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Santa Barbara: Knapp’s Castle

Column by Outdoor Editor John McKinney, aka The Trailmaster, follow on Facebook.

From East Camino Cielo to Knapp’s Castle is 1.5 miles round trip with 200-foot elevation gain

In 1916, George Owen Knapp’s recurrent bouts of hay fever sent him high into the Santa Ynez Mountains behind Santa Barbara to seek relief. The wealthy, former Chairman of the Board of Union Carbide found relief—and an ideal locale to build the mountain home of his dreams.

“This tract, at the edge of the grand canyon of the Santa Ynez Mountains, is one of the most magnificent, in point of scenic glories, in California,” reported the Santa Barbara Morning Press.

Knapp’s dream home, carved from thick sandstone blocks, took four years to complete. It was a magnificent residence, complete with illuminated waterfalls and a room housing one of Knapp’s other passions—a huge pipe organ.

While Knapp was developing his private retreat, he was also helping to boost public access to the Santa Barbara Forest Reserve, as it was known in those days. Knapp and a couple of his wealthy friends were tireless promoters of roads and trails, in order to make the backcountry accessible to all. As a 1917 editorial in the Santa Barbara Daily News put it: “Under their leadership places in the wild heretofore denied humans because of their utter inaccessibility are being opened up to the hiker and horseback writer.”

Knapp was 60-something when he threw himself into his castle-building and trail-building efforts. He spent most of the rest of his long productive life in his castle in the sky. In 1940, he sold his retreat. A forest fire destroyed the castle just five months after he sold it.

Stone walls, part of the foundation and a couple of chimneys are all that remain of Knapp’s Castle. But the view of the Santa Barbara backcountry is still magnificent, particularly if you arrive at sunset and watch the purple shadows skim over the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains.

The upper part of the trail, formerly Knapp’s long driveway to his retreat, offers an easy walk down to the ruins from Camino Cielo. The current owner has made efforts to stabilize some of the structures and kindly still allows public access.

Hike-SB-Fremont-Knapps-CastleDIRECTIONS: From Highway 101 in Santa Barbara, exit on Highway 154 and proceed 8 miles to East Camino Cielo. Turn right and drive 2.5 miles to a saddle, where you’ll spot a parking area and a locked Forest Service gate. (Click to enlarge map)

Interested in more hikes in Santa Barbara? Check out my guide: HIKE Santa Barbara

A Magical Ride on the Overland Trail

As we hit June, let’s dip into the View Vault and relive this great local excursion – originally published (with comments from) in spring, 2013. The next trip on the Overland Trail is scheduled for Saturday, June 20, 2015 with a ticket price of $79.00 if purchased online.
Something magical happens when you step aboard the Oveland Trail, one of only 120 Amtrak-certified private rail cars in the United States. You are immediately taken back to a nostalgic era when rail was king.

The Overland Trail is one of three superbly restored vintage cars providing service for the Central Coast Flyer, a one-day roundtrip excursion from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo. The other vintage cars are the 1937 Acoma Super Chief club car and the 1956 Silver Splendor ‘Vista-Dome” car. At 10:30 a.m., Bill Hatrick, attired in a conductor’s suit, helps passengers on board for a six-hour journey along California’s golden coastline.

Minutes after departing from Santa Barbara’s historic train station, spectacular scenery comes into view. The beaches of Elwood, El Capitan, and Gaviota pass by on the west side of the rail car. On the other side, mustard-covered hills glow across the cabin. As the car passes by Hollister Ranch, the stresses of life fade away… “Oh, this is lovely,” one passenger says.

Pt. Conception comes up next, the treasured California landmark, which is home to many plant and animal sub-species unique to the area. Terry Remick, the likeable trip organizer and guide from the South coast Railroad Museum, provides a wealth of information along the way.

The landscape changes as Vandenberg Air Force Base comes into view. The waters become rough and Giant Coreopsis appear. There’s lupin scattered throughout the hillside as the Central Coast Flyer passes by the Guadalupe Dunes and into the Santa Maria Valley. A few minutes after 1 p.m., the rail car arrives in the charming town of San Luis Obispo. There’s time to grab a sandwich, pick up a bottle of wine and stretch the legs before heading back. There are light snacks and beverages provided on board the Overland Trail, but pack a lunch to enhance this day trip that every tourist and local should take.

