An Adventure to La Purisima State Park

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La Purisima Mission has an adventure for everyone. Located in northern Santa Barbara County, the State Historic Park is the most thoroughly renovated mission in California. It is an engaging destination for anyone interested in culture, historical architecture, gardens, and special events. La Purisima is nestled amidst almost 2,000 miles of natural landscape, including 25 miles of hiking trails. The outdoor enthusiast will find the mission hills ideal for biking, riding horses, or walking the dog. When embarking on a day at La Purisima, be mindful to pack up a picnic and invite your friends, family, and pets.

La Purisima was founded on December 8, 1787. During its history, the mission was a thriving community with abundant livestock and a distinct focus on crafting. In 1812, a severe earthquake damaged the original structures. However, the Civilian Conservation Corps carefully reconstructed La Purisima during the 1900’s. This attention to historical accuracy is evident when touring the many renovated buildings on the grounds.

Getting There

There are three routes to the mission from Santa Barbara. They all are roughly an hour’s drive and they are all scenic and inviting. The first route is a drive north on the 101 to Hwy 1 towards Lompoc. This is a quiet route that journeys along the spectacular Pacific coast into hills of moss-laced trees. This route also passes the gateways to several recreational beaches for future excursions. The city of Lompoc is home to flower fields, the eclectic Wine Ghetto, and a vast collection of murals.

The second route is a journey north on the 101, turning west at the town of Buellton on the 246. This route traverses a delightful array of agricultural scenery and travelers can watch for farm stands, nurseries, and golf courses. Buellton is centrally located and a perfect base for exploring the surrounding vineyards and planning wine and craft beer tours.

Route three cuts away from State Street on Hwy 154 which joins West 246. This mountainous drive boasts striking views of Santa Barbara from above as travelers enter Los Padres National Forest. This course passes through mountain scenery, ranches, and golfing before descending past the captivating Lake Cachuma Recreation Center, the newly expanded Chumash Casino Resort, and the rustic town of Santa Ynez. After joining the 246, visitors can admire the expertly architected Danish town of Solvang and even detour along picturesque farmlands to the quiet village of Los Olives.

At the Mission

La Purisima Mission is so carefully hidden from the bustle of the world that it is easy to miss the entrance. Keep an eye open for the sign along Purisima Road. Entrance costs to the park are based on vehicle parking, not individual fees. So, a day pass for a car is $6.00. Senior rates are $5.00 for a car for the day. After parking, it is wise to pick up the trail map. This one dollar brochure will familiarize visitors regarding wildlife, appropriate trails for horses and bikes, as well as provide a self-guided tour through the extensive and elaborate collection of buildings and gardens on the mission grounds. This map is located at the Visitor’s Center and the gift shop.


When picking up a map from the Visitor’s Center, enjoy the historical artifacts and presentations. The docents and volunteers at La Purisima are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the historical landmark. They have a broad understanding of the history of the mission and can educate guests regarding the earnest efforts devoted to the renovations.

Docents will also be able to enlighten visitors to the lively schedule of special events hosted at La Purisima. These include the Candlelight Tour, the Mission Gala and Auction, the Los Posadas reenactment, and a multitude of other events celebrating the early traditions at the mission. These occur all through the year and provide an opportunity to step back in time and engage in activities designed for all ages.

Most visitors begin their day by exploring the collection of renovated buildings. The grand halls of the church connect to multiple chambers dedicated to mission life. Crafting was an integral part of the daily community. There are rooms in the mission dedicated to leatherwork, pottery, soap making, candle making, weaving, baking, carpentry, and metalsmithing. With so many doorways leading to historically decorated rooms, it is easy to bypass a delightful alcove or a cobblestone hall.

Even locals who visit the mission weekly are often treated to newly renovated surprises. Part of the adventure is ensuring that nobody misses a secret chamber or a tree-cloistered building off the beaten path. The attention to detail is truly illuminating and guests can imagine the chapel, kitchens, and dining halls filled with bustling activity from bygone times.

 

Because of the expanse of La Purisima, there is no cause to be concerned with crowds interfering with the serenity of a self-guided tour. There is plenty of space to explore at leisure. The gardens and grounds are a gorgeous arrangement of trails, bridges, fountains, and botanicals. Livestock, including child-friendly horses, live on the mission in carefully crafted dwellings under the trees. Picnic tables for small and large groups are conveniently located on the main trails. Wildlife is abundant and it is a pleasure to observe the little quail racing between the bushes or watch the antics of the squirrels. Songbirds and fountains enhance the peaceful ambiance.

For those intending to trek the elaborate hiking and equestrian trails, sights can be discovered along the way. The Springhouse building is an interesting example of the early water system. Cleansed waters would follow along clay pipes to the fountain in the gardens, and the aqueduct forms a portion of the trail network. A short hike up the hill behind the Visitor’s Center leads guests to the cross and beautiful valley views. Picnic tables are also available at the cross for hikers to enjoy the respite.

 

La Purisima is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. When exploring along the outer trails, don’t lose track of time lest the gates bar your vehicle from exiting the park. The gift shop is a perfect stop before heading home. Here, visitors can access mission memorabilia and publications. Information regarding the calendar of special events is available at the gift shop. Queries about guided tours, school tours, and weddings are also welcome.

After a memorable day at La Purisima Mission, try returning to Santa Barbara on a different route than the morning drive. This will make the journey home yet another opportunity to sight-see the abundant land belt between north and south counties. And it will provide insight into the variety of weekend excursions and possible adventures nestled in the hills, mountains, and waters of Santa Barbara County.

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Bebhinn McIlroy-Hawley

Bebhinn McIlroy-Hawley is enrolled in the Liberal Studies program at Antioch University in Santa Barbara, California. She previously studied writing, contemporary literature, and art at the University of Alaska Southeast in her hometown of Juneau, Alaska. Bebhinn intends to pursue the MFA in Creative Writing at AULA while continuing her work in AUSB’s Writing Center. She enjoys exploring California with her children and is particularly inspired by the Central Coast’s gorgeous natural landscape.

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