This beautiful, six-mile stretch of shoreline between Goleta County Beach and the Ellwood Oil Field offers a long beach walk as well as some terrific tidepools to explore. Today's walk passes through several different coastal ecosystems, from sandy beaches and dunes to nutrient-rich sloughs, as you make your way around the point.
One of the most interesting of the natural areas to explore is the Devereaux Slough, just inland from Coal Oil Point. A slough (pronounced "slew") is an unique intertidal ecosystem that provides the breeding grounds for numerous marine and near-shore wildlife as well as many bird species.
While most of California's naturally occurring coastal wetlands have been filled in and lost to the pressures of development, the Devereaux Slough is protected for teaching and research by the Coal Oil Point Preserve.
Directions: From Highway 101 in Goleta, head south on Ward Memorial Drive (Route 217). The exit is signed for the UC Santa Barbara campus and Santa Barbara Airport. Take the Goleta County Beach exit and park in the large lot provided. Additional parking is available at the walk's western end near Isla Vista County Beach off Del Playa Drive.
What you'll need: Be sure to wear surf-shoes or old sneakers to avoid getting tar on your feet on the beach near the tidewater oil field. Bring sunscreen, a hat or visor and two quarts of water for today's long beach walk. Dogs are not allowed on the beach.
Distance and level of difficulty: This easy beach hike can be as long as you want, up to a 12-mile round trip. At high tide it maybe necessary to leave the beach in favor of the footpath along the top of the palisades.
Step by step:
1. Proceed west along the coast from the Goleta County Beach and in a short way you will come to the Goleta Slough along the Main Campus Reserve Area. Continue up the beach, passing some low sandstone cliffs that separate the campus from the sea until you reach the UCSB Lagoon. There are some excellent, though well studied, tide pools in this area. Beyond the lagoon, about 1 1/2 miles from the start, the trail rounds Goleta Point to head due west along Isla Vista Beach to Coal Oil Point.
2. Two more miles of beach walking brings you to the Devereaux Slough. Pick up the trail over the dunes on the east side of the nature reserve. The path crests a cypress covered bluff before joining the reserve's perimeter road. After observing the birdlife at the Slough, return to the beach and continue west to Ellwood Oil Field, which has the distinction of being the site of the only U.S. Mainland attack during World War II. (In February of 1942, an enemy submarine fired missiles at the oil field, inflicting a small amount of damage before slipping off into the night.) The rusty, old oil rig at the end of the beach is the turn around spot for the beach walk. Return the way you came.
What you'll see: This long walk around Goleta Point highlights several interesting natural areas. The sloughs at either end of the beach represent some of Central California's last remaining wild wetlands. Similar to an estuary, where a river meets the sea, a slough is a bog or swamp that is made up of a mixture of fresh and salt water. This combination provides a nutrient-rich breeding ground for many animals and birds. Due to the delicate balance of ecosystems in the nature reserve, be sure to heed all posted warnings in this sensitive area. Near the UCSB Lagoon, massive rock benches jut out into ocean creating a sensational tidepool area. On clear days, Santa Cruz Island fills the horizon, seeming incredibly close at hand. Goleta Point also is a favorite surf spot with the local college crowd.