Flying High Above the Santa Ynez Valley

Many months ago, apropos of I don’t know what, my mother-in-law, Barbara, said that she’d like to go ziplining someday. Since she hasn’t been inclined to travel, we weren’t sure how to help fulfill that wish—and then came word that Highline Adventures was opening a zipline park outside Buellton. When tours started in July, she was raring to go. My husband, Adam, and I believe, however, that ziplining is one of those activities where you want to be extra sure that all the kinks have been worked out.

Last week, we pulled the trigger, booking three spots on one of the eight-person tours. Highline Adventures is up the hill behind Ostrichland, and if you’re on the 101, Google Maps will lead you to a back road (below), labeled “private,” that may or may not get there. Better to approach from Highway 246.

The first thing you notice upon arrival is the newly opened “adventure park,” a ropes course that looks like a younger person’s idea of fun.

Our guide, Sarah, greeted us and led us inside the office, where we were weighed “to determine appropriate gear fittings.” (Also, you have to weigh between 75 and 275 pounds to zipline.) Then we put on our harnesses and piled into the back of a Humvee.

Barbara appeared to enjoy the 10-minute ride so much that I think she might’ve been satisfied if the excursion ended there. The views along the way were impressive, if dusty when we hit a switchback, and we admired the protea nursery. (Highline Adventures plans on adding a protea tour when the blooming season begins.)

The company’s website touts “the biggest and fastest ziplines in California,” which is a tad disingenuous. The first of the three ziplines is the biggest (but not that fast), and the third is the fastest (but not that big). There wasn’t a whole lot of preamble, which I appreciated, and in any event, zipliners aren’t required to do much beyond assume the correct position when you arrive at the end point. (More on that in a minute.) Unlike ziplines I had been on elsewhere, the system brakes automatically.

Each of the three ziplines has two lines, but if you weigh more or less than your partner, you’re going to travel at different speeds unless you try to adjust your aerodynamics. The two kids in our group—whom we let go first, because to do otherwise would’ve been cruel—had weights attached to their harnesses to ensure enough momentum to reach the end. Some of us didn’t need that…. I’m pretty sure I was the heaviest person in the group, and as a result, I flew through the air, finishing well before whoever I was with.

This is the position you’re supposed to be in when you come in for the landing. (It doesn’t require any exertion; you can easily sit back in the harness.) I don’t remember the explanation given, but I recall very clearly the shock of arriving at the part of the line that stops you—it’s a wallop. Being a little supine probably helps your body handle the force of the blow.

I’m not sure how to describe the experience other than to say it’s fun—you will be giddy—and the second and third times were as exciting than the first. Heights tend to make me woozy, but not while ziplining.

Whether you’re first, last, or in the middle, you’re going to spend time waiting for the others. It’s a lovely place to hang out, but there’s no shade, so I strongly advise wearing sunscreen.

All in all, I thought the experience was well run—our guide, Sarah, was excellent—and I’d recommend it, particularly if you’ve never ziplined before. While I suspect the price ($175, regardless of age) will strike some as high, it’s a memorable way to mark a special occasion, entertain out-of-towners, or remind everyone that you’re still a badass.

P.S. The FAQ page states that phones are not permitted without a lanyard (which you can buy there), and that the guides will snap photos (which you can buy there). But no one discouraged us from bringing our phones—mine was fine in my jeans pocket—and the guides didn’t take any photos at all. Given how important capturing an experience is these days, the company should get its policy ironed out.

P.P.S. Highline occasionally sends out emails announcing special deals, the one yesterday offering zipline rides for $119 on Labor Day.


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One Comment


Thanks for the detailed explanation & great photos. A vicarious experience … I went on one in Mexico which had a 30 something age restriction. Not enforced. I was 79.