Just past the historic landmark Santa Barbara Mission, area roads lead to a more rural landscape created by the forces of nature a millennium ago. The rustic Rocky Nook Park gives a real taste of what this area must have looked like before it was settled. The towering trees are lush and the park offers shaded picnic areas, short trails, and the area is strewn with large sandstone boulders. When nature takes a rest, Rocky Nook Park is a peaceful place away from the crowds and the street.
- Features: Alcohol Allowed, Hiking Trail, Horseshoe Pits, Parking On Site, Passive Open Spaces, Picnic Site, Playground, Reservable Areas, Restrooms
- Dog Policy: Dogs Allowed On Leash
The driveway winds up and up, and all along it are private picnic areas. Near the top of the driveway there's a playground with swings. In front of the playground are some large rocks and low tree limbs for kids to climb and have a blast. This is a popular park for picnics, in large part because it is centrally located between the Mission and the Natural History Museum. Mission Creek runs through the park, and since it is spring fed, it usually has water all year long.
A prominent feature in Rocky Nook park is an abundance of boulders. Researchers suspect that, 1000 years ago, there was a giant landslide in Rattlesnake Canyon forming a natural dam and lake. The dam broke shortly thereafter sending a huge wall of water and a mud debris flow into Mission Canyon, including Rocky Nook Park, depositing rocks and boulders to a depth of ten or more feet. Chumash oral narratives describe the event.
In more recent times, the Europeans, starting in 1782, used the water and construction materials found in Rocky Nook Park for the founding of the Presidio and the establishment of the Old Mission in 1786. Original 1806 aqueduct sites built with Chumash labor still exist in the park. The City of Santa Barbara continued to use this water source until 1993.
The property was purchased in 1881 from the Catholic Church by George Stewart Johannot Oliver (1831-1904) and Frances Dabney Oliver (1833-1926) who promptly named it "Rocky Nook." In 1910 Frances Oliver had a drinking fountain constructed for people and a watering trough for animals. This was a gift to the community in memory of her late husband who loved the canyon, and the fountain survives to this day. In 1927 Frances Oliver died at age 92. The 9.5 acres north of Mission Creek were deeded to the County Parks Department per her wishes and the transfer was completed on January 16, 1928.
Over the next few decades the park was laid out with picnic tables, stone barbeque pits, a winding driveway with islands of vegetation, parking spots, a children's play area, and a horseshoe toss. In 1929 the County of Santa Barbara added a pedestrian bridge to the stone masonry bridge on the park side. The Caretakers Cottage was completed in 1931. In 1955 an additional 10 acres was acquired from Grover T. Garland creating a continuous park along existing trails from Mission Canyon Road to Foothill Road.
In 1972 the south west entry into Rocky Nook Park along Mission Canyon Road was redesigned and a hand carved and painted sign by Rica Coulter was added. In 1984 an expanded parking area was added at the south east entry and the stone barbeque pits were replaced by metal ones. In 1993 the park was upgraded with new parking, paths, drinking fountains, picnic tables, playground equipment, and refurbished restrooms.
From the 101 freeway take the Mission Street exit and turn towards the mountains. Follow Mission Street all the way to the end and turn left. At Los Olivos Street turn right. At the fork in the road just past the Santa Barbara Mission bear to the left. Continue until you get to the sign for Rocky Nook Park and turn right into the park. If you see the entrance to the Natural History Museum on your left, you've gone one bend too far.