The 230 acre Elwood Mesa Sperling Preserve is part of a multi-agency 650 acre open space that includes areas around UCSB's satellite campuses, the Coal Oil Point Reserve, Monarch Butterfly Grove, and the Sperling Preserve. The area is named for Ellwood Cooper (1829-1918), who owned the large Ellwood Ranch in what is now Goleta and the adjacent hills. 10 miles of trails connect this open space with Goleta and Isla Vista. With numerous donations including a $5 million gift from philanthropist Peter Sperling, for whom the preserve is named, The Trust for Public Land purchased this property in the 2000s and gave it to the city of Goleta to protect it from the ever encroaching development.

  • Features: Alcohol Allowed, Beach, Biking, Hiking Trail, Horseback Riding, Parking On Site, Passive Open Spaces, Restrooms (outhouse at parking lot), Views, Wildlife and Birding
  • Dog Policy: Dogs Allowed On Leash

As the largest publicly owned coastal open space on the South Coast of Santa Barbara County, the Ellwood Mesa serves residents from across the region, as well as many visitors to our community. Ellwood Mesa is popular with hikers, runners, bikers, surfers, and horseback riders who enjoy this natural preserve of exceptional beauty. The Monarch Butterfly Preserves draw visitors and school children from throughout county. The picturesque bluffs at Ellwood Beach is also one of the best local places to watch rocket launches that start at Vandenberg Air Force Base and arc across the sky. Ellwood Mesa is also popular with remote control glider enthusiasts (when it is windy) and for model rocket launching (when it is not windy).

The Ellwood Mesa trail system is a series of unimproved dirt trails and old roads which were formed from residents (and oil companies) exploring the area. The trails fill the gap between the Sandpiper Golf Club to the north and Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve to the south. They traverse environmentally sensitive habitats and provide beach access via eroded canyons in the Ellwood Mesa bluffs. The area has been popular for decades as evidenced in part by a rusty 1956 Ford Customline Tudor Sedan stuck in one of the canyons.

Monarch Butterfly Grove

On the north side of Ellwood Mesa is a 78 acre eucalyptus grove and windrow habitat that is a home to Monarch butterflies in the winter. Monarch butterflies migrate to California each November through February and the best place to view them locally is at the Ellwood Mesa Monarch Butterfly Grove. The site is open sunrise to sunset with no admission fee. There is a portable restroom located at the official parking lot. It is recommended that you wear sturdy shoes and bring binoculars. It is best to not visit during or immediately after a rain storm because the area becomes very muddy. The City of Goleta's Monarch Butterfly Docent Program provides public education opportunities for Monarch Butterfly Grove visitors during the over wintering season. Docents can be found at the Goleta Butterfly Grove from mid-November through mid-February on Saturdays and Sundays (weather permitting) between 11am-2pm

Ellwood Beach

The closest parking to Ellwood Beach is at the southern end of Santa Barbara Shores Drive (1/3rd mile walk). The Phelps Road parking area is 2/3rds of a mile from the beach. Due to walking distances Ellwood Beach is rarely crowded like other Goleta beaches. When the tide and sand level is low at Ellwood Beach you can seen remnants of oil pier pilings emerge from the sand. It is a great beach for collecting beach glass. As is the case at most South Coast beaches there is an abundance of tar from natural oil seepage so be sure to have some Goo Gone handy. Frequent winds attract windsurfers and kiteboarders to Ellwood Beach.

Attack on Ellwood During World War II

At 7pm on Feb. 23, 1942, Goleta residents were settling in to listen to President Franklin Roosevelt's Fireside Chat on the radio. The Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor two and a half months earlier and tensions were high for folks living on the coast. Meanwhile, a 365 foot long Japanese I-17 submarine came to a stop off of the Ellwood coast. The submarine had cruised to the Santa Barbara Channel with orders to bombard the Ellwood oil installations near Goleta. Ellwood boasted one of the largest oil fields in California at the time yet did not have a major military presence, making it an attractive target for the Japanese Navy. The submarine suddenly launched a haphazard assault on the oil field using 25 5-inch rounds. During the attack shell struck the Ellwood Pier, damaging it slightly. A derrick and pump house were destroyed, while a catwalk was damaged.

After the attack local phone lines were jammed with concerned citizens trying to find out what the explosions were about. As word spread that a World War II military assault had occurred in California, all traffic was stopped on the 101 from Ventura to Gaviota to enforce a full blackout. Total damage from the attack was assessed at $500. While the attack caused only minor actual damage, it had a significant impact on public fears across the country. The shelling was the first attack on the mainland U.S. in World War II and the first attack by a foreign power since the War of 1812. The Japanese military's shelling of Ellwood in 1942 triggered nationwide fears of invasion and subversion. Within months of the attack, tens of thousands of Japanese Americans would be sent to internment camps, where they would stay until early 1945. Historical research courtesy of Tom Modugno.