Santa Barbara County, California

Santa Barbara County, California, officially the County of Santa Barbara, is a county located in the southern region of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 423,895.[3] The county seat is Santa Barbara,[7] and the largest city is Santa Maria.

Santa Barbara County
County of Santa Barbara
Images, from top down, left to right: The Santa Barbara County Courthouse; Lake Cachuma; Vandenberg Air Force Base's main gate; along Foxen Canyon Road, running between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys; Danish-styled Solvang


Location in the state of California
California's location in the United States
Country United States
State California
RegionCalifornia Central Coast
IncorporatedFebruary 18, 1850[1]
Named forThe city of Santa Barbara, which was named for Saint Barbara
County seatSanta Barbara
Largest citySanta Maria (population)
Santa Barbara (area)
  Total3,789 sq mi (9,810 km2)
  Land2,735 sq mi (7,080 km2)
  Water1,054 sq mi (2,730 km2)
Highest elevation6,803 ft (2,074 m)
  Density110/sq mi (43/km2)
Time zoneUTC−8 (Pacific Time Zone)
  Summer (DST)UTC−7 (Pacific Daylight Time)
Area code(s)805
GDP$26.135 billion (2017)[5]
GDP per capita$51,285 (2017) [6]

Santa Barbara County comprises the Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area. Most of the county is part of the California Central Coast.[8] Mainstays of the county's economy include engineering, resource extraction (particularly petroleum extraction and diatomaceous earth mining), winemaking, agriculture, and education. The software development and tourism industries are important employers in the southern part of the county.

Southern Santa Barbara County is sometimes considered the northern cultural boundary of Southern California.[9]


The Santa Barbara County area, including the Northern Channel Islands, was first settled by Native Americans at least 13,000 years ago. Evidence for a Paleoindian presence has been found in the form of a fluted Clovis-like point found in the 1980s along the western Santa Barbara Coast, as well as the remains of Arlington Springs Man found on Santa Rosa Island in the 1960s. For thousands of years, the area was home to the Chumash tribe of Native Americans, complex hunter-gatherers who lived along the coast and in interior valleys leaving rock art in many locations, including Painted Cave.

Europeans first contacted the Chumash in AD 1542, when three Spanish ships under the command of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo explored the area. The Santa Barbara Channel received its name from Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno when he sailed along the California coast in 1602; his ships entered the channel on December 4, the day of the feast of Santa Barbara. Spanish ships associated with the Manila Galleon trade probably made emergency stops along the coast during the next 167 years, but no permanent settlements were established.

The first land expedition to explore California, led by Gaspar de Portolà explored the coastal area in 1769, on its way to Monterey Bay. The party traveled the same route on the return to San Diego in January 1770. That same year, a second expedition to Monterey again passed through the area.[10] The DeAnza expeditions of 1774-76 followed Portola's trail.

The Presidio of Santa Barbara was established in 1782 (4th of 5 in California), followed by Mission Santa Barbara in 1786 – both in what is now the city of Santa Barbara. The presidio and mission kept Vizcaino's denomination, as did the later city and county – a common practice which has preserved the names of many of the 21 California Missions.

European contacts had devastating effects on the Chumash people, including a series of disease epidemics that drastically reduced Chumash population. The Chumash survived, however, and thousands of Chumash descendants still live in the Santa Barbara area or surrounding counties. A tribal homeland was established in 1901, the Santa Ynez Reservation.[11]

Following the Mexican secularization of the missions in the 1830s, the mission pasture lands were mostly broken up into large ranchos and granted mainly to prominent local citizens who already lived in the area. 604 of these land grants were later confirmed by the state of California, with 36 in Santa Barbara County.[12]

Santa Barbara County was one of the 27 original counties of California, formed in 1850 at the time of statehood.[13] The county's territory was later divided to create Ventura County in 1873.[14]


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 3,789 square miles (9,810 km2), of which 2,735 square miles (7,080 km2) is land and 1,054 square miles (2,730 km2) (27.8%) is water.[16] Four of the Channel IslandsSan Miguel Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island and Santa Barbara Island – are in Santa Barbara County. They form the largest part of the Channel Islands National Park (which also includes Anacapa Island in Ventura County).

