Hollister Ranch Public Access

History  •   Cattle Co-Op  •  Schools  •  Fire  •  Surf  •   Public Access  •  Pastimes

Is Hollister Ranch open to the public?

The Hollister Ranch Owners' Association's mission is to maintain Hollister Ranch in a manner that protects the traditions and beauty of the area for those who acquire property here, while allowing access to select education, conservation, and scientific groups.

Special Comment:  In California, the State owns the coastline's tidelands, sometimes known as the “wet beach,” lying seaward of the mean high water line, and thus the public has always had access to the wet beach on the Gaviota Coast, which includes Hollister Ranch's tidelands.  The eastern boundary of the Ranch is adjacent to Gaviota State Beach, which is itself adjacent to Highway 101 and open to the public.  People can and sometimes do use boats to access the state-owned “wet beach” along the Ranch’s southern boundary. The Ranch does not attempt to stop this activity.

A detailed recent study indicates that approximately 30 individuals visit the shoreline of Hollister Ranch daily.

Hollister Ranch Conservancy

The Hollister Ranch Conservancy was established to ensure the preservation and protection of the Ranch's natural environment. As part of its mission, the Conservancy administers a managed access program, which allows for the responsible access of the Ranch by scientific and educational institutions. This program, which has been in place since the mid-1970s, has enabled researchers from universities and private institutions to conduct studies and gather data in the Ranch.

The Conservancy also regularly hosts tours for various groups, such as the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden, historical societies, the Audubon Society, and others. These tours are offered free of charge and provide visitors with an opportunity to experience and learn about the Ranch's unique ecosystem.

In addition, the Conservancy offers an educational program called the "Tidepool Classroom" which provides an immersive experience for Santa Barbara-area grade school students to observe and learn about intertidal life forms in the Ranch's tidepools. This program is offered at no cost to the schools and aims to educate and inspire the next generation of conservationists. The Conservancy hosts hundreds of students each year, providing them with a unique educational opportunity that is not readily available elsewhere along the coast.

Public Access Through Partnerships

"Hollister Ranch has a long history of encouraging public access through partnerships. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens, and the Audubon Society, are all participating partners.

"In addition, Operation Surf, which helps disabled veterans overcome everyday challenges and transform their outlook and life, holds programs at Hollister Ranch. As a result, thousands of people visit Hollister Ranch every year.

"We encourage new partnerships and urge your group to reach out to us today to see if we can provide access and further our collaborative initiatives."

Hollister Ranch Tide Pool School

The tide pools at Hollister Ranch are a valuable and unique natural resource, offering an unparalleled educational experience for children. The Ranch's Tide Pool School, led by experienced biologists, provides a hands-on opportunity for children ages 5 to 12 to explore these pristine tide pools and learn about the diverse marine life that inhabit them.

The program welcomes hundreds of grade school students, many from underserved communities, from the neighboring areas to participate in tide pool explorations. During each class, participants are introduced to a wide range of marine life including mussels, sea hares, octopi, crabs, and even the occasional lobster or shark. For many of these children, this experience is a rare chance to observe and learn about plant and animal life found in their local tide pools and otherwise only seen in museums. This tide pool school is a valuable educational opportunity that helps promote conservation and stewardship of this valuable ecosystem for future generations.

Academic Research

Hollister Ranch, located on the Southern California coast, is home to a variety of fragile coastal ecosystems that are easily impacted by human activity. The Ranch recognizes the importance of preserving these ecosystems and protecting the unique plant and animal life that inhabit them. As a result, the Ranch provides scientists, educators, and students with the opportunity to study and observe a largely undisturbed coastal environment.

The Ranch serves as a valuable laboratory for scientists, providing the opportunity to conduct wide-ranging marine, botanic, and geological studies. The Ranch works closely with research teams from prestigious institutions such as the University of California campuses at Santa Barbara, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Riverside, the University of Florida, Occidental College, and other academic institutions.

The Ranch also partners with organizations such as UCSB, UCLA, and UC Santa Cruz on inter-tidal studies of seaweed, limpets, and water temperature. It partners with Channel Islands Restoration to enhance the already healthy snowy plover population through future mitigation programs. The Ranch's Conservancy operates a monitoring post at the Ranch's Shoreline Preserve—a two-plus mile protected zone teeming with sea life.

In order to protect the Ranch's ecosystems and natural resources, public access is carefully managed. Professional naturalists supervise group visits and group size is limited to prevent damage to natural habitats. Specific restrictions are put in place to prevent foot traffic in research areas and limit the collection of samples. This approach helps to preserve the Ranch's natural resources for future generations.

A Battle for Privacy and Preservation Against State Law AB 1680

Hollister Ranch dates back to 1869, when William Hollister and his family began using their land for sheep and cattle ranching. It has been a working cattle ranch ever since, producing about a million pounds of beef each year. Today, the ranch’s 14,400 acres in Santa Barbara County are sparsely developed, with about 100 homes on large, subdivided parcels of agriculturally zoned land.

The zoning, along with the ranch’s own restrictions on development, access, and other activities, enables “free-range” cattle ranching and provides habitat for owners seeking space and peace and for a wide range of species such as black bear, mountain lion, deer, bobcats, and raptors.

Hollister Ranch includes approximately 8.5 miles fronting the California coast, characterized by rocky shorelines, intermittent sandy beaches, creeks, steep bluffs, and rolling hillsides—a unique setting in Southern California. Because human activity on the shore is minimal, tide pools on the ranch’s shoreline are among the least disturbed of any in Southern California.

A new state law, AB 1680, threatens this way of life, however, by giving a number of state agencies the right to enter and search the ranch at will in an effort to figure out how to foist public access on the private ranch lands, and by giving these agencies the right to punish anyone who seeks to “delay” or “impede” this effort. The law, which took effect January 1, 2020, is the latest twist in a decades-long effort by the California Coastal Commission and others to force Hollister Ranch to allow the general public to use and access its private property.

The ranch was not opposed to early versions of the law that encouraged the State to work with ranch officials to create additional opportunities for public access at the ranch. But the law was amended in the final days of the 2019 legislative session, without hearings or debate, and ultimately gave state agents the right to invade the ranch property at will and the power to fine and punish any “action” that the government believes may get in the way of the mission to impose access on the ranch.

AB 1680 specifically allows state agents to search and inspect the ranch’s property, including employee houses, barns, and other structures, without permission or warrants. It also allows state officials to use the ranch-maintained roads at their discretion to carry out the mission of searching and cataloging the ranch land that the State may want to donate to the public for beach access.

The ranch understandably fears that such state efforts may damage its property and natural environment and that the State may ultimately take the ranch’s land, perhaps without compensation. But AB 1680 also declares that any “action” that ranch owners take to impede, delay, or otherwise obstruct the State’s efforts violates the California Coastal Act and is potentially punishable by a fine of up to $22,500 per day. The law accordingly threatens and chills the ranch owners from speaking out, litigating, or publishing about their property issues, or from video-recording state activities on their property, for fear that this may be an “action” that violates the Coastal Act under the new law.

To protect their way of life and the ranch’s unique environment, ranch property owners have no choice but to defend themselves from AB 1680’s unprecedented and unfair provisions. Represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation and on behalf of its property-owning members, the Hollister Ranch Owners’ Association is challenging the law—and its numerous constitutional violations—in a federal lawsuit.

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