If you want to step back in time and experience a bygone era of the Old West, be sure to visit Cold Spring Tavern. Once people experience the food, drink, and ambiance of this former stagecoach stop, it quickly ends up on their top-10 list of favorite things in Santa Barbara. Cold Spring Tavern rests atop San Marcos pass, located just off historic Stagecoach Road, a short half mile jaunt down a twisty country road from Highway 154, and 15 miles from downtown Santa Barbara.
On weekends it gets packed with people who want to experience Cold Spring Tavern's famous tri-tip sandwich (barbequed right in front of you), with a side of huge onion rings, a cold drink, and live music. On weekends you will see dozens of motorcycles parked off to the side, a weekly tradition that bikers from all over have maintained for decades.
What is now the Cold Spring Tavern began operating as a stagecoach stop in 1868. The original structure is believed to have been built in 1860 and included the Long Room, RV Room and Kitchen. Ownership of the Tavern during the early years is not well documented. Records indicate the Doulton family purchased 160 acres, including the Tavern, for $10 in 1900. The Doulton's transferred ownership in 1907 to the Miramar Corporation, which went bankrupt and lost the mortgage in 1934. Caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Green, oversaw the property until early 1941.
Adelaide Ovington, a former actress and writer, purchased 40 acres surrounding the Tavern in 1941 for $2,000. She said "I want to buy that door and whatever comes with it!" She was also the wife of Earle Ovington, a Santa Barbara aviation pioneer and the first United States airmail pilot. Adelaide ran the Tavern alongside her daughter, Audrey Ovington, until her death in 1972. Audrey, a legendary personality and writer, was the sole proprietor until her death in 2005. Wayne and Joy Ovington Wilson, third generation and current owners, take pride in maintaining the Tavern in its historical state.
From Santa Barbara take the 101 Freeway to Highway 154. Once you pass the summit of the Santa Ynez Mountains start slowing down because you will soon see a sign for Stagecoach Road where you need to take a left. You have only a few seconds to slow to a near complete stop (the left turn lane is extremely short) and if you are driving fast you will fly right by it. If you cross a bridge you have gone too far. Once on Stagecoach Road follow the signs to Cold Spring Tavern and in a couple of minutes you'll arrive at your destination. Frequently you will encounter cars parked on the side of the road before you even see the Tavern so grab a space if there is one. If there is not, you can drive past the Tavern and probably find a spot. Motorcycles can park onsite.