Santa Barbara County has a mountainous interior abutting several coastal plains on the west and south coasts of the county. The largest concentration of population is on the southern coastal plain, referred to as the "south coast" – meaning the part of the county south of the Santa Ynez Mountains. This region includes the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Carpinteria, as well as the unincorporated areas of Hope Ranch, Summerland, Mission Canyon, Montecito and Isla Vista, along with stretches of unincorporated area such as Noleta. North of the Santa Ynez range in the Santa Ynez Valley are the towns of Santa Ynez, Solvang, Buellton, Lompoc; the unincorporated towns of Los Olivos and Ballard; the unincorporated areas of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village; and Vandenberg Air Force Base, where the Santa Ynez River flows out to the sea. North of the Santa Ynez Valley are the cities of Santa Maria and Guadalupe, and the unincorporated towns of Orcutt, Los Alamos, Casmalia, Garey, and Sisquoc. In the extreme northeastern portion of the county are the small cities of New Cuyama, Cuyama, and Ventucopa. As of January 1, 2006, Santa Maria has become the largest city in Santa Barbara County.[17]

The principal mountain ranges of the county are the Santa Ynez Mountains in the south, and the San Rafael Mountains and Sierra Madre Mountains in the interior and northeast. Most of the mountainous area is within the Los Padres National Forest, and includes two wilderness areas: the San Rafael Wilderness and the Dick Smith Wilderness. The highest elevation in the county is 6820 feet (2079 m) at Big Pine Mountain in the San Rafaels.

North of the mountains is the arid and sparsely populated Cuyama Valley, portions of which are in San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties. Oil production, ranching, and agriculture dominate the land use in the privately owned parts of the Cuyama Valley; the Los Padres National Forest is adjacent to the south, and regions to the north and northeast are owned by the Bureau of Land Management and the Nature Conservancy.

Air quality in the county, unlike much of southern California, is generally good because of the prevailing winds off of the Pacific Ocean. The county is in attainment of federal standards for ozone and particulate matter, but exceeds state standards for these pollutants. Sometimes in late summer and early autumn there are days with higher ozone levels; usually this occurs when there is a low inversion layer under a stagnant air mass, which traps pollutants underneath. In these cases a traveler into the mountains encounters a curious paradox: the temperature rises as altitude increases. On these days the visibility from the higher summits may be more than a hundred miles, while the population on the coastal plain experiences haze and smog.

Channel Islands

The four Channel Islands in Santa Barbara County are Santa Barbara Island, San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, and the large Santa Cruz Island. All of them contain native and endemic wildlife, like the island oak and Torrey Pine. All four have the deer mouse living on them, the three latter, the island fox, and the two latter, the island spotted skunk. There used to be skunks on San Miguel Island, but due to predation from marine life, birds, and foxes, the San Miguel Island skunk has gone extinct.


Santa Barbara County has a mild warm-summer Mediterranean climate. Along the coast, temperatures rarely exceeds 100 °F (38 °C) in the summer, but rarely dip below freezing in winter. In the interior, however, summertime temperatures can soar over 100 °F (38 °C). Above 2,000 feet (610 meters), temperatures can frequently fall below freezing during the winter months. The area experiences nearly all of its rainfall during the winter months, and rarely sees any rain at all during the summer months.

The areas dry, warms summers often lead to high wildfire danger in Fall. An example of this is the massive Thomas Fire, which started in Ventura County and rapidly spread into southern Santa Barbara County in December 2017. At the time, the fire was the largest wildfire ever to burn in California in terms of geographical size, but was topped only 8 months later in the Mendocino Complex Fire in northern California. Heavy rainfall occurred the following January, causing massive mudslides and debris flows from the steep, fire-denuded hillsides. The community of Montecito was especially hard-hit. As of February 3, 2018, 21 are known dead and 2 are still missing.[18]

Adjacent counties

National protected areas



Places by population, race, and income


The 2010 United States Census reported that Santa Barbara County had a population of 423,895. The ethnic makeup of Santa Barbara County was 295,124 (69.6%) White, 8,513 (2.0%) African American, 5,485 (1.3%) Native American, 20,665 (4.9%) Asian (1.6% Filipino, 1.0% Chinese, 0.5% Japanese, 0.5% Korean, 0.3% Vietnamese, 0.4% Indian), 806 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 73,860 (17.4%) from other races, and 19,442 (4.6%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 181,687 persons (42.9%); 38.5% of Santa Barbara County is Mexican, 0.4% Salvadoran, 0.4% Guatemalan, and 0.3% Puerto Rican.[26]


Historical population
Est. 2018446,527[4]5.3%
U.S. Decennial Census[27]
1790–1960[28] 1900–1990[29]
1990–2000[30] 2010–2015[3]

As of the census[31] of 2000, there were 399,347 people, 136,622 households, and 89,487 families residing in the county. The population density was 146 people per square mile (56/km²). There were 142,901 housing units at an average density of 52 per square mile (20/km²). The ethnic makeup of the county was 72.7% White, 2.3% Black or African American, 1.2% Native American, 4.1% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 15.2% from other races, and 4.3% from two or more races. 34.2% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 9.1% were of German, 8.5% English and 6.5% Irish ancestry according to Census 2000. 26.6% of the population reported speaking Spanish at home.[32]

There were 136,622 households out of which 32.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.4% were married couples living together, 10.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.5% were non-families. 24.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.8 and the average family size was 3.33.

