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Gaviota Village

g12Driving up the coast from Goleta, just before Gaviota State Beach, you may notice this rock wall surrounded by pine trees off to the right.

It doesn’t look like much today, but these are the few remnants that are left of a grand plan that just wasn’t meant to be.

g1These old iron gates are all that stand between the modern world and an area of valuable local history.

g23This stretch of the coast has been the location for a gathering place and rest stop since the 1800’s.1894

With the completion of the first county road through the Gaviota Pass around 1860, more and more folks started making the trek up the Coast.gav-pier-2aIn 1875, the Dibblee and Hollister families built a wharf at Gaviota beach they called Port Orford. The 1000 foot wharf was used to load merchandise onto steamships.

gaviota pier historyIt was also a great place to take the family fishing.

M_F_Burke_Store_002a It was around this time that Miguel Burke built an adobe close to the mouth of the Gaviota Canyon that was  known as the Gaviota Store and Hotel.  Notice the wagon on the left, the small child perched on the steps, and the sign that reads, “Liquors and provisions”.gav-store-a

The Gaviota store and hotel served as a stage stop for the line from Las Cruces to Santa Barbara. Miguel Burke also served as the Wharfmaster of the Gaviota pier.


Around 1915 the Hollister Estate Company built a new store at Gaviota. The operation of the store was leased out to Frank Newland and it was like a headquarters for the Hollister Ranch. It was the main supply drop off for the ranch and many other nearby residents. Since it had the only telephone around, it was a very important place.

RedHouseInSnow1977A small house was built behind the store for the manager, similar to this one.GaviotaStore1930sweb

Otto and Walter Buhn took over the store in the 1920s, and they ran it until 1944 when Newton Moffat took the lease over. He ran it until the late 1940’s, and was followed by a couple more merchants. Given that it was the only commercial venture for miles around, it became a little bit of everything for everybody.

GaviotaStore1.jpeg It was a grocery store, clothing store, gas station, dance hall, telephone exchange, post office, an auto court for weary travelers, and a dance hall on Saturday nights. Additionally, they had a restaurant that offered a commanding view of the Santa Barbara Channel. A one stop shop not only for travelers, but for the cowboys, ranchers and railroad employees that lived in the vicinity.1950In 1949, when the highway was widened, the store moved its entrance from the front to the side. Heavier traffic meant more truck transit, and the Gaviota store became a very popular truck stop. Big rigs were always seen parked on both sides of the freeway, at all hours of the day.

wikimapiaThis was the location of the Gaviota Store for seven decades, just off the freeway.

1955refugiofireThe Refugio Fire in 1955 nearly destroyed the Gaviota Store. Started by a spark from a generator wire on a Refugio ranch, it raged for 10 days and was one of the largest in the county’s history, burning from the San Marcos Pass to the Gaviota Pass. The fire jumped the freeway near the store, causing its evacuation. Traffic was stopped on the 101 and the railroad. Long lines of people waited to use the telephone and when the power went out, food from the store’s freezer was cooked for the exhausted firefighters. Fortunately, the store was spared, and again it proved invaluable as a community center.


It may have had the most expensive gas around, but it also had a warm and friendly atmosphere where everyone was welcome and you could get good down-home cooking served by friendly local ladies. An old screen door banged out an announcement whenever a patron passed through, and the squeaky old wooden floor escorted them throughout. The gas station was a classic grease pit with a couple mangy looking dogs lying around and some equally mangy mechanics relaxing in the shade. Like something you might see on route 66 in Oklahoma.

1950GaviotaStore1950swebThe large south facing windows showed customers the traffic conditions, but beyond that was the million dollar view of the Santa Barbara Channel. In the winter, the store offered a warm and cozy safe haven complete with homemade chili and fresh brewed coffee. In the hot summer months it was a refreshing stop for ice cream and cold drinks.

