Distance: 1 mile
Elevation Gain: 300 feet to end of the top of the knoll where a small gazebo is located
Though the hike is short hike and doesn’t really head up into wild country, I can’t say enough about this little known county park. It is a great place for families to take their children for the afternoon. The setting is very picturesque, there’s lots of play equipment for the kids, and the trail is short and not too steep. It’s romantic, too. A small covered gazebo is situated in a perfect spot for sunset views in east or west.
From Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 east just past Summerland and turn off at Padaro Lane. Cross over the freeway and turn right on Via Real. Follow this a half mile to Toro Canyon Road and turn north (left). Drive up Toro Canyon for 1.3 miles to park entrance, which is on the right and then continue on a road leading to the park for another mile.
The drive to Toro Canyon County Park is almost as worthwhile as the park itself, which is actually not in Toro Canyon, but the upper end of Arroyo Paredon, a beautiful oak-filled canyon that drops down into Carpinteria Valley not too far from the polo fields.
The road leads steadily uphill, then at the point where Foothill Road intersects from the right, becomes a narrow, twisty canyon that is as pretty as any in Santa Barbara. A half mile beyond Foothill Road you’ll find the entrance to the park. The park is actually a mile further up this side road, winding up through more twisty canyon and avocado farms to a high point (On the way back stop here. The views across the Montecito foothills are spectacular) then sharply back downhill into a large bowl where the park is located. Turn left into the park. A small road leads .2 mile to the upper end of the park.
Along the way you’ll find ample picnic areas, playground equipment, a great sand volleyball court (who says the only place to play volleyball on the sand is at East Beach?), and several hiking trails. At the upper end of the park, look for a large sandstone rock outcropping. The hikes start here. Though there are several short loops, the nicest leads up to the right to a knoll where there is a gazebo that has a Japanese or Oriental feeling to it.
Hike past the rock outcropping. Almost immediately, the route up to the gazebo leads off to the right. A short distance up the trail (actually a bulldozed path) you can see the silhouette of the gazebo. The path circles both the knoll and the gazebo. At the top is a surprising view. To the west you are looking across the upper part of Montecito. To the east the view is across the Carpinteria plain. Not only can you see Rincon Mountain but also Ventura and the Point Hueneme area. At sunset, this is indescribable.