Goleta Beach to Isla Vista and Beyond
Depending on where you park you either begin the hike by walking up a steep hill and along a bluff for a while, or you walk down a road directly to the beach.
If you parked at Goleta Beach you get to hike up the hill. Start the hike by walking from the right most parking lot at the end and up the hill toward the University. It's a dirt path, well walked on, and it becomes like a little trail near the top along the bluff, with little nooks for stopping to watch the sunset. Don't walk on the bike path. The University bicyclists are unmerciful to pedestrians. Believe me. Look both ways just like it was an interstate highway if you decide you need to cross one of these bike paths. If you notice any bumpy things at the crosswalks with the bike paths, those are speed bumps for the blind so they know to stop and listen both ways for bicycles. Really, they won't stop for you.
You will walk along this path across the street from the dorms er Residence Halls and end up in at a narrow parking lot. This is where you can park on Sunday for free. At least that's the way it was. Don't blame me if it changes. The University loves to find new fees to inflict upon its students and the public.
From this lot, continue down the road that parallels the lot. You will pass the large Marine Sciences building, and walk between some old Marine barracks. The University used to be a Marine base long ago. In one of those run down buildings just before you get to the beach, on your left, there is a really cool touch tank marine display. Check and see if you can visit. It's possible sometimes in the summer, especially when Orientation is going on. Pass these buildings and you will be at the beach at the end of the road.
You now have a choice. Walk along the beach or along the bluff above the lagoon. The bluff path can be seen straight ahead rising steeply to the top of the bluff. There appears to be a path along the shore of the lagoon, but it peters out after a while. If you choose to walk the bluff you will be surprised what a lovely little wild area it is. There are many paths that criss-cross along. Take any of them that you want. Basically there is a path "inland" and a path along the cliff. They both end up dropping down a hill back to the beach by some bamboo plants, planted around WWII.
Should you forgo the bluff route, just start heading out along the beach. When the tide is high, the point can be tricky to navigate, so be careful. My little sister was rescued once there when a wave crashed on her and swept her away. She's bigger now, so it's not such a problem anymore for her. Maybe you will see her surfing out there. But I digress. Back to the beach, you will eventually pass the same bamboo plants described above on the lagoon version. The lagoon walk can continue up the next bluff, or drop down to the beach here. We'll assume they chose to drop down to the beach.
You can hike only so far on this beach, Isla Vista Beach, until you run out of beach. But you may not notice until it is too late that you have run out of beach, and then you will have to backtrack. Stay on the lookout for a concrete ramp or a staircase (either will do) that will take you up into the college party town of IV. Before you get there take note of all those apartments ready to fall off the cliff. I wonder who's being paid off not to condemn those buildings. Some are so bad they put chain-link fences across the balconies locking the students out of their own balconies for fear the weight will cause the building to crumble into the sea. Also take notice of how little good such schemes as pilings, sea walls and concrete do against the power of the sea. It's a losing battle. These cliffs recede 50ft. average in a man's lifetime.
Now you will have to hike through the streets of IV. Just follow Del Playa (yeah, the Spanish is wrong) in the same direction as you've been going. There are little paths through where the street has been blocked to traffic, and here and there are cute little parks, like Window to the Sea park. Small oases in a sea of discarded beer cups and smoldering sofas. Beware of bikes.
At the very western-most edge of town the homes get a little homier and the town ends at an open space with some pink, blocky faculty condos. Now you get to get back to your beach hike. At the wooden car-keeper-outers at the end of the road at the end of town, head to the left toward the bluff to some steps that take you back to the beach. If the tide is too high, you can stay on the bluff toward Devereaux. Just follow the well-worn path. You will end up passing a very old, abandoned horse corral. I took horseback riding lessons here when I was in 5th grade. Pass it by and continue toward some buildings. More University buildings left over from the Marine Base era. There is an interesting monument next to the house-like building on the left. Check it out. Past the house, you will end up at a chain-link fence. Pass through the fence and head down the sand dune back to the beach. If you had taken the beach route, you would have ended up here as well, passing a very nice point. Nice waves and lots of tide pools in low tide. The animals are much scarcer than they used to be, though.
This is the great and wonderful Sands Beach. It's a surfer's beach. There are sand dunes to explore. Stay out of the preserve/research area. Watch out for nudists, even though they aren't supposed to be there. If you are lucky, someone will have build a little shelter out of driftwood where you can take a break. This is a good place to stop and turn around. But you can continue much much further.
If you decide to turn back, go back the way you came. If you wish to continue on, there is much more to see.
I realize this is a rather meandering description, but you should know about these twists and turns so you can make more than one hike out of this. As you continue along the beach you will come to a place where there is a road going up toward some oil processing tank things. You can hike up there and along a dirt path through some eucalyptus trees. You end up on Phelpps road near the condos on Canon Green after passing the golf course. It's nice to walk along the eucalyptus tress. You could drive out to the junction of Phelpps and Canon Green and start your hike here, too.
Continuing along the beach you come to another road, this one more visible than the last one. Again, you can go up to the bluff here and walk along the cliff or through the bluff toward the eucalyptus trees. In the evenings you can see owls flying in the fields, and you can see hawks, vultures and kites. Take one of the paths toward the middle of the eucalyptus grove and find the monarch butterfly area. You can see the butterflies around Christmas and New Years.
Continuing along the beach you can hike all the way to the pier at Ellwood. You will pass a large structure out in the ocean right off shore. If you are a bird watcher, someone spotted a booby here. Usually you can see a lot of pelicans and sea gulls. Speaking of ocean life, all along the way you may be able to see sea lions, maybe an otter, porpoises and even whales, but these are rare.
Stop at the Bacara or at the pier to end your hike. Don't bother touring the Bacara. They are known for keeping out the riff-raff, which is everyone. You have to be a guest of the hotel.
To complete the hike, just go back the way you came. The total is approximately 10 miles round trip if you went all the way to the pier. Quite a long hike for a walk on the beach!