See Photo Album
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms.] Live oak and chaparral woodlands, excellent spring wildflowers; steep canyon, unique geology; nearby, world's largest diatomaceous earth mine visible from road.
Location: take Hwy 246 from north or south-bound US 101 at Buellton. Go west 25 miles to Lompoc. In Lompoc, take Miguelito Road south (left) 0.25 miles west of Hwy 246 and Hwy 1 intersection.
Best Season: Spring to Fall: woodpeckers, Western Scrub-jay, Bushtit, Wrentit, Hutton's, Cassin's and Warbling Vireos, Yellow and Orange-crowned Warblers, nuthatches. Grasshopper and Rufous-crowned Sparrows; Band-tailed Pigeon.

9. River Park - See Photo Album
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone. Food, lodging and hospital nearby. Camping ($); for information call 1-805-875-8100] Tame birding in grassy tree-covered picnic/camping park with pines, willow, shrub habitats.
Location: take Hwy 246 from north or south-bound US 101 at Buellton. Go west 24 miles almost to Lompoc. Turn right into park before (east of) Santa Ynez River bridge.
Best Season: All year: Black Phoebe, Western Scrub-jay, California Thrasher, Oak Titmouse, Greater Roadrunner, warblers, woodpeckers, finches, towhees, owls. Spring to Fall: migrant and breeding warblers, sparrows, flycatchers.

10. Sweeney Road - See Photo Album
[Birdwatch from road. Parking.] Chaparral covered hills, wildflowers; spectacular view of Santa Ynez River woods from above.
Location: 1.5 miles east of Lompoc take Hwy 246 from north or south-bound US 101 at Buellton. Go west 24 miles almost to Lompoc. Turn left opposite River Park just east of Santa Ynez River bridge; narrow dead-end road next 5.8 miles.
Best Season: Spring to Fall: vireos, Western Scrub-jay, Bullock's Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, Yellow and Wilson's Warblers, Western Wood-pewee, Pacific Slope and Ash-throated Flycatchers, Spotted and California Towhees. White-throated Swift, Rufous-crowned and Grasshopper Sparrows.

Santa Ynez Valley Area

11. Nojoqui (NAH-hu-way) Falls County Park - See Photo Album
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone.]
Picnic in park at base of north-facing chaparral and oak mountains; large sycamores and California bay trees along Alisal Road and creeks.
from US 101, 4.0 miles south of Buellton, take Old Coast Road exit. Go east 1.0 miles. From Hwy 246 at Solvang (east of Buellton) go 6.0 miles south on Alisal Road.
Best Season:
All year: Yellow-billed Magpie, Acorn Woodpecker, owls. Summer: nesting Purple Martin, Black Phoebe, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, vireos, towhees, orioles.

12. Happy Canyon Road - See Photo Album
[Birdwatch from road. Parking.]
Roadsides in pastures, hills, spring wildflowers; ends in pine and oak woods of Los Padres National Forest (call for road conditions 1-805-967-3481 M-F 7am - 4pm).
take Hwy 154 from southbound US 101 (north of Buellton). Go east 8 miles to Hwy 246. Turn left. Go 1.6 miles, then left again 1.1 miles north, then right onto Happy Canyon Road.
Best Season: Fall to Spring:
Western and Mountain bluebirds, Acorn and Lewis' woodpeckers, Turkey Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Ferruginous Hawk, Lark and Savannah sparrows, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-billed Magpie.

13. Cachuma Creek Campground - See Photo Album
[Parking, restrooms. Camping ($); for information call 1-805-967-3481 M-F 7am - 4pm.]
Los Padres National Forest - pines and oaks, vistas; call for road conditions (see above).
Best Season: All year:
Poorwill (at dusk), Band-tailed Pigeon, Steller's Jay, Western Scrub-jay, Oak Titmouse, nuthatches, vireos, warblers, finches, towhees, woodpeckers, hawks, owls.

14. Figueroa Mountain - See Photo Album
[Parking, restrooms. Camping ($); for information call 1-805-967-3481 M-F 7am - 4pm.]
Los Padres National Forest - various pines; call for road conditions (above).
take Hwy 154 east, 6 miles north of Buellton, then Figueroa Mountain Road 3 miles east at Los Olivos. Go north for 12 miles to Figueroa Station.
Best Season: Spring to Fall:
Olive-sided Flycatcher, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mountain Chickadee, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Steller's Jay, Common Raven, Golden Eagle, owls and hawks. California Condor possible.