In the county, the population was spread out with 24.9% under the age of 18, 13.3% from 18 to 24, 29.0% from 25 to 44, 20.1% from 45 to 64, and 12.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 100.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.1 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $46,677, and the median income for a family was $54,042. Males had a median income of $37,997 versus $29,593 for females. The per capita income for the county was $23,059. About 8.5% of families and 14.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.3% of those under age 18 and 6.2% of those age 65 or over.

The population of the area south of the Santa Ynez Mountain crest—the portion known as "South County"—was 201,161 according to the 2000 census; thus the population is almost exactly split between north and south. Recent years have shown slow or even negative growth for regions in the south county, while areas in the north county have continued to grow at a faster rate.


The County is governed by a five-member Board of Supervisors. The Board's three-vote majority has shifted over the years between the north and south. The Board majority now includes three members from the southern portion of the County.

The Board of Supervisors appoints a County Executive Officer, who serves at the pleasure of the Board, to operate the County governmental organization. The County government includes 4296 employees and a budget of $757 million. The County provides various services ranging from health services to law enforcement.

Federal and state representation

All of Santa Barbara County is located within California's 24th congressional district, represented by Democrat Salud Carbajal.[33] Prior to the 2012 redistricting in California, the county was divided into two congressional districts, which reflected the north and south divide – the hallmark of the county's politics. Lois Capps represented the coastal areas, while Elton Gallegly, a Republican, represented the northern part of the county.

In the California State Senate, Santa Barbara is in the 19th Senate District, represented by Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson.[34] In the California State Assembly, Santa Barbara is split between the 35th Assembly District, represented by Republican Jordan Cunningham, and the 37th Assembly District, represented by Democrat Monique Limón.[35]


The Santa Barbara County Sheriff provides court protection, jail management, and coroner service for the entire county. It provides patrol and detective services for the unincorporated areas of the county and two cities by contract. Incorporated municipalities within the county that have their own municipal police departments are Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Santa Barbara City. Carpinteria and Goleta by contract with the Sheriff.


For most of the 20th century, Santa Barbara County was a Republican stronghold. From 1920 to 1988, it was only carried by two Democrats: Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. However, the county has leaned to the left in recent years. Overall, Santa Barbara is a Democratic-leaning county in Presidential and congressional elections. The last Republican to win a majority in the county was George H. W. Bush in 1988. However, there is a dramatic difference in gradient between the "conservative" northern areas and the "liberal" southern areas of the county.

Santa Barbara County vote
by party in presidential elections
Year GOP DEM Others
2016 31.51% 56,365 59.90% 107,142 8.59% 15,371
2012 39.42% 64,606 57.44% 94,129 3.14% 5,150
2008 37.39% 65,585 60.21% 105,614 2.40% 4,208
2004 45.22% 76,806 53.17% 90,314 1.61% 2,741
2000 46.13% 71,493 47.37% 73,411 6.50% 10,070
1996 42.40% 63,915 46.87% 70,650 10.73% 16,180
1992 35.25% 57,375 42.53% 69,215 22.22% 36,166
1988 54.24% 77,524 44.48% 63,586 1.28% 1,830
1984 62.76% 89,314 36.01% 51,243 1.24% 1,763
1980 53.98% 69,629 31.51% 40,650 14.51% 18,716
1976 50.83% 60,922 45.91% 55,018 3.26% 3,904
1972 55.19% 67,075 41.64% 50,609 3.17% 3,857
1968 53.59% 50,068 40.21% 37,565 6.19% 5,787
1964 43.96% 38,020 55.94% 48,381 0.10% 85
1960 56.73% 38,805 42.99% 29,409 0.27% 188
1956 64.55% 31,294 34.91% 16,925 0.55% 265
1952 67.24% 32,160 32.39% 15,490 0.37% 179
1948 58.13% 19,998 38.04% 13,085 3.83% 1,317
1944 46.33% 13,647 53.37% 15,721 0.30% 89
1940 44.53% 14,107 54.41% 17,237 1.05% 334
1936 37.35% 9,728 61.14% 15,923 1.51% 394
1932 38.06% 8,864 57.42% 13,373 4.53% 1,054
1928 69.44% 11,666 29.49% 4,954 1.07% 179
1924 64.69% 8,615 9.33% 1,242 25.99% 3,461
1920 67.48% 6,970 25.04% 2,586 7.48% 773
1916 42.54% 4,453 49.65% 5,198 7.81% 818
1912 0.94% 68 38.84% 2,819 60.23% 4,371
1908 55.19% 2,713 33.36% 1,640 11.45% 563
1904 62.85% 2,676 27.05% 1,152 10.10% 430
1900 52.58% 1,988 42.29% 1,599 5.13% 194
1896 49.48% 2,004 47.31% 1,916 3.21% 130
1892 42.12% 1,483 34.88% 1,228 23.01% 810

