As we approach the end of summer, there's still plenty of time for camping, picnicking, and enjoying the outdoors in Santa Barbara. The Santa Ynez River still has plenty of water for swimming. El Capitan State Beach is still not open for camping, but is allowing day use if you're looking for a good coastal picnic area that isn't crowded. And don't forget about your own backyard or a neighborhood park if you want to get outside without straying too far!
Picnic Spots for Every Occasion
There are many great places to have a picnic in Santa Barbara, but in case you are looking for a new one, here are just a few of the author's recommendations.
Sunflower Park: A lesser-known city park on Mason St. between Voluntario and Soledad. If you live or work on the Eastside or are stopping by to run errands, bring your lunch to Sunflower Park and enjoy a moment outdoors. There are a few benches situated around a children's playset, but the best seating area is the lawn if you bring your own chair or blanket. There is a view of the mountains if you look across the street, and often some songbirds foraging in the trees and on the lawn. Like anywhere on the Eastside, it's also a great place to watch crows.
El Capitan State Beach: Since the park is currently open to day use only and not camping, this is your rare opportunity to have an entire camping loop for yourself during a daytime picnic. Park in the main day use lot by the beach (day use fee $10) and walk up to the campground area if you're looking for more peace and quiet than the day use picnic spots. Without a lot of people to disturb the wildlife, you'll likely see a lot of birds and squirrels.
Hidden Valley/Palermo Open Space: No developed picnic spots exist in this open space, but like Sunflower Park it's a great place if you bring your own chair. Located at the end of Palermo Dr. along Arroyo Burro Creek, this open space contains multiple native habitat types, including riparian, oak woodland, and grassland. The best wildlife viewing is at dawn and dusk. Try bringing a picnic breakfast and sitting in the grassland area as the sun comes out. The author has done this a couple times and once saw a coyote catching a snake.
Paradise Rd: The road is currently closed to cars at the first crossing, but you can still access the day use sites across the river by bike. Go after the day cools off and bring a picnic dinner and a bathing suit. There are great swimming holes past the First Crossing (the one pictured is called the Falls) but if you're looking for a closer spot that is accessible by car, Whiterock is also a good option.
Keep Wildlife Wild While Picnicking and Camping
Birds, squirrels, skunks, and other wildlife are fun to observe at a distance while you're spending time outdoors, but don't invite them to your picnic by feeding them. These animals are meant to be wild and live independently of humans, and feeding them (intentionally or not) can interfere with them living their normal lives. If you're not convinced, here are a couple more reasons not to feed the wildlife:
Wild animals who get used to being fed can lose their fear of people and start acting overly friendly. (Anyone who has camped at El Capitan State Beach might remember how bold the skunks and raccoons were, and this is why). This makes them more likely to get into conflicts with people and pets, and even end up having to be euthanized in order to end those conflicts.
Wild animals have specific natural diets and can become unhealthy if they are eating too much human food. Additionally, if they develop a craving for human food, they can get themselves in danger trying to forage for it. For example, there have been cases of seagulls accidentally getting drenched in cooking oil while trying to raid dumpsters behind restaurants.
Coming in close contact with wildlife can be dangerous for the person too, especially when it involves mammals. No matter how cute an animal may look, it can still bite, and the bites of many wild mammals have the potential to spread rabies and other illnesses.
As you can see, refraining from feeding the wildlife benefits both you and them. In addition to keeping your distance and not intentionally leaving food for animals, make sure you avoid any accidental feeding as well. Store all unattended food in your car or a hard-sided cooler, instead of in bags that animals could tear into. Keep your trash similarly secured.
Mountain Lions in the Hills
An 8/17 Edhat article reported three separate mountain lion sightings in the hills above Santa Barbara and Montecito. The three locations reported were Ladera Ln, Parma Park, and Upper Hot Springs Rd. While none of these sightings appear to have been officially confirmed yet, mountain lions are already known to live in the front country and sometimes come down into populated areas, so this is not necessarily a surprising occurrence.
Mountain lions are native to our area, and it is fair to say that we are encroaching on their territory more than they are encroaching on ours. Mountain lions generally prefer to avoid encountering people, so as long as we are careful to give them the same respect, we can coexist with them and avoid conflict. However, close encounters, when they do occur, can be dangerous. Here are a few tips for keeping yourself and your pets safe while allowing mountain lions to go about their lives without human conflict.
If you live in a neighborhood where mountain lions have been sighted or are known to exist, keep your pets inside. This is good practice anyways because coyotes, which are often found in the same habitats as mountain lions, can also harm pets.
Be extra vigilant when you are hiking in Parma Park or anywhere in the front country. Pay attention to tracks and scat along the trail, as well as sounds that could indicate a mountain lion is around. Sudden changes in songbird activity can be a good indicator that a predator is nearby (although not necessarily a mountain lion). Avoid bringing your dog to trails where mountain lions are known to be.
Hike in groups and make noise to establish your presence. Mountain lions will be more likely to leave the area looking for peace and quiet.
If you do see a mountain lion, change your route to give the animal plenty of room to leave, and do not turn your back on it.
Never run away from a mountain lion. This makes you resemble prey. Instead, make noise and try to appear larger than you are by raising your arms, opening your jacket, and standing upright. The mountain lion will likely back away. In the rare event that you are attacked, fight back.
This website generally encourages readers to go seek out wildlife to observe in their neighborhoods. However, mountain lions are large predators and best left to their own activities without human interference. Do not go to a park or trail for the purpose of finding a mountain lion! Instead, if you happen to live in one of the above mentioned areas and have a motion sensing wildlife camera ("camera trap") on hand, this is a great time to use it. You may be lucky enough to observe a mountain lion through the photos, from the safety of your own home.
Everyone's Getting Ready for Creek Week 2023!
Santa Barbara's creeks and the surrounding riparian ecosystems provide habitat for a variety of wildlife, as well as recreation, aesthetic, water filtration, and other benefits to communities. Creek Week is an annual celebration of these waterways, put on by a large group of agencies and organizations in the Santa Barbara/Goleta/Carpinteria area. This year's events will take place from September 23-30 and will be posted on the Creek Week website, https://sbcreekweek.com/ , as they are finalized. The Skunk Corner is not formally affiliated with Creek Week in any way and is not hosting events, but readers of this website will likely find many of the events interesting, and enjoy the opportunities to get outside, explore creeks, and meet like-minded people who also care about nature in Santa Barbara.