15. Lake Cachuma County Park
[Entrance fee. Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone, food. Camping ($).]
Large lake on Santa Ynez River; mountainous oak, sycamore and chaparral woodlands, grasslands. Guided lake tours with park naturalist: Eagle Cruises--Wednesday thru Sunday between November & February& Wildlife Cruises-- [Friday thru Sunday between March & October). Reservations 1-805-686-5050 for nature tours, boat rental; private boating and fishing.
from south, take Hwy 154 exit from US 101 in Santa Barbara. Go north 16 miles. Turn right into park. From north, take either Hwy 154 or Hwy 246 exit from US 101. Go east 14 miles. Turn left into park.
Best Season: All year:
breeding Bald Eagle, Western Grebe; White Pelican, Wrentit, Black Phoebe, Bushtit, Western Scrub-jay, California Thrasher, Osprey, Poorwill, Common Raven, water birds, vireos, warblers, sparrows, hawks, owls.

16. Lake Cachuma Dam Vista Point
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms.]
Chaparral and oak scrub, gorgeous mountain and lake vistas.
see #15 for directions from US 101. From west (north) turn left off Hwy 154, or from east (south) turn right, both 1.1 miles west of Cachuma County Park.
Best season: All year:
Same birds as #15. Spotting scope needed for water birds; songbirds common around parking area.

17. Refugio Road
[Birdwatch from road. Parking.]
Roadside birding near ranches and pasture scrub from sycamore-lined creek to dense north-facing live oak wooded mountain; ocean view from 3,000 feet.
from north, on Hwy 246 east of US 101 at Santa Ynez, take Refugio Road south up Quiota Canyon 7.6 miles through hilly farmland into Los Padres National Forest to West Camino Cielo; go 7 miles south to US 101 (see #18).
Best season: Spring to Fall:
Yellow-billed Magpie, Phainopepla, Hermit Thrush, Black Phoebe, Common Raven, Cooper's Hawk, Poorwill, Band-tailed Pigeon, and Lark, Sage, Black-chinned, Rufous-crowned and Chipping sparrows, Lazuli Bunting, woodpeckers, vireos, warblers, towhees, orioles.

Goleta, Santa Barbara and South County Beach Areas

18. El Capitan (a), Refugio (b) and Gaviota (c) State Beach Parks
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone, food. Camping ($) reservations call 1-800-444-7275.]
Ocean, beach, tide pooling, creekside canyon woodlands; Refugio Park accessible by walking from north of US 101, parking at south end of Refugio Canyon Road (see #17).
going north (west) on US 101 from Santa Barbara at Hwy 154, parks are 16.5, 19.0 and 28.0 miles respectively. El Capitan Park exit past Ranch exit; Refugio Park labeled; Gaviota from northbound US 101, left turn across southbound US 101 lanes.
Best season: All year:
Western Scrub-jay, vireos, finches, California and Spotted towhees, gulls, shore and ocean birds. Spring: Black and Ruddy turnstones, flycatchers, hummingbirds, Long-eared Owl, sapsuckers, other owls. Fall: dozens of warbler species, orioles, flycatchers, grosbeaks.

19. Lake Los Carneros
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone. Food, lodging and hospital nearby.]
Lake, tules and willows, surrounding grassy scrub lands with pines, oaks and eucalyptus; miniature train ride at Goleta Train Depot; Stow House tours by appointment.
take Los Carneros Road exit from US 101, go north 0.3 miles, turn right at fire station into parking lot.
Best season: All year:
Breeding Least Bittern. Common Moorhen, Wood Duck, Canada Goose, White-tailed Kite, Great-tailed Grackle, California Thrasher, hawks towhees. Fall and Winter: Marsh Wren, warblers, orioles, tanagers, nuthatches, Lincoln's and other sparrows, blackbirds, and Zone-tailed Hawk possible.

20. Goleta Beach County Park
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone, food. Lodging and hospital nearby.]
Ocean and beach park with brackish water estuary; picnicking.
from north (west), take Fairview Ave. exit from US 101. Go south on Fairview 1.6 miles, past airport, under bridge to Sandspit Road. Turn right into park. From south (east), take UCSB/Airport exit from US 101. Take Airport exit to right, left on Moffet to Sandspit. Turn right into park.
Best season: All year:
nesting Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Black Phoebe; other herons, cormorants, ducks. Winter: Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, terns, Mew and other gulls.