On the way back, Conductor Bill stops by to tell his story. “My grandpa was a railroader,” he says with a smile. “I had no choice, but to love trains.” Bill purchased this rail car, which is certified up to 110 mph, in 1987. “He had vision,” says Terry about Bill’s purchase and restoration of the Overland Trail. There is history throughout the rail car, including the photo murals that are displayed toward the entrance of car.

“It’s not hard to have fun on board the Overland Trail, the scenery speaks for itself,” Bill says when asked about the experience and what he likes the most. “Every time I run this route, I think of change… I can look out the window and see a connection to the past,” he says pointing to an old photo of Honda Point.

Besides the connection to the past, the Central Coast Flyer allows for quality time with friends, family, and other passengers. It’s a time to get off the grid and take in nature’s eye candy for six hours. It’s a happy experience that is no longer Santa Barbara’s best-kept secret, so book your journey today.

PS: If you’d like more information about one of Santa Barbara’s best day trips, please CLICK HERE.

Panoramic View: Casa de la Guerra

Santa Barbara photo of the week by Bill Heller, click to enlarge.
Casa de la Guerra Panorama View
A panoramic view from the top of Santa Barbara overlooking Casa de la Guerra. I love the glow of the city lights just after dark, when there is still blue in the sky but the glow of the sunset has trailed off enough to not compete with the glow of the city. -Bill Heller

Saturdays with Seibert

Local views of Santa Barbara by Dan Seibert

A week ago Monday I rode up to Avila Beach with a friend to drop off some materials. As we passed Refugio I commented, “That’t my favorite beach, it’s so beautiful.” This was the day before the spill.

I had not been on this stretch of the 101 for about five years and I was a bit surprised to see the acres and acres of vineyards. They looked gorgeous in the early morning light. At the same time I thought about how much water these vines are using and where does the finished product go. Not used by me.

The first time I drove the 101 was in 1981 and there wasn’t a vineyard in sight. I could do without so many acres planted with vines, or strawberries, or broccoli. That way my gardening clients could water their lawns and I could stay employed as a gardener. As my Dad used to say, “You gotta look out for number one!”

EcoFacts: Good Not Bad

bagsColumn by Barbara Hirsch

I saw a Whole Foods bag that said “Buy Goods, Not Bads” and was struck by this truly great marketing slogan. In a few words, it wants people to see how their market is different from regular supermarkets. But it could also have a greater impact. If focused upon, it might actually cause a pause… in the normal flow of buying, while walking down the aisle of a store, a questioning.

Most certainly, Whole Foods does not only sell products that are good from an objective environmental or social set of standards, that would be impossible in this age. The difference is that shoppers there are more critical than average and hold the business to a higher standard. And they are willing to pay the price for it. Whole Foods and other natural foods stores must deliberate, must be more conscious of the products they offer.

The term “goods”, meaning moveable property, merchandise or wares, comes from an era (13th c.) when most everything that was purchased or traded was needed, e.g. a tool or warmer clothing. Population and technology were such that things could be mined, grown and harvested at a scale that didn’t cause massive environmental degradation. Chemistry (from 17th c. alchemy, natural physical process) was not a world of constant creation of new substances, and production thereof without regard to short or long term effects on health.

About that supermarket aisle –  walk down one and look for foods that are not unhealthfully processed, that do not have ingredients you cannot understand, that do not have unrecyclable packaging. The meat and fish aisle has little flesh of animals that were raised humanely, or caught sustainably and without tremendous loss of other lives (bycatch).  The produce aisle is virtually all grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, much is from across the globe and not particularly fresh. The dry goods aisle is filled with cleaning agents, bug killers and myriad other things whose use and disposal endanger our soil and water, also papers with little recycled content, and plastic things of every shape and use that could be around for centuries and yet are constantly replaced, etc., etc.

The term “consumer” in the 15th c. meant “one who squanders or wastes”.  Funny, it still does. Only now it is us all. So buying more consciously can only be a good thing, yes?

Vintage Views of Santa Barbara

On May 29, 1955, James Dean in his Porsche Speedster, took part in the Santa Barbara Road Race. Held on airport surfaces and access roads, the Santa Barbara Road Races were the premier West Coast motorsport events during the 1950s. Legendary driver Phil Hill won the inaugural Santa Barbara race in a Ferrari 250 in 1953. The event’s proximity to Hollywood drew celebrities like Steve McQueen while this Memorial Day event was James Dean’s last race.