Santa Barbara County has long been divided between competing political interests. North of the Santa Ynez Mountains, agricultural activities and oil development have long provided jobs. The northern portion also contains a large military base, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and thus military interests are prominent. These influences have created a Republican-leaning northern half.

On the other hand, the southern portion of Santa Barbara county has had an economy based on tourism, with a significant percentage of people with white-collar jobs, formerly in aerospace but more recently in software and other high-tech pursuits. Additionally, the University of California, Santa Barbara contributes to a liberal populace. The southern portion of the county has a strong history of left-wing activism, with anti-war protests common in Santa Barbara. It is generally believed that the inspiration for Earth Day was the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill; however, Gaylord Nelson, the senator who proposed the idea, has never directly cited any direct cause for the establishment of the holiday.[37]

On November 4, 2008, Santa Barbara County voted 53.1% against Proposition 8 which amended the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriages. It was the only county in Southern California to vote against it.

Proposed county splits

In 1978, some residents of the northern area initiated an effort to create a "Los Padres County" out of the northern area of the county; in a referendum, this effort was defeated by a 3-1 margin.[38]

In 2006, northern county organizations initiated a similar secession proposal, to create a proposed "Mission County." Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed a formation commission to research the viability of the proposed northern county, which reached the conclusion, stated in its final report (March 28, 2005), that "the proposed County, upon formation in 2006, would not be economically viable at current levels of service."[39] The proposed new Mission County would have included the cities of Santa Maria, Lompoc, Guadalupe, Buellton, and Solvang, as well as the Cuyama Valley and Santa Ynez Valley, including Lake Cachuma. Most of the south coast of Santa Barbara County, along with the Channel Islands, would have remained with that county, with the exception of the stretch from Hollister Ranch to Point Conception. Most of the Los Padres National Forest also would have remained with Santa Barbara County.[40] But in June 2006, voters rejected the formation of the new county, with more than 80% voting no.[41]

Voter registration

Most cities have a majority of voters registered as Democrat, while communities such as Buellton and Solvang have a Republican majority as of the year 2000.[42]

Cities by population and voter registration


The following table includes the number of incidents reported and the rate per 1,000 persons for each type of offense.

Cities by population and crime rates


Oil production began in 1886 with drilling in Summerland.[47] Enormous oil fields such as the Orcutt, Lompoc, Santa Maria Valley, and Cat Canyon fields provided jobs and a steady supply of oil, gas, and asphalt since the first oil discovery in the Solomon Hills in 1901. Protests have marked periodic resistance to the impact of oil drilling over the years. A protest in 1929 in Santa Barbara expressed the frustration of the wealthy who came here to get away from it all. The largest spill in California waters, credited as a spark for the modern environmental movement, coated the beaches and Santa Barbara Harbor with a thick crude in 1969. In recent years, major oil companies have left the area, turning over their oil leases to small independents, and decommissioning some leases areas that were no longer profitable. Concerns about the economy were foremost when, in 2014, Measure P was placed on the county ballot. If approve by the voters the measure would ban "high-intensity petroleum operations" in the county.[47]

The city of Santa Barbara and other coastal communities support a significant tourism economy. White-collar jobs, previously with an emphasis in aerospace but more recently in software and other high-tech pursuits are encouraged by proximity to the University of California, Santa Barbara. Vandenberg Air Force Base has traditionally had a large economic impact in the northern portion of the county and continues to be the site of frequent satellite launches.

Agriculture is the top major producing industry as of 2016. Strawberries are the county’s top crop, with $413 million in production making up more than a third of all county agricultural production. Wine grapes are number two.[48]

Wine country

The first wine grapes in Santa Barbara County were planted by the missionaries associated with Mission Santa Barbara late in the 18th century. Since commercial viticulture rebounded in the 1960s, Santa Barbara County has become a prominent viticultural region. The 2004 Alexander Payne film, Sideways, set in the Santa Ynez Valley, brought additional attention to the county as a wine region, especially for its Pinot noir wines.

