Out and Back on Ortega Ridge

Don’t ask me what I had for dinner two nights ago, but I can clearly remember a moment from 2012: my husband and I were interested in a house near the Toro Canyon end of East Valley Road, and as our real estate agent drove us over Ortega Ridge, she said, “If you buy the house, this will be the way you get to town.” (We were new enough to the area that we mainly knew the freeway exits.) It may have stuck in my head because Ortega Ridge Road quickly became one of our favorites—the view is delightful whether you’re headed toward the coast or the mountains, and during golden hour, the valley lights up like a dream.

The road was too far from our house to walk it, and even though I’ve occasionally seen pedestrians, I wouldn’t recommend it—too many cars, too few places to hide. But as is the case with so many things, I’m glad to have done it once.

I parked at the southern end, on the shoulder just above Ortega Hill Road. Almost immediately after setting out, I turned right on Summerland Heights Lane. The planned community is a mix of townhomes and houses, many of which share driveways, in a pleasant Craftsman style. [UPDATE 7/12: Photos removed at the request of the homeowners; anyone curious to see the street can check out street view on Google Maps.]

At the end of the street is a little cut-through to what feels like a private lane (but Google Maps calls Ortega Ridge Road).

To its right is the Summerland Heights community’s open space and, at its far end, 222 Ortega Ridge Road, a house that’s part of the Summerland Heights community but only accessible via the lane. And to the left is a sign with a German shepherd that looks more happy than threatening. (Note to self.)

I began to feel like I was trespassing, so I turned around—possibly too soon, because the map appears to indicate a trail down to Lillie Avenue in Summerland. (UPDATE: And apparently, I missed a Banksy-ish artwork). As the lane nears Ortega Ridge Road proper, it turns very pretty, with an amazing jade hedge.

And look at this hottie: 236 Ortega Ridge Road, well off the street and with a gorgeous stone driveway. I couldn’t find much about it online, other than it was built in 1921. I think that’s exercise equipment in the tower.

Ah, Ortega Ridge Road. There’s something about the way it curves and rises and dips.

Built in 1906, 240 Ortega Ridge isn’t very visible from the street, and what you can see looks almost modest, but it drops down the hill, with a total of 11,695 square feet. It was on the market for $11.2 million in June 2021; when it didn’t sell, it became available to rent. Next door is 242 Ortega Ridge, built in 1921, which sold for $3.15 million in February 2022. Love the wonky columns off the parking area.

Further up the road are two houses that are less architecturally interesting, but with terrific views and a lot of hillside.

This is what it looks like when you climb over the metal railing to avoid getting hit by a Fedex truck.

I’ve always loved the white fence on a ridge above the road. Years ago, the slope was covered in bougainvillea, and it was spectacular when abloom.

There are a bunch of trails off Ortega Ridge, but I only took the one below as a break from worrying about traffic. It did offer a lovely view of the fence.

I’m reminded that the Jolly Green Giant had a tiny friend named Sprout.

Time for another side road: Ortega Ranch Road, which heads off to the right; Ortega Ranch Lane branches off of it. Ortega Hill Road, Ortega Ridge Road, Ortega Ranch Road, Ortega Ranch Lane…. The redundant street names show a lack of imagination. I didn’t spot any cameras, let alone ones that could monitor speed, and in any event, I’m not sure speeding is much of a concern. As you’ll soon see, the views compel you to slow down.

First, the smell! Ortega Ranch Road and Lane both have a lot of pine trees, and the day I went, there was a delightful smell—like classic pine, but with a soapy element.

While on Ortega Ranch Lane, I noticed these steps down to the street, so I figured there had to be a trail leading to Summerland—otherwise, I couldn’t see why the homeowner would’ve bothered. I was right, but it turns out that I had already passed the trail. One of the houses at the end has a sumptuous motor court and pergola, and while I admire the effort to hide the utility infrastructure, it stopped short of a total win.

The views are particularly good on Ortega Ranch Road. Who wouldn’t slow down for that?

Looking back to Ortega Ranch Lane, you can see the trail running parallel to the road, along with the cut-through by that fresh little hedge.

In our most recent round of house hunting, my husband and I looked at nearly everything on the market for two years. 2250 Ortega Ranch Road was one we came close to buying, but it was just a bit too much work. We’ve since become friendly with the folks who ended up renovating it to lovely effect.

Back then, I worried that the Ortega Ranch houses were too same-y for me. As you might have noticed, I find architectural diversity a serious turn-on. On this walk, however, I realized I was wrong: just past 2250 is one that looks like a Palm Desert timeshare complex, and then one that’s very Santa Fe.

The house at the end has the primo location. I don’t think it comes through in the photo, but the “2325” is huge. And I’m not normally a fan of an interesting gate, but this one works.

In the moment, I thought this might be a path down to Greenwell Avenue, but according to Google Maps, it soon peters out.

Back on Ortega Ridge Road again, where there’s another distinctive gate. Do people today even recognize that as a “C”?

