Strolling Under a Canopy of Oaks

I try not to take these walks on gray days, because everything looks less nice in the photos, but my husband’s aunt, Tracey, was in town during one of the many rainy weekends we had in the past few months, and she needs to be walked. We decided to explore the part of Montecito bordered by Lilac Drive and Romero Canyon Road. (On the map, it looks a little like a silhouette of the top half of Grampa Simpson’s head.) The area is so oaky we wouldn’t miss blue skies too much.

The three of us parked on Alisos Drive, just off Lilac, and as soon as we headed off we lost Tracey in a reverie of echium. Those of us who were around for the drought years will remember how wan echium can look, but that’s not the case these days. Tracey has often visited here while they’re at their peak, and she thinks they’re always like this.

The rap against walking in Montecito is that there’s not much to see but gates, but as we headed north on Lilac, we were rewarded with a large rock wedged between tree trunks and some lovely stone walls.

This one is positively callipygian. I’ve been waiting decades—since I took the SAT!—to use that word.

Why would anyone need three recycling containers? And why are we still participating in the charade that plastic is recyclable? It’s not. No one wants it. Reduce your usage as much as possible, and reuse what you can.

Naturally, there were plenty of shut gates, but at least they came in various styles. The last one reminded me of tuning forks.

But then, somewhat miraculously, many gates were open. The house named Las Flores got me talking like Paulina in the Mexican TV show “La Casa de las Flores.” The first season was a hoot, and then it went totally off the rails.

No gate at all is a BDE move. Bonus points for the island.

This didn’t have a gate, either, but we couldn’t tell whether it was a service entrance or what. I suppose we could’ve walked up it and, had anyone asked, claimed we thought we were on the Knollwood Trail (a little neighborhood trail that leads to Knollwood Drive)….

Here’s another private lane that we poked up just enough to admire the boulder protruding from the pavement and a house with one of those hat-pulled-low roofs.

There were more than enough charming details to keep us entertained. When I was an assistant at Town & Country magazine in the early 90s, I wrote a lot of the fashion copy, so I kept a close eye on the major fashion magazines. Although American Vogue was hardly a favorite (the Liz Tilberis/Fabien Baron era of Harper’s Bazaar remains the gold standard), it did have its moments—such as a fascinating 1995 Helmut Newton photo essay of Nadja Auermann wearing stiletto heels and various medical devices. I bring all of this up because the shot of Auermann in a full leg brace is what I thought of when I saw the mailbox with a wooden frame. Beauty’s where you find it….

Related: The Jimmy Choo Story was the highlight of this Little Free Library.

1984 Tollis Avenue is a 1.3-acre lot with “conceptual plans available for a 3,200-square-foot home”; it was listed for $3.25 million and recently sold for $2.7 million. Given the history of the area, we found it a little spooky to see the driveway and steps but no house.

The houses that you can see come in many shapes and styles. I’m not sure about the gate that looks like an institutional HVAC register.

After a winter likes ours, green was the predominant color, but there were pops of color.

And I must always pay respect to walls that make way for trees. The utility pole was more of a surprise, particularly because the wires run through the middle of the foliage—when that sort of thing happens near my house, the utilities arrive in a heartbeat to scalp the tree.

Not all green is created equal.

If you’re going to name your house and label your service entrance, you might as well splurge on a less flimsy sign.

Back to plants. Tracey and I were traumatized by all the English ivy—I had deal with a lot of it at a house we once owned, and Tracey, as a Master Gardener, simply knows that it’s evil. Adam used to think I was being ridiculous when I’d complain about it, but now that we have neighbors who are planting ivy (!) across the street from their house (!!) along a ravine (!!!), he has begun to see the light. English ivy is so invasive that Oregon banned the transport, sale, or propagation of it in 2010, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had this to say:

English ivy quickly takes advantage of disturbed areas to shade-out and outcompete understory vegetation, and can also kill overstory trees after climbing to and dominating the canopy. Deciduous trees are particularly vulnerable to English ivy because the vine can take advantage of the extra light in winter after the tree leaves have fallen, and further shade the understory, preventing new saplings. The excess weight of English ivy may cause additional damage to trees during winter storms. English ivy can also affect local wildlife by displacing the plants they depend on. English ivy has invaded California and the northwestern United States and is particularly a problem in regions near the coast.

