Montecito: the little wood

The site of Montecito was originally part of the Santa Barbara pueblo lands of which allotments were given to soldiers when their enlistments at the presidio expired. From earliest times it was a region of exceptional beauty, with its leafy canyons and its forested valley, and the Spanish called it El Montecito, the little wood. Even today it is not infrequently referred to as “the Montecito.” Quail, deer, bear, and strayed cattle still roamed the valley in 1847, by which time a small settlement had developed, consisting of a few little ranches with the houses not more than a quarter mile apart…

In the late 1860s the first of the Montecito estate builders had erected a fine old-fashioned Southern home on Hot Springs Road and made the first landscaped garden in the valley. This was Colonel W. A. Haynes. With others soon to follow Haynes’ lead, bears were still so common in the region that a $50 bounty was set on every one taken within the limits of the settlement, and horse thieves and highwaymen were using Montecito as a hideout.

…In the 1870s the bears gradually retreated into the Santa Ynez Mountains and the freebooters all met one form of justice or other, leaving the future of Montecito tottering for awhile between those who wish to keep its natural beauty for homes and estates, and a few hustling Americans who wanted to make it a health center by exploiting the hot springs which had been discovered there in 1801 by an Indian wandering in the foothills.


Montecito embarked on an ambitious landscaping project, to emerge from its chrysalis a gay and exclusive suburb with luxurious estates.

California is full of strange microclimates, and Montecito has one: it’s foresty and cool in there. Eucalyptus trees abound. These are not native, but Australians introduced them during the gold rush, and many were planted in the following years. Jack London planted at least 16,000 eucalyptus trees up on his northern California lands during a speculative craze around 1900. Eucalyptus trees can grow thick and tall and are pleasant to see, but the planting of trees with the potential to explode during wildfires has been a mixed blessing for the state.

Whenever we’re in Montecito we think about Prince Harry and Meghan in exile up there. Something tragic about it, like Wallis and the Duke of Windsor lounging around in the Bahamas with nothing to do. You’re in Heaven but it’s a tiny heaven, there’s not much to do, and you’re sort of trapped. Maybe Harry finds satisfaction in his polo, and Meghan in her podcast.

In 2018 mudslides killed twenty three people in Montecito. The mudflow reached Oprah’s backyard, yet her house was spared.

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