Founded in 1875, Goleta is named after a rancho that once dominated the area. In winter, colorful Monach butterflies cluster amid the trees of the nearby Coronado Butterfly Preserve.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2023): 67,181
- Facility Ownership: Amtrak
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Goleta
- Platform Ownership: Amtrak
- Track Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
Located between the Santa Barbara Airport to the south and Lake Los Carneros Park to the north, the Goleta station consists of a concrete platform with an open-air shelter to protect passengers from inclement weather. Rail passengers may take advantage of easy connecting service to local Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District buses.
The station opened on September 19, 1998, with a gala celebration. Attendees were invited to take a free round-trip ride to Santa Barbara on the San Diegan (now Pacific Surfliner). Ten years later, a restroom facility was installed at Goleta through the joint effort of the city, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Amtrak and the Santa Barbara Council of Governments. In the same period, the station also received bike racks and a new bus turning circle; the city contributed $66,000 to the turning circle and Caltrans granted funds so that an easement for the roadway could be acquired from the neighboring property.
In the late 2010s, the city began considering construction of a multimodal facility to better serve rail customers and link with other transportation modes. Working together, the city and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) won a $13 million grant for the project through the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) administered by the California State Transportation Agency. The passenger depot, which is envisioned to include a lobby, ticketing area, waiting room, cafe, community space, restrooms and other amenities, will be built adjacent to the existing platform and shelter. The city purchased a 2.5 acre parcel for the building, and the site will also accommodate improved connections by bus, bicycle and on foot, as well as shuttles to the airport and the University of California Santa Barbara. In 2023, the city and SBCAG were awarded an additional $5.6 million through the TIRCP. State funds are being matched by the city and other sources, with a total estimated project budget of $26.7 million as of early 2023.
The California coast was first explored by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who worked for the Kingdom of Castile. In 1542 he claimed the region for Spain, but no settlements were planned; 60 years later the coast was mapped by Sebastián Vizcaíno. Although known by the Spaniards for more than 200 years, they did not establish settlements in California until the late 18th century when the Russian Empire began to take an interest in the area.
To secure the coast, King Carlos III authorized the creation of a chain of forts and missions to protect strategic sites that could be of future use to the Spanish Empire in North America. The first “presidio” or “fort” and mission complex was established at San Diego in 1769. The Franciscan missionaries worked toward the conversion of the region’s American Indians to Christianity, a stated goal of Spanish colonization.
In 1786, a mission was founded eight miles to the east of Goleta at Santa Barbara. Each mission was supported by large tracts of land for agriculture and grazing that were worked by the friars and the converts; much of the land in the Santa Barbara and Goleta vicinity once belonged to the mission. Although mission activity was concentrated at Santa Barbara, the Goleta Valley was known for its dense stands of live-oak, much of which was cleared by later generations to allow for farming. A large lagoon, fed by seven creeks and refreshed with salt water, was also located at Goleta. Portions of it silted up over time and in the mid-20th century the remainder was filled in for the construction of the airport.
At the time of Spanish colonization, the coastal area was occupied by the Chumash American Indians. Their name meaning “bead makers/seashell people,” the Chumash lived in an area stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Santa Susana Mountains. They were among the few American Indian peoples to navigate the coast by ocean-going vessel.
After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, most of the mission properties were secularized and broken up into “ranchos” or ranches that were subsequently granted to the friends and family members of important Mexican officials such as the governor. Much of the land upon which Goleta sits was divided between two ranchos: Dos Pueblos and La Goleta. Rancho Dos Pueblos encompassed much of the area between the airport and Dos Pueblos Canyon further west on the coast. The 15,500 acre parcel was granted to Nicolas Den in 1842. An Irish immigrant, Den arrived in Santa Barbara in 1836 and became a prominent doctor. He married the daughter of Daniel Hill, another Irishman who was granted the 4,500 acre Rancho La Goleta in 1846. Both men grazed cattle, and like many of their fellow ranch owners, they grew wealthy from the Gold Rush of 1849. Although they did not find actual gold, they did encounter hungry miners who were willing to pay good prices for their beef.
