Posted by: James Wapotich | November 8, 2016

Trail Quest: Shoreline Park

Located on the Mesa, this scenic neighborhood park is a great destination for a short hike close to town. The popular park plays host to a variety of activities. On almost any given day you can see people walking, jogging, having a picnic, playing sports, or just taking in the views from one of the many benches.

A loop hike can be made combining a walk through the park with a walk along the beach when the tides are low enough. The hike is about two miles roundtrip.

To get to the park, from Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, take the Carrillo Street exit and head south on West Carrillo Street. The road leads over Carrillo Hill, becoming Meigs Road as it continues down towards the Mesa. Continue on Meigs Road past Cliff Drive. As the road continues past La Mesa Park and the lighthouse, it turns east and becomes Shoreline Drive and continues towards Shoreline Park. The park has two parking areas, one near San Rafael Avenue and another past La Ondas.

The 14.6-acre park is maintained and managed by City of Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department and is open to the public from sunrise to 10:00 p.m. Dogs are permitted on leash in the park, and off-leash along the beach. The park features 20 picnic tables spread out through the park, each with a pedestal barbecue. There is also a group picnic area that can be reserved. No alcohol is allowed in the park.

plover shoreline park hike walk beach thousand steps leadbetter santa barbara

A plover pauses along the beach

During the 1920s, the land surrounding the park was farmland, owned by the Low and Babcock families. When the land was later subdivided in the 1950s for the construction of homes, the bluffs where the park is located was left undeveloped.

In 1963, concerned that the bluffs would be developed, a group of citizens urged the city to purchase the land for use as a park. The next year, a ballot measure was passed allocating funds to acquire the land and develop it as a park. In 1966, the city purchased the land. Local landscape architect Richard B. Taylor was hired to design the park.

The site had been informally known as Shoreline Park, however it was felt the park needed an official name. In 1967, La Mesa Improvement Association held a contest to formally select a name for the park. There were over 500 entries, with names ranging from Sobre las Olas, which means Over the Waves, and Punta de Ballenas, which means Whale Point, to Mayor MacGillivray Park, St. Barbara Park, and even John F. Kennedy Park. A panel of judges weighed all of the options and in the end, selected Shoreline Park, which was also one of the entries.

On December 14, 1968, the park was officially dedicated.

shoreline park beach walk hike Santa Barbara thousand steps leadbetter mesa

The beach below Shoreline Park

For the loop hike, starting from the parking area near San Rafael Avenue, the park walkways lead eastward towards the playground area. Sometimes referred to as the “Tot Lot”, the design of the site when it was first unveiled was met with some controversy concerning both its aesthetics and safety. In the original design, the Douglas fir poles that enclosed the playground had level tops. However, concerns over kids climbing on them and falling led to the poles being cut at a 45-degree angle.

To the right of the playground, is a viewing scope and several interpretive signs, as well as a bench shaped like a whale’s tail. Whales can be seen from the park February to May as they migrate north through the channel. On a clear day, one can see the Channel Islands and at night, gazing out towards the islands, one can see the faint traces of the Milky Way in the sky.

Continuing along the walkway, one arrives at MacGillivray Point. The point was dedicated in 1995, in honor of Don MacGillivray, who was the city’s mayor at the time of the park’s creation. In 2012, the point was fenced off due to safety concerns that the point might collapse in a landslide as a result of the ongoing erosion of the bluffs.

Past the point, the walkway passes the group picnic area and arrives at the wooden torri gate and stairs that lead down the beach. The gate was completed in 1998, and donated by Santa Barbara’s Japanese-American community.

The stairs provide access to the coast and are roughly midway along the length of the park.

The route then leads past the second set of restrooms and arrives at the second parking area. Here, the walkways lead to an overlook that provides some great views out across Leadbetter Beach, towards the breakwater, and out along the coast. On most days you can watch surfers and stand up paddlers working the long rides created by the point.

Just past the end of the park, from the sidewalk, an asphalt path leads down to Leadbetter Beach. From here, turn and head west along the beach and continue around the point, also known as Santa Barbara Point.

When the tides are low enough it’s possible to round the point and continue along the beach. Here, one can see a variety of shorebirds including sanderlings, plovers, California brown pelicans, and western gulls. In one of the eucalyptus trees overlooking the beach, one can also spot nesting cormorants.

During the winter when the sand has been stripped away by storms, there are additional opportunities for exploring the tide pools.

Both the rocky pools and cliffs below the park are composed of Monterey shale that has been weathered and sculpted over the many years.

About midway along the beach portion of the hike, one arrives at the stairs that lead back up to Shoreline Park. Another half-mile up the coast, one arrives at Thousand Steps, which lead back up to Shoreline Drive.

The steps are said to have been built during the 1920s, and follow an old trail that led down to the beach. The route was originally called Camino al Mar, or Trail to the Beach, but has since become known as Thousand Steps.

The stairs lead to the top of the bluff, arriving at the end of Santa Cruz Boulevard. The residential street can also serve as an alternate starting point, however parking is very limited. From Thousand Steps, continue north a half block along Santa Cruz Boulevard to Shoreline Drive. Turn right on Shoreline Drive and continue a few blocks back to Shoreline Park to complete the loop.

Regardless of how far you walk, you’ll get to enjoy one of Santa Barbara’s more scenic parks.

This article originally appeared in Section A of the November 7th, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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