Coal Oil Point and Sands Beach

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Santa Barbara, CA
Coal Oil Point and Sands Beach
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There are many different things you can do at Coal Oil Point!

From the parking on Camino Majorca, you can walk left, straight, or to the right to Coal Oil Point (the most popular walk- more about this later).
If you take the pathway to the left (east), you will pass tall Pampas grasses that catch the sunlight, on a short beautiful walk to Del Playa Park in Isla Vista, where UCSB students lay out in the sun to work on their tans.
Or if you walk straight ahead from the parking, you can descend the wooden stairs down to the sand when the tide is low. My son likes to build sand castles here and watch the oil ooze out from the rocks. You can walk along the beach to the east if the tide isn't too high and see the beachhouses above. They look like they are about to fall down the cliff! Students party hard in these Isla Vista beach houses.
The walk most people do is the clifftop path to the right (west) that leads to a magical place, Coal Oil Point! The wide expansive clifftop makes you feel renewed from the very beginning of this walk. There are little benches positioned in perfect spots where you can take in the views of the cliffs. Surfers and joggers will pass you by. As you walk, UCSB Faculty Housing, a damp misty place, will be on your right. You will pass through eucalyptus groves and beside some lovely plants and flowers. In spring it is particularly pretty here. Along the way, you will get to some breaks in the trees where you can see surfers waiting for the waves at Yucca's, a slow, mellow surf spot. I've seen dolphins swimming here, to my delight! Continue on and you will see the ruins of an old bath house that the wealthy oil families used. Nowadays, the ruins are covered in graffiti. The path veers to the left and you come to an area where you can look out over Jailhouse, another surfspot, and white cliffs in the distance. Here you can see surfers catching waves pretty close up. There are lovely cactus growing on the cliffs.
Continue to the right and you pass through a gate. Then you are at Sands Beach at Coal Oil Point! Explore the white soft dunes that are decorated with patches of yellow and purple wildflowers. Kids love to play on these dunes and watch the surfers walk by. The Devereux Slough, a lagoon, will be ahead of you, fenced off. Notice the huge white oil tanks near the lagoon. These were built in 1929 to hold oil drilled at Ellwood and are still in use today. At Coal Oil Point, the near-extinct Snowy Plover bird is being protected. These are cute small chubby birds that feed on beach hoppers (that's an insect, not your toddler!) and kelp flies that are abundant here because of the kelp that is continuously washed up on shore. The fenced off areas are for them to roost and breed in peace. The snowy plovers had died out in this area until they were protected. Now there are four hundred that feed and rest here, the largest group of snowy plovers in America! Please don't bring dogs to the beach (which scare the plovers) or leave trash (which attracts crows that eat the plover eggs). In March, you can see the tiny baby plovers that have hatched! Call the docent program coordinator at (805) 880-1195 and you can be led to the best place to see them.
Coal Oil Point is a popular spot for surfers. Devereux, on the right, is a winter surf break for longboarders. See them with their wetsuits from head to toe (boots, hoods, and all!) They are keen to catch waves no matter the cold! Sands, on the left, is a windy high-tide break that draws crowds of happy surfers. 
Unfortunately, there is lots of seaweed and sandflies up to your waist in September.
There's a little bench carved into a bent Monterey cypress. Sit and watch for a while!
Coal Oil Point is interesting because oil and natural gases are emitted from the area, as much as 5,000,000 cubic feet of natural gases and 7,140 gallons of oil a day! Scientific studies have shown that half the oil that lands on Los Angeles beaches comes from Coal Oil Point! According to Venoco, the oil company that operates the rigs offshore, the prolific oil seepage here is a natural phenomenon. There are two stories one hears: many people in Santa Barbara say that the oil and natural-gas odor (it sometimes smells so bad you think you're in a tire shop) are due to natural seepage. Other people, like a professor I talked to who smells it all the time from her home at Faculty Housing said, "It's the drilling out there. Call and complain- they are killing us!" Who is right? We may never know for sure...A recent newstory in the Santa Barbara Independent reported that Venoco is fracking along the coast so this makes one think the large amount of seepage might not be natural.
There are no restrooms at Coal Oil Point.
If you're hungry, you could check out beachy Isla Vista town and its many student-filled cafes and coffee shops, or go to Camino Real shopping Center with its super yummy Anna's Bakery. Dune Coffee, across the street, is also a fun place to go.
If you walk up Camino Majorca you will come to a playground with a huge dinosaur, a merry-go-round, a tire swing and plenty of trees and vines. It's called Dinosaur Park- highly recommended!

