Avoiding the urban sprawl of other southern California cities, Goleta is a less expensive alternative to its easterly neighbor Santa Barbara. And while there are many things to do in Goleta, the main draw for visitors is the area’s beaches.
Goleta beaches are typically less crowded than Santa Barbara’s, and Goleta Beach Park is the ideal destination for a quiet family day trip or a romantic weekend getaway.
Known for its 1,500-foot-long fishing pier the park provides a 29-acre outdoor playground, popular for bicyclists who traverse its paved trail system, as well as boaters, fishermen and families out for a stroll, and appealing view of the Pacific coast.
The Goleta Pier boat launch is available for public use on weekends and holidays and the park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset and is easily accessible from Highway 217, or several bike paths that lead to the directly to it.
Other parks in the area are Stow Park, Lake Los Carneros and the Coronado Butterfly Preserve.
The Coronado Butterfly Preserve from late October through early March – is teeming with thousands of monarch butterflies that migrate each winter, hanging in clumps and clusters from the branches of the towering eucalyptus trees that speckle the landscape.
The preserve is free to the public and open every day from sunrise to sunset. Even in the off season, the preserve is home to numerous birds and wildlife and is a great place to visit.
Another beach in the area that lives up to its name is Refugio State Beach. The most remote of the Goleta beaches, Refugio offers great fishing sites, as well as palm tree-lined sand, trails, camping and picnic areas.
Parking and beach access is free for day visitors and the beach is open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset.
Closer to the heart of the city is the remaining five acres of the Rancho La Patera, Goleta Valley’s treasure from the golden era of California ranching.
The grounds include the 1873 Stow House, several historic buildings and picturesque gardens.
Visitors can experience Rancho La Patera by walking through the gardens, taking a guided tour of the Stow House, or visit the Visitor Interpretive Center and enjoy hands-on exhibits in the Cavalletto History Education Center.
The rancho is open on Saturdays and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. and is $8 for adults and free for children under 12.
Adjacent to the Rancho La Patera, located at picturesque Lake Los Carneros County Park, is the South Coast Railroad Museum at Goleta Depot.
Set in a Victorian-style depot built by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1901, the museum offers hands-on exhibits about rail life, historical artifacts and a collection of rare photographs and memorabilia.
There’s also a 300-square-foot HO-scale model railroad exhibit and the “Goleta Short Line” miniature train ride that offers a 1/2-mile nine-minute ride around the museum grounds.
The museum and train is open year-round Wednesday through Sunday. And while the museum is free, tickets for the train are a $1.50 for a single ride.
Finally, farther east, near the intersection of Storke Road and Hollister Avenue, is a large shopping mall, called the Camino Real Marketplace.
The marketplace is the south coast’s most diverse shopping center, offering everything from the “big box” retail stores to small convenience stores, services, restaurants and entertainment, including a state-of-the-art theater.
Getting to Goleta is easy, and is just a 104-mile drive north from Los Angeles on Highway 101. And because Goleta’s climate is always moderate, visitors can enjoy it’s features year-round.