Located in Goleta, a small city in southern Santa Barbara County, Ellwood Mesa is a 230-acre open space that includes 10 miles of trails, Goleta Butterfly Preserve and public beach access. Most visitors come to this area to hike, bike and horseback ride or to experience the magic of the annual monarch butterfly migration in late fall/early winter.
Goleta Butterfly Preserve
Every November through February, more than 100,000 monarch butterflies migrate to Santa Barbara to escape the winter chill. Goleta Butterfly Preserve is one of the best places to view and experience the migration firsthand. It’s a 78-acre grove and windrow habitat located on the north side of the mesa.
The Goleta Butterfly Preserve opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. Admission is free, but the City of Goleta will accept donations to support the preservation of this site as well as their docents who lead tours every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the migration.
When visiting the preserve, we recommend wearing sturdy shoes, as the terrain varies, and bringing binoculars to best experience the view of the migrating monarch butterflies. Parking is free.
Other Things to Do at Ellwood Mesa
Ellwood Mesa is the largest publicly owned space on Santa Barbara’s southern coastline. Because it offers 10 miles of unpaved trails, it’s a popular spot for hikers, runners, bikers and horseback riders. All the trails are unimproved to keep the landscape as natural as possible, and many were formed by residents exploring the area in the mid-1900s. Many also visit Ellwood Mesa for birding and other wildlife viewings.
The park also has public beach access available at Ellwood Beach. The beach is often uncrowded and frequented by surfers, windsurfers and kiteboarders. Ellwood Beach is also a great spot to collect beach class due to its low tide and sand level. Parking for the beach is off Phelps Road and is a little less than a mile from the beach.
All of Ellwood Mesa is dog-friendly, but dogs must remain on their leashes.
How to Get to Ellwood Mesa
If traveling from the north, take the Hollister Avenue exit off Highway 101, turn right and then turn left onto Hollister Avenue. If traveling from the south, take the Glen/Annie Storke Road exit off Highway 101. Turn left over the freeway and then turn right onto Hollister Ave. Parking is across the street from Ellwood Elementary School (7686 Hollister Avenue).