Continue to directions...

A nice spot to sit and gaze at the sea.

Little benches with perfect views abound.

Agave americana plants reach up to the sunny California sky.

The ruins of the bathhouse.

The smooth slow ride at Yucca's.

Surfer girl at Sands Beach.

Surfers wait for the waves. Agave americana plants stretch to the sky. White cliffs in background.

Surfers check out the swell at Sands Beach.

Checking out the scene below from the bench carved into the cypress tree.

The dunes, with the lagoon behind.

Cute couples on the dunes at Coal Oil Point on a warm summer evening.

Snowy Plover chick with parent, at Coal Oil Point. Photo used by permission, Snowy Plover Docent Program.

Great waves!

November day at Sands Beach.

Riding the waves on a beautiful November day in 2016.

Wonderful Pampas grass at the staircase at the end of Camino Majorca.

February flowers above Sands Beach in front of faculty housing.

Looking toward faculty housing from the cliff over the sea.

Bench for pondering life, with island in the distance.

Surfers on bikes riding into a misty sunset.

Jogging along the shore.

Exploring the mud flats at sunset.

A couple watches dogs playing on the shore.

Group of friends at Coal Oil Point at sunset.

Orange shoreline.

A student reads while a pink cloud hangs overhead.

Sliver of silver moon and canary palm silhouette.

Moon and curve of beach, at nightfall.

Friends sit on a bench over the sea at night.

Foggy night.

Students sitting up on the dunes watching the beach below.

View of faculty housing from the path, and rare snow on the mountains! February 26, 2023.

Bike riding along the path, to get to the surf spot.

Waves curl in to shore.


A surfer catches a silver wave.

The white cliffs catching the light.

Dunes and cypress trees.

A snowy plover. Cute, chubby bird!

Rocks and debris at the shore.

A surfer enters the freezing water!

These are cute plants. Americana Agave.

It's better above the beach than on the beach because of the huge globs of oil, especially in September.

Graffiti on the old pool house.

Pampas grass on the cliff.

Ice plant on the cliffs.

Flowers on the cliffs.

Tall grasses, and girl with curly hair sitting beside her bike.

Bike against a fence.

Flowers galore!

Yellow ice plant on the cliffs.

Purple ice plant!

Rocks in the water below.

The magical cypress tree on the cliffs.

Faculty housing in shades of orange, under eucalyptus trees.

Faculty housing and eucalyptus trees.

Bougainvillea and a log.

A group pulled out all the beautiful ice plant because it is "not native." Be a creator of beauty, not a destroyer!

Whitewashed architecture.

Yellow ice plant in August.

The stairs down to the beach!

HIgh tide, as seen from the stairs.

I love this little corner where the stairs are.

The wooden stairs at high tide!

Path to the sea, and island in the distance.


Coal Oil Point is located at Slough Rd, Goleta CA 93117.
From Highway 101, exit at Glen Annie/ Storke Rd. Turn towards the ocean. Follow Storke Road to the end until it turns left and becomes El Colegio Rd. Turn right on Camino Corto. Turn right on Pasado Rd. Turn left on Camino Majorca. Park to your right along the road. At the end of Camino Majorca the pathway begins. Take the pathway to the right to get to Coal Oil Point. You can also follow the pathway on a short beautiful walk to the left.


Click on map for interactive view


Add your comments
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Wed, 02 Apr 2008

This is one of my favorite places on the planet. Good walks, spectacular views, awesome and usually mellow surfing. Beautiful in any weather, maybe best just after sunset.

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Tue, 06 Oct 2009

This is awesome! Way to go lots o' fun! Keep up the good work.

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Thu, 01 Oct 2009

make sure you really check out all of the seashore along Goleta!

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Sun, 20 Sep 2009

If you want to show out-of-town buddies the beaches, this is a great place to take 'em. And it's a very pleasant walk year-round.

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Mon, 09 May 2011

This is absolutely the coolest website: exactly the information I was looking for about planning a walk through this stretch of land to Devereux Slough. The Coal Oil Point (text & directions) info with interactive map -- and photos = all so wonderfully done. (And, I enjoyed the comments from others.) Yippee!

Last Updated: Tue, 20 Feb 2024 18:48:51 GMT

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