1970aaGaviotaStoreWhile the Gaviota Store was a popular truck stop, local surfers were also regular customers before and after their forays into the Hollister Ranch. Nothing hit the spot better when you’re all surfed-out than a basket full of burger and fries at the counter of the old store. In the 1960’s, interesting interactions often took place at the lunch counter between old school redneck truck drivers and long haired hippy surfers….a real melting pot of California cultures.

desgav storedestruction 1970aIn 1968, the Hollister Ranch and surrounding areas were sold to an Orange County Corporation called the Macco Construction Company. They had some real big plans and their first move was the demolition of the Gaviota Store in 1970.

desgavstoredestruction1970It was a tragic ending to a local landmark, well before it had outlived it’s usefulness. The store and the surrounding eucalyptus grove were torn down, and local residents mourned the loss of their historic gathering place.

RIMG3329The Big Plan was to be called The Gaviota Coast, the first time that name was used in this area. Seventeen miles of pristine coastline would be the location for a sprawling community, featuring a huge RV park, single family lots, swimming pools, restrooms, teen centers, nurseries,  laundry mats, a recreation pier with boat launch and plenty of shopping. The most unusual attraction was to be a clear plastic tube, large enough for a person to walk upright in, down to the beach and into the waves. Periscopes would be in place to view the sea life at varying depths. -I am not making this up…

The former Gaviota Store was located on a 44 acre parcel they named the “Gaviota Village”, that was to feature a large motel, a 100-foot light house and a museum. This ad showed distances to a variety of populated areas.

2gvThe first phase of their project was the construction of a restaurant/store and a service station. Little did they know, that would be as far as their grand plans would get…

gaviota village3
The developers, in their infinite wisdom, opted for a Cape Cod style, just like you see on the opposite side of the continent! This did not go unnoticed by the locals. 2
There were informational paper place-mats in the dining room that touted, among other things, a “historic” lighthouse that was yet to be constructed. And it never was.
wikimapia2 copy
The new restaurant was built further north, off the freeway.
drake village
Fortunately for the locals, the huge development was not meant to be. The parent company of Macco Construction went into bankruptcy, and the acreage was sold to a bank, later to become the Hollister Ranch as we know it today.3gv
After the Gaviota Village plan was denied, the restaurant went though several owners, including Sunburst Farms, an organic farming commune popular in the 1970’s.
img457Former employees have fond memories of working at the restaurant. One former waitress described it as, “like being part of a spicy gumbo soup that didn’t have a recipe. The characters were numerous and varied and always changing. There was a hodge podge of people working at the restaurant   and an interesting mix of characters stopping in for coffee, a meal or drinks.”
Yes, this roadside diner served alcohol and every driver who drank was on the freeway in a matter of seconds to resume their journey.
menuBrad Bayley
One of the owners featured an extensive Sunday breakfast buffet for dirt cheap, a desperate attempt to draw people the 30 miles away from Santa Barbara. It worked and people came, but he was losing money with every pancake and slice of prime rib he sold.  
1Another promotion offered was the “Friday Night All You Can Eat Chicken Dinner” with live music, performed by local musicians such as the legendary “Quemada Bob”.
 Another attempt to bring in business was a series of freeway signs luring travelers into the Gaviota restaurant. The most famous of which was a comical “Warm Beer and Cold Steaks” sign that got a lot of attention.
Another owner took over the restaurant and tried to change the warm-beer-cold-steaks reputation to a more upscale, destination-type restaurant. That angle also failed. img454
Near the end of it’s run, Native Americans angered by the building of a house on ancient burial grounds behind the store, stuffed abalone guts in the air venting system. At least that was the rumor, the truth was some disgruntled employees that hadn’t got paid in a while did it. They could never get the stink out of the place. Soon thereafter, it closed for good.
gav country store and rest burns 2002
 A local ranger who visited the shut down building in the late 1990’s described it as eerie and rat-infested. Reportedly, in its later days, transients lived there. The store mysteriously burned to the ground in 2002, leaving only the foundation, a few small charred trees, two dozen pine trees, a cracked, weedy asphalt driveway and a spectacular view.
 There are still remnants of the fire today.
And an ornate rock wall is the solid reminder of an attempt to change this amazing stretch of coast forever.
The ruins of a massive money making enterprise lay quietly soaking up the coastal sun.
Mother Nature has a way of making even the biggest mistakes beautiful again.
Exploring further, there are still remains of the original Gaviota Store, with dangerous open pits lurking in the tall grass. It is not open to the public.
Over the years, the locals have taken back the Gaviota Village.

