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Highway 101 Along Gaviota Coast Gets New Scenic Designation

Rural coastline stretches 21 miles from Goleta to Highway 1 north of Gaviota Tunnel

A portion of the Gaviota Coast is seen from the air. The 21-mile stretech of roadway from Goleta to Highway 1 has been designated a California scenic highway. Click to view larger
A portion of the Gaviota Coast is seen from the air. The 21-mile stretech of roadway from Goleta to Highway 1 has been designated a California scenic highway. (Bill Dewey photo)

From sun-soaked beaches to the visual geology of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the route wandering through some of Santa Barbara County's most stunning landscape has become California's newest official scenic highway.

The 21-mile stretch of Highway 101 meanders west from the city of Goleta to the interchange with State Route 1 north of the Gaviota Tunnel

The roadway is one of the longest remaining rural coastlines in southern California, according to the California Department of Transportation.

The course joins three California State Parks: Gaviota State Park, Refugio State Beach and El Capitán State Beach.

Drivers are treated to grassy rolling hills, and the rainy weather brought towering green vegetation and yellow mustard wildflowers along the roadside.

“This is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline,” said Steve Forsell, vice president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. “The area was gorgeous after the big rains a couple of months ago. You see the mountains and ocean when you are driving along.”

Caltrans is slated to place scenic highway signs with the golden California poppy logo along the officially designated route on Wednesday.

The State Scenic Highway declaration asserts the visual quality protection measures enforced by the county and State Parks to preserve the scenic nature along the Gaviota Coast for generations to come, according to Caltrans.

The Gaviota Coast is also rich in natural resources and cultural history. 

The area harbors rich biodiversity, with a handful of watersheds draining from the Santa Ynez Mountains to the ocean.

The highway travels the same course used by Gaspar de Portolá and Father Serra on their journey up the coast in 1769, and also the path of explorer Juan Bautista de Anza in Spain’s first attempt to find a route to populating California in 1774. 

In October, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors supported the scenic designation nomination. It has been the intent of the county to seek the designation since the adoption of the county’s Coastal Land Use Plan policies and standards regarding the Gaviota Coast in 1982.

The official designation as a State Scenic Highway was approved in December 2016.

The designation was made possible by Caltrans District 5, California State Park’s natural preservation mandates and the county’s coastal visual policies.

The public is invited to attend a dedication ceremony at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Arroyo Hondo Vista Point near Highway 101.

The program will include remarks by Caltrans District 5 Director Tim Gubbins, county Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann and former Third District Santa Barbara Supervisor Doreen Farr.

Forsell thanked the effort made by Farr, county staff and Bob Carr with the Landscape Architecture Division of Caltrans.

“It’s beautiful,” Forsell said. “It is way overdue to be called a scenic highway.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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