On this 3.5 mile walk, you’ll visit a historic garden, pass a world-renowned resort and the beautiful homes perched on “America’s Riviera,” discover a stair-step street, glimpse a hidden fountain and even walk along an Indian path. It’s a walk that gives a very special view of Santa Barbara’s best-kept secrets. On this walk, the journey itself is as much a reward as the destination. Don’t get discouraged by the steep uphill at the beginning; the views and surprises are worth it. Late afternoon is a nice time for this saunter to secret places.
Nearly a century ago, Francesco Franceschi, an Italian botanist whose home and gardens you’ll visit wrote, “One can live for years in Santa Barbara, and never get tired of admiring the scenery of the mountains that rise between us and the rest of the world.” This hidden walk will reveal not only the lovely scenery of Santa Barbara, but several spots of special interest that remain virtually unknown, even to long-time residents.
The Walk: Begin at the Santa Barbara Mission steps, cross carefully at the crosswalk to the MTD stop. On the stone wall you’ll find a plaque commemorating the 1806 construction of the Mission aqueduct by the padres and the Chumash, as well as a length of the aqueduct itself.
Follow the sidewalk as it curves right onto Alameda Padre Serra. A sign reads “Scenic Drive”’ another points the way to “El Encanto Hotel ½ mile.” At the sometimes busy and somewhat blind intersection of APS and Mission Canyon Road, cross APS to Mission Historical Park. Here you’ll find the old Mission pottery building. Pick up the dirt path leading right and uphill past the old Mission reservoir site and a California Historical Landmark, just steps away uphill is the Mission’s grist mill and another reservoir site. Follow the dirt and railroad tie path as it leads upward through oak-, cactus-, and brush-dotted slopes. Crosses atop churches and the tops of palms dominate the skyline from this viewpoint.
The path soon intersects a stone staircase. If you go right down the stairs, it leads back to APS, but you should head left, climbing a few stairs to Mission Ridge Road. Walk 50 yards to the signed intersection of Mission Ridge Road and Ridge Lane, stay on Ridge Lane and begin a slight ascent past some classic Santa Barbara homes.
The Riviera affords grand views of the city, harbor and Channel Islands beyond. When a state teachers college campus was established on the Riviera in 1909, a number of large Mediterranean-style homes were built; gardens were planted, a streetcar line was established and immigrant stonemasons were hired to fashion the local stone into the walls, hitching posts and stairsteps that remain to this day.
At the intersection of Mission Ridge and Ridge Lane, go right on Mission Ridge; continuing on your walk, you’ll see Marymount School on your left. Walk past the Riviera office complex on your right. At the corner of Alvarado Place and Mission Ridge is the El Encanto Hotel; visit it on your return.
Continue just above the El Encanto, smug with the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve already completed more than half the climb. About when the houses run out, examine the grand view to your right, and beyond the eucalyptus trees to your left, the home of Dr. Francesco Franceschi. Keep following Mission Ridge Road uphill to 1510 on your left. Don’t turn up the private drive, but pick up the trail at a multi-trunked eucalyptus, and the Franceschi Park sign, zigzagging up-slope through the gardens.
The 14-acre park site is all that remains of the 40 acres purchased by Dr. Emanual Orazio Fenzi, a horticulturist who moved here from his native Florence, Italy in 1893. He changed his name to Francesco Franceschi, built the redwood house, which he dubbed “Montarioso” (airy mountain) and dreamt of establishing a model botanic garden on the then-barren, boulder-strewn spot. Although his grand plans fell somewhat short, he managed to introduce some 330 species to the area, and identified and catalogued 600 native species. He is sometimes remembered as the man who introduced the zucchini to America.
After you’ve enjoyed the park, return to Mission Ridge Road and descend to 1445, then follow the guardrail a hundred feet to a stone staircase, descending the stairs to a cement walkway that heads south/southeast. This path soon splits; the left fork tunnels under oaks, but you turn right and continue downhill. Stop a moment to enjoy commanding views of the harbor and the city. Continue on the stone stairway and descend to Dover Road.
Go right on Dover a short block to a 3-way junction. The upper road, Lasuen, leads to El Encanto; the middle road dead-ends in a lovely landscaped turnaround that was once served trolleys. You descend on Paterna Road, walking on the sidewalk on the right side of the street past stone walls and admire the lovely homes. Pay homage to Kermit and all his frog friends at the stone grotto, and continue on as Paterna meets and joins Lasuen, and you continue on the latter road. You’ll soon spy the red sidewalk leading up to El Encanto Hotel. (Note: The El Encanto is currently closed for renovation, but should reopen in late 2012 and will retain its historic character.)
The red sidewalk leads to a gorgeous lily pond, then to the entrance of El Encanto. Read the words by Henry Van Dyke on a sign above the door:
The lintel low enough to keep out pomp and pride. The threshold high enough to turn deceit aside; the doorband strong enough from robbers to defend. This door will open at a touch to welcome every friend.
Either continue along Lasuen a short block, or descend from the entrance of El Encanto to the corner of Lasuen and Alvarado. Join the asphalt path that leads diagonally to Riviera Park Research and Communication Center. Here you’ll find a colonnade and a courtyard with a beautiful pool. At the end of the Riviera complex is the Riviera Theatre. Notice the Chumash sculpture: a man with a pipe, a woman grinding acorns in a bowl, as well as two shields, one with an ax, one with an arrow.
From the Riviera Theatre, take the stairs to the lower parking lot, then cut across the lot to the exit at APS. Cross APS to the sidewalk, turn right, and walk 100 feet, looking left for a concrete stairway with steel pipe handrails. Descend the stairs, follow a cement path, then drop down another dozen stairs to short, steep Sierra Street, which might just as well be located in San Francisco, judging from its incline. Enjoy the neighborhood, and head for the end of the street at Grand. Go right. Almost immediately, at Orena Street, Grand splits. Take the lower road to its end at Plaza Bonita, where a Mission Revival neighborhood is complemented by a restful fountain complete with fish pond, water lilies, and stone benches.
Double-back a few steps to Orena, and head down two short, steep blocks to Emerson Avenue. Go right one-half block to Padre. You can see Mission Historical Park, but don’t head for it just yet; one more secret awaits your discovery.
Turn left on Padre, walking the sidewalk on the right side of the street. Look right, between 421 and 417 Padre Street, for the secret public paseo marked by four stone stairs and a handrail. Local legend has it that this passageway was part of an “Indian pathway” that led from the Mission to the Presidio. The path ends at Plaza Rubio, bringing you face-to-face with the fountain and the rose garden in the foreground, the Mission in the background. Linger awhile to enjoy the garden, then head back to the Mission.