The region, also noted for its Chardonnay wines, is gaining a reputation for Rhone varietals including Syrah and Viognier. Santa Barbara wine grapes now command among the highest prices anywhere in the state.

Many of the areas planted with wine grapes are mixed in with the rolling hills, ancient oak trees, oil fields, cattle ranches, and natural areas in the central part of the county. The county now claims more than 115 wineries and 21,000 acres (85 km2) of vine, with the vast majority of the vineyards in the county's Central Coast American Viticultural Areas: Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA, and Happy Canyon AVA each with its own distinct terroir. The county continues to split into AVAs, with Los Olivos AVA and Ballard Canyon AVA currently going through necessary procedures to become their own official AVAs.[49]

Foxen Canyon Wine Trail

The Foxen Canyon Wine Trail is situated about an hour above Santa Barbara, and several miles above Los Olivos. Throughout the year numerous events are held in this area by the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail Association.

The trail is home to many wineries including Andrew Murray Vineyards, Fess Parker Winery and Firestone Vineyard. One of the wineries along the trail, Cambria Estate Winery, was featured in the 3rd episode of The Bachelor, an American reality television series, Season 15, on January 17, 2011.[50]

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are common all long the trail while the southern part also has many Rhone style wines due to the warmer climate. In the North, Burgundy styles tend to predominate more due to the cooler maritime weather.[51]


Under the legalization of the sale and distribution of cannabis, local governments may not prohibit adults from growing, using or transporting marijuana for personal use but commercial activities, such as cultivation, testing, and selling cannabis within their jurisdiction may be regulated by each city or county by licensing none or only some of these activities. Almost 800 permits were issued for cultivators in Santa Barbara county in the first four months of legalization of recreational marijuana, the most of any county in the state.[52][53][54][55] These operations are typically small so they only total about 200 acres (81 ha) of the county's farmland.[56] Farmers will combine small permits for neighboring plots of land though as licenses for over 1 acre of land are not allowed until 2023.[57] The owners of many greenhouses in the Carpinteria area, that were built as nurseries for flowers and other plants, have converted them to growing cannabis.[58][56][59] The Carpinteria area has become the densest concentration of cannabis farms in the United States.[60]

While the grow operations are outside the city limits of Carpinteria, city residents have complained about the smell of odor-intense terpenes given off by cannabis plants. The county contracts with a private industrial hygienist to ensure odor pollution is not occurring.[61]

Retail is limited to eight establishments that will be distributed so they don't become clustered in any of the unincorporated communities.[62]


There are 20[63] independent school districts in Santa Barbara County, and the Santa Barbara County Education Office[64] serves as an intermediate agency between those districts and the California Department of Education.[65] During the 2013 school year, 67,701 students were enrolled in Santa Barbara County schools, kindergarten through grade 12.

There are also a number of private schools in the county. The Los Angeles Archdiocese operates two Catholic high schools and several elementary schools.


In addition to 41 listings of National Register of Historic Place and 16 California Historical Landmarks, the county lists 50 County of Santa Barbara Landmarks.[66]


Major highways

Public transportation

Santa Barbara County is served by Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses. The southern portion of the county is served by the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District. In the North County, the cities of Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Buellton/Solvang have their own bus services.


Commercial flights are available at Santa Barbara Airport and Santa Maria Public Airport.



Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

Population ranking

The population ranking of the following table is based on the 2010 census of Santa Barbara County.[67]

county seat

Rank City/Town/etc. Municipal type Population (2010 Census)
1 Santa Maria City 99,553
2 Santa Barbara City 88,410
3 Lompoc City 42,434
4 Goleta City 29,888
5 Orcutt CDP 28,905
6 Isla Vista CDP 23,096
7 Carpinteria City 13,040
8 Montecito CDP 8,965
9 Guadalupe City 7,080
10 Vandenberg Village CDP 6,497
11 Solvang City 5,245
12 Buellton City 4,828
13 Santa Ynez CDP 4,418
14 Mission Hills CDP 3,576
15 Vandenberg AFB CDP 3,338
16 Mission Canyon CDP 2,381
17 Los Alamos CDP 1,890
18 Toro Canyon CDP 1,508
19 Summerland CDP 1,448
20 Los Olivos CDP 1,132
21 New Cuyama CDP 517
22 Ballard CDP 467
23 Santa Ynez Reservation[68] AIAN 271
24 Sisquoc CDP 183
25 Casmalia CDP 138
26 Garey CDP 68
27 Cuyama CDP 57

See also


  1. Other = Some other race + Two or more races
  2. Native American = Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander + American Indian or Alaska Native
  3. Percentage of registered voters with respect to total population. Percentages of party members with respect to registered voters follow.


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