Once established in an area, English ivy is very costly and labor intensive to eradicate. English ivy can overrun your garden, climb fences, and invade your neighbor’s yard and nearby natural areas. The leaves and fruit of English ivy are toxic to humans and livestock and the sap can irritate skin. […] Although this plant may seem like a great ground cover for empty spaces, please don’t plant this species.

Just look at it! (The last three photos are skipping ahead to other streets.)

In the photo below, the landscapers of the house on the left—such exquisite precision—must be constantly waging war on the neighbor’s ivy.

Eventually, we made it to where Lilac Drive ends at Romero Canyon Road. I quite liked this wooden fence.

This stark one on Romero Canyon, however, is a little harder to love. There was a county notice posted about validating the as-built fence, which would certainly benefit from some non-ivy landscaping.

The streets between Lilac and Romero Canyon are markedly less fancy, with houses that are pleasant and others that made you wonder whether you’re still in Montecito. Below: Piedras Drive.

More details: a vestigial fence segment, a pretty pedestrian gate, a gas lamp (are those even allowed anymore?), and a raptor sculpture that I hope is kinetic.

As we wound our way down toward East Valley Road, we walked on Oak Grove Drive a couple of times. It didn’t take long to see how the street got its name.

People on a roof are always a surprise.

Next up: Veloz Drive. (“Veloz” means fast in Spanish.) The midcentury house looks interesting.

Can we get a close-up of that gate?

Chickens! And a crenellated bridge!

And this is Alisos Drive. (“Aliso” means alder.) During our epic house hunt, my husband and I looked at the first three houses below, and I argued for the first one, to no avail. There was a lot to like about it, including many huge avocado trees.

This one has sexy a contemporary wall and gates.

And now for something completely different…. You see a tree, but I see an Erté portrait of a woman in a headdress and gown.

Do you think the entrance predates the house? It seems a bit out of proportion.

Maybe it’s just because I have long legs, but this tree swing seems a bit fraught to me. Also worth noting: lovely camellias and another Little Free Library.

Oak Grove Drive, part 2. The architecture is a mix of 20th-century ranch and the storybook.

Can we get a close-up of that gate?

Another gate with no house.

The whole area has a woodsy, almost mountain-y feel, no doubt accentuated by the damp weather.

Here’s something you don’t see very often: a house with a corrugated metal roof.

On our way home, I realized that we had skipped Tabor Lane and Orchard Avenue, the two little streets west of Romero Canyon Road, so I went back later that day on my own. They feel like a village, with small houses (in various styles) on small lots.

And there’s a fair amount of quirk.

It never occurred to me to decorate my recycling bin.

The northern end must be creeky: there’s a private lane with bridge and a house with a bridge of its own.

A tiny alley links Tabor, Orchard, and Romero Canyon Road.

And Orchard Avenue is much like Tabor.

You have to love a house with a Mini Me mailbox.

This might be the thickest hedge passageway I’ve ever seen.

Funny how the slanted mailboxes on Tabor were charming, but this feels more like a repair opportunity.

Good luck with that.

And to finish: a beautiful arc of wisteria on Romero Canyon Road.


Walk With Me…

Downtown Santa Barbara
• The Gritty Glamour of the Funk Zone
• 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
• High on the Lower Riviera

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

San Roque
Amid the Saints of South San Roque
Voyage to the Heart of the San Roque Spider Web

TV Hill / The Mesa
The Highs and Lows of Harbor Hills
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 / Campanil
• Campanil is a Neighborhood in Flux
• 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

• Out and Back on Ortega Ridge
• 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
• A Tough Nut to Crack in Goleta
• 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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Vinson Kelley

I got rid of the ivy in my front yard by digging up, all the roots to about 18″ with a pick. Filled a whole dumpster.


Next time you go back you need to walk Featherhill and Camino Del Rosario and see the old avocado farm.

Frank Stapleton

Loved your walk through our beautiful neighborhood! On your photo just above the Knollwood trail pic is our side driveway at 825 lilac dr. It’s mostly used by our gardeners truck. It leads to our private trail to the top of the property. btw, last time I walked the knollwood trail it was overgrown with poison oak.