gaviota restaurantIn 2008, the Trust for Public Land purchased the 43 acres that were to become the Gaviota Village and made them part of the Gaviota State Park.

g13The $2.85 million sale, funded by various federal and local agencies, guarantees that the land will forever be protected from future commercial development.

g6State Park officials say the area may be opened for future hiking trails. If so, the public will be able to enjoy the same fantastic view that diners enjoyed at the original Gaviota Store, forever.



Sources: Wendie Kruthers, Santa Barbara Genealogical Society, Hollister Ranch-it’s history, preservation and people by Nancy Ward, Jeff Kruthers, Gaviota Land, Merlyn Chesnut, Walker Tompkins, UCSB Special Collections, Jonathan Weisberg, Sally Saenger,, Bob Drury, Brad Bayley, Bob Hazard,, Michael Burke

Categories: Goleta History

Tagged as:

Tom Modugno

43 replies

  1. A footnote to the saga of the store and the Hollister Ranch. The man in charge of selling off the Ranch in 100 acre lots was Dick LaRue. A short paunchy balding dude from back east. He built one of the first houses overlooking Bulito Beach (Ranch House). Almost immediately he ran for a position on the Vista Del Mar School Board, the school just down from the store. The Board back then was dominated by large ranch owners whose primary goal was to keep the taxes as low as possible. I was probably the first non-redneck to ever be elected to the Board. Dick and I served for a few years and then a law was passed that anyone doing business in the school district where they served had to disclose their finances. Dick, as the main man for the selling and development of the Ranch, and the store, opted to resign rather than disclose.

    1. Growing up, my family spent 1 year living on the the Vista Del Mar School ‘property’ – in one of the structures across from the parking lot. Mom taught 5th and 6th grades , and my Dad was a) coach b) janitor c) shop teacher d) bus driver e) substitute teacher. I retain many fond memories of the Gaviota coast growing up in the 1960’s-70’s. Many trips to Hollister Ranch as guests of the ranchers and as members of the Santa Barbara Surf Club. Thank you Tom for these wonderful articles! How about one on the Vista Del Mar School itself?

  2. As always Tom, excellent detective work. In the mid 1970’s, Hilary Strickland, my girlfriend at the time, worked there and I remember driving up for food or drink. It was also a stopping off place for munchies to or from Jalama. It was a cool spot!

  3. As great a story as any historical novel. Leading character being the land, supporting character, the Pacific Ocean. Eucalyptus trees as union extras……

  4. Your local history pieces are a gift and a reminder of what was and what could be.

  5. Great article. Thank you, Tom, thanks to the Trust for Public Land, and many thanks to those on your sources list which, to me, reads like a Who’s Who of local surf culture, fishing/diving lore, and keepers of the Santa Barbara way.

  6. My grandfather, Pida Pedotti, used to take me to the Store for breakfast on Sunday mornings. I was disappointed to see the development rights extinguished on that parcel. Great highway access, previously developed site, and a real need for a community center. Thanks for a fun bit of history.

    1. I agree,why is extinguishing the development rights a good thing,when we’re celebrating the memories of what was developed there.

  7. Thanks for a great piece that stirs very fond memories. I waited tables and later became assistant manager of the restaurant as a non-member employee of Sunburst. Could tell you a few stories about those days. Never knew the earlier history. Thanks to you for educating me.

