Driving up the 101 Freeway through the Gaviota Tunnel west of Santa Barbara, you might be unaware that there is a natural hot springs less than a mile from the roadway. Gaviota Hot Springs is more warm than it is hot, but the blue sulfery water attracts its share of bathers. The springs are half a mile from the trailhead and only a tenth of a mile off the trail to, making it a nice detour if you have tired legs to soak.
From the trailhead cul-de-sac just off the 101 Freeway in, begin hiking up the wide fire road, which climbs 150 feet over the first quarter mile to a junction with Trespass Trail (an alternate route to Gaviota Peak). Turn left, continuing up the road to the next junction located alongside a creek. This is the water flowing down from the hot springs. Turn right and follow the water to its source. A tenth of a mile up this overgrown single track, you will arrive at Gaviota Hot Springs.
Some time ago, the small springs was built up with cement and separated into pools. Proceed up to the top pool which is deep enough to bathe in, but not to swim. Sulfur bubbles warm the milky blue water. Gaviota Hot Springs is on the small side, and the water would be more inviting if it circulated a bit more, but the springs is definitely worth checking out on the way to (or back from) . Done on its own, this is a one mile hike with 400 feet of elevation gain. There is a $2 fee to park at the trailhead.
Gaviota Hot Springs
To get to the trailhead: From Santa Barbara, drive 30 miles west on the 101 Freeway. When the freeway turns inland, pass the Gaviota Rest Area and drive 1.5 miles to the next exit (132) labeled California One (Lompoc / Vandenberg AFB). At the top of the ramp, turn right and make another immediate right on the unnamed Gaviota Park Boundary Road. Continue 1/3 of a mile to the cul-de-sac at road’s end.
From Buellton to the north, take the 101 South for 8 miles to the exit for California One. Turn left across the freeway and make a right on the frontage road to the trailhead.