The giant (olive?) hedge at the corner of Greenwell has cut-outs for a hydrant, a speed-limit sign, and a mirror.

Unfortunately, no one drove by right when I explored the hedge cave.

The only street to branch off to the left of Ortega Ridge is Ridgecrest Drive, a short dead-end street with various styles of houses. The funky midcentury one is getting torn down.

As on Ridgecrest, the architecture on Ortega Ridge Road is a mix. I recall looking at the first one below as a possible rental—if I remember correctly, it had floor-to-ceiling windows facing south, but no window treatments, so we were either going to cook or spend a ton on air conditioning. And the third house below has a neat see-through moment on the second-floor.

I can’t say I’m a fan of this architecture, but the sign on the gate made me laugh. The homeowners most fussed up about security—certain celebrities aside—always seem like the least obvious targets.

This house looks like something out of Bedrock.

Best weathervane ever! (Note to self.)

What the utilities did to these trees is a crime. Talk about a metaphor for how humans view the earth.

Deep breath. Focus on the mountain view.

Another house we almost bought! We got outmaneuvered, but that’s a story for another day. And anyway, it would’ve been a project and a half.

Back to the trike for you, kid.

I was raring to explore Hunt Drive, which isn’t marked as private, but after maybe twenty yards, I felt like I was on someone’s driveway and turned back. The infrastructure at the base is the Montecito Water District’s; there’s a reservoir behind it.

The mountain view really opens up at as you near East Valley Road. I hope the hillside of fruit trees never gets turned into mansions.

While I’ll admit that Craig McCaw’s car complex is very handsome, I wonder about the optics at a time when so many people are having trouble finding housing for their help.

Although I was tempted to turn around once I could see East Valley Road, I went all the way to the end. Here’s the proof.

The return trip was pretty sweet, too.

P.S. The Montecito Trails Foundation calls the trail that circles the former QAD offices the QAD Trail, but the signs at the site refer to it as the Ortega Hill Loop. Now that QAD has gone—it sold the property to the University of California in June 2022 and the sign has been stripped off the entrance—I imagine the name will shift to Ortega Hill Loop. Having never explored the trail, and full of endorphins from the walk and the sunshine, I went for it. (The University of California has yet to announce its intentions for the property, but I’m sure somebody out there knows. I’m at 917-209-6473 and [email protected], and anonymity is guaranteed.)

The trail is notable for the views to the south and north, and exercise equipment is stationed here and there. (Is there a rowing machine anywhere with a better view?) The freeway is a bummer, of course.

Having been kicked off the “campus” once, I wasn’t about to try again—although the exercise equipment on the far side of the “stay on trail” sign might have given me some cover.

And then there was a large, mysterious vehicle parked at the top of the hill. Any ideas? UPDATE 7/13: “The mysterious trailer is for the sheep that just grazed Ortega Hill,” says Cheryl.


Walk With Me…

Downtown Santa Barbara
The Upper Upper East Is Busting Out All Over
The Presidio: In the Footsteps of Old Santa Barbara
Brinkerhoff, Bradley, and Beyond
Mixing Business and Pleasure in East Beach
It’s Only Milpas Street (But I Like It)
• The Haley Corridor Is Keeping It Real
The Small Pleasures of Bungalow Haven
• Is There a Better Neighborhood for a Stroll Than West Beach?
E. Canon Perdido, One of Downtown’s Best Strolling Streets

Where the Eastside Meets the Lower Riviera

Oak Park / Samarkand
The Side Streets and Alleyways of Upper Oak Park
The Small-Town Charms of Samarkand

The Riviera
Scaling the Heights of Las Alturas

Eucalyptus Hill
On the Golden Slope of Eucalyptus Hill
Climbing the Back of Eucalyptus Hill

San Roque
Voyage to the Heart of the San Roque Spider Web

TV Hill / The Mesa
Walking in Circles in Alta Mesa
West Mesa Is Still Funky After All These Years
A Close-Up Look at TV Hill

Hidden Valley / Yankee Farm
↓↓↓ An Aimless Wander Through Hidden Valley
• The Unvarnished Appeal of Yankee Farm

Hope Ranch / Hope Ranch Annex / Etc.
A Country Stroll on El Sueno Road

The Heart of Montecito Is in Coast Village
• Quintessential Montecito at Butterfly Beach
• Once Upon a Time in the Hedgerow
Where Montecito Gets Down to Business
In the Heart of the Golden Quadrangle
Up, Down, and All Around Montecito’s Pepper Hill
Montecito’s Prestigious Picacho Lane
School House Road and Camphor Place

Summerland / Carpinteria
A Stroll in the Summerland Countryside
Admiring the Backsides of Beachfront Houses on Padaro Lane
Whitney Avenue in Summerland

Goleta / Isla Vista
• Where the Streets Have Full Names
The Past Is Still Present in Old Town Goleta
Social Distancing Made Easy at UCSB


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The mysterious trailer in the Ortega Ridge “walk with me” story is for the sheep that just grazed Ortega Hill