  8. According to notes made by Clinton Hollister for the Hollister Estate Company July 24, 1957, discussion concerning the Gaviota Store settled the Terms of Lease for Newt Foster. Foster had grown up downtown Los Angeles, came to Santa Barbara County with his wife, Ruth and a degree in animal husbandry from the University of California at Davis; he initiatlly worked as a county agricultural agent, but somehow got caught up with the Hollisters in the late 1950s.
    According to the notes, Clinton’s brother Jack Hollister “suggested a minimum of $200.00 rent and after a one year’s grace that a 3% of the gross income should be added. An external advisor, Leland Dake “accomplished business man, gifted painter, and incredible writer” with degrees from Stanford and Harvard in economics, history, philosophy and business administration “moved that Foster should pay $100.00 per month for the first year as rent and then $200.00 or 3% of the gross. Whichever is higher for the next four years with the privileges of first refusal in 1962. The motion was seconded and carried.”
    With that, Newt Foster became Maître d’ of the Gaviota Store catering to a decade’s worth hippies and rednecks described here in Tom Modugno’s article. When the Hollister Estate Company was dissolved and properties sold, Newt Foster took Ruth and his family to Gaither, Arkansas where they still reside, raising sheep that “are a cross between Merino, sheep which are bred for the quality of their wool, and Suffolk, which are bred for their meat,” according to Celia Dewoody who has written a nice article (online) about them. I’ve been trying to contact them for more of their story, and would welcome it if any of you reading this give them a call; they seem like nice people.
    It’s very nice to find Modugno’s article. All said and done, I would concur with Jose Baer, albeit from afar, that it is a shame that this community center could not have been restored in some way. To be sure, I’m always happy to drive by and see the open range of childhood dreams, but the Gaviota Store served a community that is still in the area.

    1. Yes, Newt Foster, his wife Ruth, and their six children (Karen, Lori, Newt Jr., Greg, Ruthie and Tim) were great friends of our family. We lived about 1/2 mile away over on the Flying A/Tidewater lease. The Fosters moved to Arkansas when the store was torn down, and remain there.

  9. I don’t know you, but I am a friend of Buck Crosby. I live in Caycos and recently took the train from SLO Sant Barbara… And had always been curious about the little town, primarily the mail goes to Galeta.

  10. MY memories of a trip up the Gaviota Coast during the 1930’s may be a bit hazy (I held records as the most car-sick kid in the country), but I remember that beautiful view of the channel and the mountains–may it never change–as we drove up to Nojoqui Falls for Sunday Picknicks. My father, L. K. Hebel had been a Marine and I believe he had held Sharp Shooter medals. During the depression, there was Skeet Shooting competition for hams, turkeys, sides of bacon–whatever– and I believe he did fairly well. I can still close my eyes and feel the cool wet air at the falls and hear the water tumbling down over the cirque of maidenhair fern covered rock. And then face another car-sick ride down the hill to Gaviota, through S.B. and back to Carpinteria.
    Great history/story– Thanks

  11. Thanks again Tom for the great detective work. Mom and Dad would take frequent trips North, and we would always make a stop at the store for a quick snack. We ate several times at the restaurant in Gaviota village. From what I can remember it was a nice place with good food. Great memories!

  12. This is most interesting. I grew up in Solvang. Do you happen to know anything about the train depot….or where passengers got off the train… in Goleta in the 1920’s? I have searched the internet for a photo to no avail. My dad took the train from Minnesota to LA about 1922; then a train from LA to Goleta where he got off. Someone came and picked him up in a car for the last leg of his journey to Solvang.

  13. Today the gate was open and I was able to walk in and crawl around the tumbled ruins. It was something that I have wanted to do for the last 9 years that we have been seasonal camp hosts at Gaviota State Beach! Then we found this excellent history and the story is complete. Today was our last bike ride and our last days as camp hosts. A perfect ending.

  14. I worked at the Standard Gas Station in the 70’s when I was fresh out of high school in Lompoc.
    Gas was 60 cents a gallon and they only had full service. Back then, 60 cents was a lot for gasoline and customers would treat me like dirt because of the high cost and no self service. I would often hide in the gas station at night when my shift was over as many people would run out of gas and would expect me to stay late and turn on the pumps. I often went to the nude beach which is still near Gaviota. I can still hear the winds that are very strong there. The Sunburst Farms Store was wonderful, but it was run by what I thought was a cult. John Travolta came in and I saw Olivia Nuton John at the stations also. The owners of the gas station also had the restaurant . My name is Al and I am now a teacher in Arizona and almost 60.

