If you took my advice and started planning a trip to Solvang, California, you’re probably wondering what there is to do outside of the Santa Ynez Valley. Luckily, you don’t have to go far to find fun outdoor adventure in this area, and a lot of it is free.
It may seem hard to believe, but if you continue driving down Alisal, past the village and past the guest ranch, you’ll find a beautiful park and waterfall. Since they’ve actually gotten some rain this spring, it’s a good time to visit Nojoqui (pronounced Nah-ho-ee). It doesn’t take much precipitation to get the 80-foot falls going and the short trail to get there is wide and not too steep (though it can get muddy). Even when the falls are just a trickle, the park is nice to visit. It has a playground and BBQ area and the drive to get there is pretty as well. Free.
Thousands of people drive by this place and don’t even know it’s here, but less than half a mile off of East Camino Cielo, you’ll find the ruins of an estate owned by the Knapp family. The trail to the “castle” is relatively flat and easy to access, and if you have kids along, they’ll have a blast climbing over the walls and foundations to explore this site. Be sure to bring your camera because the views of the lake and river canyon are pretty awesome. Free.
With the recent drought, water levels at Lake Cachuma have been horribly low. Right now, the lake is at about 40 percent of its capacity. Luckily, there is plenty to do in this county park even if you don’t go on the water. Tent camping, RV hookups, cabins and yurts are available here, but you’ll need to make reservations way in advance. Although you can’t swim in the lake, they do have a pool that’s open in the summer. The marina has fishing supplies and licenses, as well as boat rentals. This is also the place to sign up for a wildlife cruise. There are several playgrounds in the park, and a disc golf course as well. With about ten miles of designated trails, one as short as a quarter mile, you’ll find hiking for every level. You can pick up maps in the nature center. It costs $10 for a day use pass at Lake Cachuma.
Gaviota Beach & Pier
This state park offers the closest beach to the Santa Ynez Valley, about 15 minutes down the 101 Highway. Unfortunately, the pier has been closed since collapsing during a storm in 2014, but there are plenty of other things to do here. The beach is narrow and pretty well packed near the railroad trestle which makes getting down to the water easier if you have mobility challenges. It’s also a great place to launch a kayak or boogie board. The park has a campground, convenience store and hiking trail that takes you up to the bluff above the water, and with a little detour, you can visit the hot springs. If you feel like a longer hike, you can take the 2.5 mile hike to explore the wind caves. The first part of the trail is paved and easy to manage, but the upper part gets steep. It costs $10 for a day pass to Gaviota. Or you can do what a lot of locals do and just park off the road before the entrance 🙂
Grass Mountain and Lovers Loop, off Figueroa Mountain Road in Los Olivos, are popular hiking trails, though they aren’t really wheelchair accessible. The trailheads start at Midland School and you’ll need a free permit from them to hike the trails.
Looking for more fun adventure spots? Santa Barbara Outdoors has a great list of other hikes around the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Like it? Pin it!