An Eastside Story: Innovative Architecture Rolls Forward Inside A Surprising Silver Shell

By Sharon Byrne

Small spaces are very in vogue right now, for a number of reasons. People want to reduce their carbon footprint, shed stuff, downsize, and live simpler lives. has a huge following, as does Simple. In crowded coastal cities like ours, where space is at a serious premium, people get quite innovative, even if they don’t have the finances to buy property with stellar views. Savvy entrepreneurs find creative ways to answer their needs, carving out specialty niches for themselves in the process.

Enter Hofmann Architects. They take the old and decrepit, and make it into something you salivate over. They take small spaces and transform them into welcoming interiors you can breathe easy in. They reclaim the cast-off flotsam of an earlier era of family travel, and transform it into high-end custom homes that go where you want to go.

Bet you never thought you’d crave an Airstream.

You will when you see what Hofmann can craft out of them. Like this:


A child of the 70’s, I thought Airstreams were a bit of a hokey way for families to travel on the cheap. But those stainless steel shells with their distinctive mid-century lines have endured far beyond the nuclear age.

How did Hofmann get into business refurbishing Airstreams? Matthew Hofmann realized that living in a vintage trailer would be a great way to reduce overhead and simplify life.  “So, naturally, I went to the place everyone finds their dream – CraigsList. “

He bought a 1970s Airstream Trade Wind 25’ and parked it on a piece of property in Santa Barbara overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  For the next year, he designed and renovated it with his father, Wally. “Next thing you know, the Airstream was my home,” said Matthew.  “That singular experience has changed my life forever.”

Hofmann employs 15 specialized craftsmen and designers in the heart of the building trades sector flourishing here in the Eastside, on Quarantina at Bond. Wally happily took me on a tour.

Hofmann acquires old Airstreams, or a client can bring their own. You sit down with the architect and create plans for what you want. The Airstream is then gutted, though some clients want to keep original fixtures in good condition, juxtaposing old with new. I looked at two taken down to the shell, and one going into demolition and renovation. The original fixtures seem so 70’s, designed to provide the basic necessities for these ships-on-wheels.

Hoffman renovates these vintage trailers to client specs, turning out stunning and  unique architectural achievements. Wiring, plumbing, fixtures, flooring, windows, bathroom remodels – totally retrofitted and customized. Hofmann will strip out the old 9 gallon hot water tank, for example, and put in a radiant system to heat the water as it passes through, a Swiss technique. You can get gorgeously tiled bathrooms, modern kitchen appliances, clever built-ins for storage, and more.

shar2Custom-built kitchen offers all the modern conveniences. In an Airstream!


The bathroom in the “Elizabeth”. I want it!

Hofmann Airstreams are all given classic female names: Jenny, Susan, etc. They’re lovingly sculpted into something that fuses past with present, old with new, mid-century American dreams of inexpensive family travel with new American dreams of living simple and seeking adventure. Clients arrive with a budget of $35,000 – 350,000, and Hofmann will happily explore options that fit your particular needs and budget.

If you’re in, say, Minnesota, where the climate’s not very friendly, your home and possessions are your focus, as life there is conducted mainly in an indoor, climate-controlled setting. But there are other places, like here, where the view and surroundings matter more than having the big house with a lot of stuff. One of Hofmann’s ingeniously refurbished Airstreams offers a very nice living space, and clients seek them out for this very reason.

For someone like me, always trying to simplify my life and shed possessions, life in one of their specialty Airstreams looks very palatable indeed.

Finding Hoffmann Architecture:
519 North Quarantina Street
Santa Barbara, California 93103

The 1925 Santa Barbara Earthquake

In a related note, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum is currently holding an exhibition about the 1925 Santa Barbara Earthquake.

Boom! At dawn on June 29, 1925, our city shook with a 6.3 earthquake leaving much of downtown destroyed or heavily damaged.

The twin towers of Mission Santa Barbara collapsed, and eighty-five percent of the commercial buildings downtown were destroyed or badly damaged. A failed dam in the foothills released forty-five million gallons of water, and a gas company engineer became a hero when he shut off the city’s gas supply, and prevented fires like those that destroyed San Francisco twenty years earlier.

quakeOut of the rubble would come a new Santa Barbara with the headline, “Spanish Architecture to Rise from Ruins.”

Quake, will run through July 5, at the Historical Museum, 136 East De la Guerra Street.