  15. More from Al.
    I recall an earthquake that knocked out our gas pumps when I worked at The Gaviota Standard Station. I remember a man who managed the station by the name of Huck who was with Sunburst Farms. These were the days of full service when I had to wipe windows, check tire pressure, and oil. My Ford Pinto I rode daily from Lompoc where I lived cost a full $5.00 for a fill-up. My dream would be to own a home in Gaviota , but it appears there are no homes there for sale that I know of. I do recall the Chumash Indians living in Gaviota, and not sure if they are still there. The warm Santa Ana winds that would come through the area were amazing. Many times huge semis would pull over in Gaviota when the winds were wild.
    Lots of flower children at that times with teens driving Love Bugs and putting in a $1.00 worth a gas in their tanks. The good old days when life was simple.

  16. Loved that old store, always stopped on the way back to SY after surfing for lifesaving snacks. The new place was quite impressive but there was never any one there. Didn’t the Penn Central Railroad own the new store at one time? Great article and photos, thanks.

  17. I worked for Newt Foster starting in 1960. I was 10 years old, making big money of 1.10 per hour. Newt and his family were the best. Went to school with most of the kids. I worked my way up to a Managers position at the new Gaviota Village. Helped Newt and family move to Arkansas. Left Gaviota after graduating from Cal Poly, 22 years later. Miss that place. I visit Newt and family when I am in the Harrison Ark area. Still in contact with the family.

  18. Hey Tom. My brother just flicked this Gaviota history story to me here in Australia. A fantastic trip down memory lane. My brothers and a few close friends frequented the Gaviota Store from 1967 until it burned down. We were such ‘valued’ customers that the Sunburst owners gave us cards which entitled us to free lifetime coffee. Our budget was so low that all we could afford was coffee and a good generous tip. The beautiful waitresses would feed us the food left over from other diners. Lots of stories… thank you very much for the research!

  19. Great Article! My father worked at the restaurant and lived on the sunburst farm ranch since the 1970s. Growing up I’ve heard many stories and have just now starting looking into the history of it all so interesting.

  20. As a student at UCSB in the 1970’s I and
    a friend of mine would work in Gaviota on weekends. I worked the gas station and Jim worked in the restaurant. Once a Lincoln Continental pulled up for gas and it was James Arnez.

  21. What a nice trip down memory lane. I’m from Lompoc and moved to Isla Vista and later Santa Barbara (I worked in Goleta). Many times my friends and I ate at the then new Gaviota Village restaurant long before Sunburst Farms stepped in. For a while I had a Chevy Corvair Corsa with a turbo charger, I used to keep luggage for weekend get aways along with camping equipment in the trunk to give it ballast to face the Gaviota winds (rear engine vehicle). I finally got sick of people tracking me down that wanted to buy it to make a super dune buggy and sold it. I remember countless summers camping at Gaviota Beach and fishing off of the Gaviota pier. I remember the security at Hollister Ranch confiscating surfbords and destroying them. I always wondered what happened to the restaurant, I passed it by more often than not, but enjoyed it when I did stop.

  22. I worked at the Gaviota Chevron from 1973-1975. Jack was the owner and had the “warm beer, cold steaks” sign. He had to change it after being sued for false advertising. The winds were so strong one night they knocked the cigarette machine over. Another time a couple of twenties blew out of a mans wallet when he went to pay. I saw Colonel Sanders, Barbara Streisand and put gas in James Arness’s 1974 Pontiac Grand Am. My co-workers saw Steve McQueen and Ali Mcgraw and Dyan Cannon. I liked working there and people did complain about the gas prices, about a dime higher than in Goleta. At that time supreme was 49 cents a gallon and a quart of oil was a dollar.

  23. My wife and I always stopped at the Goleta restaurant in early Dec. on our way to Carmel. Its so discouraging to see the overgrown driveway and building now in 2023. Will it ever get rebuilt?

  24. I seem to remember someone tried to make it an under-age (no alcohol) dance spot for a little while in the early eighties. That was also a thing at The Timbers for a while around the same time.

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