What would Santa Barbara be without its protecting rampart of sandstone mountains rising above the city to the north? The rock on our majestic mountains takes on different colors and textures depending on how long it has been exposed to weathering, a distinctive feature of sandstone rock. It's reminiscent of sunset colors, even at the height of day.
Aramis Photography (Tam Hunt)
Technically, this sandstone is called the Coldwater Formation. It's a unit of rock a half a mile thick that is prominently exposed in perilous and grand outcrops and peaks in the Santa Ynez mountains until it runs into the Santa Barbara Channel.
Embedded in the rock are shells and remains of sea creatures, telling the story of the sandstone’s formation under ancient seas during the Eocene era around 40 million years ago.
This sandstone has ended up in our boulder strewn river beds, forming crossings for hikers to leap rock to rock. It provides rock faces for climbers adventuring into the Front Country and it has paved the way for Santa Barbara's famous stone masonry and architecture. It has found its way into gardens and buildings all around town, as built structures and natural boulders and pebbles.
Stone Architecture in Santa Barbara explains that just as "Santa Barbara was evolving from a dusty little port and outlying resort into a vibrant and growing city," stone masonry and construction became a city-wide obsession. The book, created by the Santa Barbara Conservancy with ample support from the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, contains historical photographs detailing the city's rich history of stone masonry. You can find the book here!
One of the finest examples of sandstone construction can be found on the Riviera, the hillside neighborhood above downtown where Italian stone masons, largely from the Lake Como region, quarried the local sandstone into blocks for walls, fences, gateposts and stairways.
Grand Avenue, on the Riviera, just below Alameda Padre Serra.
Or think of the welcoming sandstone arch at our Spanish-Moorish style Courthouse, fashioned of that same lovely, glowing stone.
The Santa Barbara Courthouse
-Contributed by Phila Rogers and Caroline Law