San Marcos Foothills Preserve / Lotusland

I began my day at San Marcos Foothills Preserve, a newer hiking destination in Santa Barbara. There are about six miles of trails running through a former a cattle ranch. It’s also super easy to get to, located just a few minutes drive from the 101 Freeway. Afterward I toured Lotusland, an amazing, private botanical garden. One must make a reservation at Lotusland.org before arriving.
Total Hiking Distance: Six miles at San Marcos Preserve and three hours of wandering through Lotusland.

Driving Directions to San Marcos Foothills Preserve: From Northbound 101 take the exit for for State Street and CA-154. From the ramp follow the road a short way and turn onto CA-154. Take the first left onto CA-192/Foothill. Foothill becomes Cathedral Oaks Rd. Take a quick right on Via Chaparral. Drive a 1/3 of a mile and go right on Salvar Rd. Take a quick left onto unsigned Via Gaitero. Via Gatero dead ends at the trailhead.
Driving Directions to Lotusland: After you make a reservation they e-mail you directions.

             There is a ton of street parking for San Marcos Foothills Preserve.  Around 7 a.m. I set out on the easy to follow trail.

               

   Typical of a Southern California ranch, there are many oaks near the trail but somehow almost no shade.

                     

There are three spurs branching off of the main trail. Two are fire roads and the third, a well-worn trail leading up to an overlook.  At the first spur I went north.   It ended at a gate marked private property at the foot of tall power lines.

Back on the main trail, briefly.

               

I arrived at and took the second spur road, this one heads south. These spurs are short and fun.

               

Photo 2 – The Barn!

   Another gate marked the end of the second spur.

               

Mystical Trees

               

Distant but very noticeable, a palm-lined ridge.

             After a climb I reached a crest in the main trail.  Photos 2 and 3 – Ants gathering sweet nectar for their Queen.

               

   Tangled Timber

        Photo 1 –  The third spur, the one that leads to the overlook. It’s not a road so not as noticeable as the first two spurs but it’s not hard to find.

Pano from the Overlook.  A lovely Santa Barbara view.

               

Two more shots from the top.

               

The main trail curves south down to the bottom of a canyon.  I followed it to the park’s eastern border where it too ended at a gate and road.

             Heading back now.  Photo 2 shows the overlook from distance.

               

Turkey vulture looking me over, wondering what I taste like and kinda hoping I’ll die.  Sorry to disappoint.  Exploring San Marcos Foothills Preserve was a pleasant way to spend a morning.

I drove over to Lotusland. The gates don’t open until 1 p.m. so I waited in the school parking lot across the street (school is out for summer). Visiting here was an indulgence. Visitors may take a two hour docent led tour for $48. Instead I signed up for a yearly membership which costs $95. This meant I could come back again later in the year (love to see it when it’s raining).  Also I had the option of taking a self guided tour which is what I did.

            

Just a quick note, the Japanese Garden is under going a renovation and won’t be open until next summer.  As I hiked solo I noticed several docents leading tours.  Some groups had seven or eight people, one had only two.

     Armed with a map that I barely looked at, I started out by going through the gift shop. I followed a paved road to the right which led around the perimeter of the property.  This was a mistake.  In the back they have greenhouses and potted plants.  I’m not sure visitors are supposed to be back there.

        I walked from one end of the property to the other without seeing much. Finally I was able to cut across and enter the cactus garden, one of more than a dozen specialized gardens.

                    

Nature is creative.

                  

There were so many amazing cacti, many of which I’d never seen or even dreamed of. Everywhere the plants looked full and mature.

               

               

After the Cactus Garden I wandered into the Topiary Garden. This continued a sort of disjointed rambling around the property.

The Horticultural Clock

                

There are so many varieties of flora here, from every climate and region on Earth. it’s almost overwhelming to try and take it all in.

   Yellow fruit hangs from a trellis like glowing lanterns.

               

Umm, wow!

              

There are a couple of pools, decorated with shells.

        From the Fern Garden

                                     

               

This was fun, walking beneath and through this crop of tightly-woven tree branches.

               

I rested by lotuses.

       There are a couple of aviaries tucked away in shady spots.

             The rim of second pool I came to is completely lined with shells.  I’m not sure how someone would get out should they ever find themselves in.

               

Photo 4 – I strolled through the Blue Garden where all the plants and rocks are kind of a silvery-blue.

               

There little openings here and there and you never know what treasures you’ll uncover. Walking between these hedges led me to the Theatre Garden, full of charming stone statues.

               

               

They already feel like old friends.

       

               

   Donkey Tails

               

   I swung back toward the gift shop and explored the lush Australian Garden.

There’s a bench here, protected from the light and heat. I rested for awhile, soothed by cool, shady silence.

               

               

I walked a bit further and found a pond full of colorful koi.

   I ended my day feeling good. I wasn’t wearing a watch and was surprised when I learned how long I’d spent wandering the gardens.
Just a great day of adventure and exploration.

 

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