21. Patterson Avenue and Atascadero Creek Bike Path
[Birdwatch from road and from bike and walking paths. Parking, handicapped access. Food, lodging and hospital nearby.]
Cultivated field edges, creekside willows; nearby mesa and cliff; steep beach access. Wheelchair birding along creek; wheelchair access to mesa with assistance only; beach not accessible; no facilities.
take Patterson Ave. exit from US 101. Go south on Patterson 1.5 miles. Pull off just north of bridge and walk; for ocean access, end of road at gate - park, walk and explore.
Best season: All year:
White-tailed Kite; migrant Lazuli and Indigo buntings, Blue Grosbeak, Bobolink, warblers, vireos, flycatchers, longspurs, rarer pipits, shorebirds. Winter: on mesa, Northern Harrier; Turkey Vulture, Short-eared and 4 other owls species, other hawks. Call 1-805-964-8240 for owl update.

22. Rocky Nook Park, Museum of Natural History [Entrance fee; hours 1-805-682-4711], and Botanic Gardens [Entrance fee; hours 1-805-682-4726].
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone. Food, lodging and hospital nearby.]
Oak riparian woods, park setting along historic Mission Canyon; world-famed Blue Whale skeleton exhibit, excellent bird and wildlife displays at Museum; world-renowned Channel Islands and native plant displays at Garden.
follow signs: take Mission Street north from State Street, 0.6 miles to Rocky Nook Park on right past bridge; Museum is 2 blocks left past Park; Garden 1.0 miles north of Museum, sharp left before fire station and stay on main road.
Best season: All year:
breeding resident Band-tailed Pigeon, Wrentit, California Thrasher, Hutton's Vireo, woodpeckers, owls. Fall to Spring: wintering and migrant vireos, warblers, tanagers, orioles, nuthatches.

South County Waterfront Areas

23. Channel and Island Cruises
[Fee charged. Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, phone, food, lodging and hospital nearby; various vendors; Santa Barbara Audubon Society's September Santa Cruz Island Scrub-jay trip call 1-805-964-1468.]
Ocean channel between City of Santa Barbara and Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands; various combinations of coastal scrub, oak and pine woodlands; harbors and diving. Round trips from Santa Barbara harbor to Santa Cruz Island (4 hours); from Ventura County (6 hours).
Best season: All year:
Sea Otter, whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea birds; breeding Brown Pelican, Western Gull, Pelagic and Brandt's cormorants, Black Oystercatcher, Pigeon Guillemot, Elephant Seal; endemic Santa Cruz Island Scrub-jay, San Miguel Island Song Sparrow; 3 western islands have unique gray fox subspecies.

24. Harbor, Beaches, Bird Refuge, and Zoo
[Parking, handicapped access, restrooms, food, lodging, hospital nearby. Zoo has entrance fee; call 1-805-962-6310 for hours.]
Beach and ocean strand, harbor; brackish freshwater lake.
from south (east) take left "SB Beaches" exit from US 101, turn left at 4-way stop onto Cabrillo Blvd.; from north (west) take "Bird Refuge" exit to right; Bird Refuge next immediate right; harbor and beaches continue right on Cabrillo past Refuge.
Best season: Fall to Spring:
Brant, grebes, 3 cormorant and 3 loon species, Snowy Plover, Black and Ruddy turnstones, Mew Gull, terns, large flock of Black Skimmer; Refuge - Wood Duck, Great-tailed Grackle, Merlin, flycatchers, warblers, orioles, tanagers, gulls.

25. Carpinteria Creek and State Beach Park
[Parking, handicapped access only in Park; restrooms, phone. Food and lodging nearby. Fee charged for camping; call 1-805-684-2811 for reservations.]
Sycamore, willow and oak in creek; Park has pines and palms.
Casitas Pass Road exit from north of south US 101, turn to ocean, right on Carpinteria Ave., one block turn left on Palm; continue to Park, or left onto 6th St. and park at end.
Best season: Fall to Spring:
warblers, vireos, flycatchers, orioles, tanagers, sparrows, grosbeaks; gulls, shore, water and ocean birds. Summer: breeding land birds.

And for more birding sites in Santa Barbara County, see More Santa Barbara


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Most recently updated: 28 December 2004 .