San Ysidro Canyon Trails Give Ocean Views Minus the Strain


Thanks to the Montecito Trails Foundation and other local advocates, a fine system of pathways with ocean and mountain views leads through and around San Ysidro Canyon. Hikers have a multitude of options for a day on these captivating trails north of the Santa Barbara coast.

The classic canyon walk is a family-friendly path, three miles round trip, along San Ysidro Creek to lovely pools and a small waterfall. Connector trails lead west to Santa Barbara’s attractive and best-known canyons, Hot Springs and Cold Springs.

But I suggest something different: Pathways leading east out of San Ysidro Canyon. Fashion a loop with the aptly named Buena Vista Trail (buena vista means good view) or head out on an all-day adventure over to lovely, little-known Romero Canyon.


The starting point for these adventures is a public trail head behind San Ysidro Ranch, the resort known for its romantic, bougainvillea-draped cottages and an atmosphere that manages to be simultaneously rustic and elegant. It’s the kind of place where well-heeled ramblers sip wine in their hiking shorts and take lobster sandwiches or Mediterranean wraps along on walks.

Published room rates begin at $395 a night, but hikers of more modest means can still enjoy the ranch because its restaurants welcome non-guests. You can hike San Ysidro Canyon trails, clean up a bit, then treat yourself to gourmet dining at the resort’s Stonehouse Restaurant or a meal at the more affordable Plow & Angel Bistro, an 1889 stone packing house and wine cellar in the middle of the 500-acre ranch. Wander the fragrant gardens and enjoy sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands.

Directions to the trail head: From U.S. 101 in Montecito, take San Ysidro Road north one mile to East Valley Road and turn right. Drive a mile on East Valley to Park Lane, which appears on the left after the bridge over San Ysidro Creek. Turn left (north) onto Park Lane, go half a mile and veer left onto East Mountain Drive, which passes through a residential neighborhood and dead-ends at San Ysidro Creek, in back of San Ysidro Ranch.

The hike: Head up San Ysidro Canyon about three-quarters of a mile to Buena Vista Trail, an old road, and turn east. After a short stint of mellow hiking, the trail suddenly climbs at a heart-pounding angle. A 20- to 30-minute ascent leads to a shale-lined saddle.

After catching your breath, take satisfaction in knowing that most of the climbing is behind you. The old roadway gives way to a footpath, which switchbacks down into Buena Vista Canyon.

The trail crosses a creek to a signed junction. Bear left for the half-mile journey to Buena Vista Overlook. Rest on the stone bench and enjoy the coastal and mountain views. (From the overlook you can continue another 11/2 miles east on the ridgeline before descending into Romero Canyon and linking with another trail system. My favorite route, a six-mile loop, begins with a tramp north on Romero Canyon’s main trail, which intersects a dirt road curving east, then south to close the loop.)


Most hikers, however, will retrace their steps from the overlook back down into Buena Vista Canyon. Rejoin the Buena Vista Trail and descend south for a mile through a lush, sycamore-shaded canyon and past striking sandstone boulders.

The simplest way to finish the hike is to take paved Park Lane Road west, then East Mountain Drive west back to the trail head. Another option is to take Park Lane Road for a bit, then join Old Pueblo Trail for a mile-long jaunt back toward San Ysidro Trail and your starting point.


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