Many of the land grants survived into the American period following the Mexican-American War of 1845-1848 and the resulting cession of California and much of the Southwest to the United States. Den and Hill died a few years apart in the 1860s and their lands were eventually divided and sold in smaller parcels. The eastern portion of Rancho Dos Pueblos was sold to Colonel William Welles Hollister who had grown rich during the Civil War from the sale of wool. He renamed the ranch Glen Annie in honor of his wife, and both his name and that of his wife can be found on streets and neighborhoods in Goleta. The ranch sported almond trees, and Hollister experimented with coffee, bananas, and tea.
In 1875, the settlement of Goleta was established, and named after the rancho that once dominated the area. In Spanish, “goleta” means “schooner,” but the reason why the name was originally applied to the area remains unclear. Some legends say that a boat sank in the lagoon or perhaps one was built on the shores. The small village sat roughly a mile from the Pacific Ocean; two miles to the north, the Santa Ynez Mountains loomed large. Travel books from the early twentieth century recount that the wetlands along the coast attracted large groups of birds, and huntsmen were especially attracted by the ducks.
The young town remained primarily agricultural, as the soil on this portion of the southern California coast was recognized for its richness. Apples, peaches, pears, and figs were cultivated as well as citrus such as oranges and lemons. Once the railroad arrived in 1887, the perishable fruits could be quickly shipped across the country. Soft-shell English walnuts were introduced by an early settler and they quickly became a staple crop throughout the region. In 1874, an entrepreneur constructed a wharf to facilitate the transport of asphaltum, which he gathered from naturally occurring deposits on his land. It was shipped to San Francisco where it was used to pave roads. Goleta farmers also used the wharf to get their products to more distant regional markets.
The town’s fortunes received a boost when the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) pulled into Goleta and connected it to growing Los Angeles. In 1876 the SP had opened a tunnel through the Newhall Pass northwest of Los Angeles at San Fernando. In 1886, the railroad decided to build a spur from the Newhall Pass to San Buenaventura and then onto Santa Barbara and Goleta. The “Coast Line” was intended to eventually reach San Francisco, but this would not occur until 1901; for more than a decade, the tracks from the south ended at Goleta where a turntable was built in the Ellwood area.
With the completion of the railroad from the north, Goleta then found itself on the main route between the state’s two biggest cities. The SP quickly erected a depot to serve passengers. A railroad often built stations of standardized size and design in communities of comparable size; therefore, Goleta’s depot resembles those at Ventura and Moorpark to the southeast. Built in 1901, it was based on the SP’s standard “Combination Station No. 22” meaning that the passenger and freight areas were “combined” under one roof.
The main section of the depot, housing the waiting room and the station-master’s office, was two stories high and featured a simple gabled roof; a one-story addition extended from the depot along the tracks and housed the freight room. A projecting bay on the two story section faced the tracks and had windows on all three sides. This design allowed the station-master to monitor traffic up and down the line from his office. The second floor of the depot was a private apartment for the station-master and included bedrooms and a kitchen; living quarters were often included in depots located in rural areas.
World War II greatly changed Goleta’s landscape and sense of small town quiet. The lagoon that had once hosted numerous Chumash villages was filled in and flattened so that runways could be laid for an expanded airport that was shared during the war with the Marines Corps. In 1942, Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara was commissioned at Goleta and numerous Navy squadrons trained at the station before being sent to the Pacific Theater. Earlier that year, a submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy targeted a refinery along the coast at the Ellwood oil field. The coast from Ventura to Goleta had been explored for oil starting in the late 1910s, and fifteen years later the Ellwood field—located on land and under the ocean—was actively producing crude. The Japanese attack did little damage, but it frayed war-time nerves as coastal residents feared other assaults or even an invasion.
Post-war, California’s population underwent explosive growth and Goleta transformed from an agricultural and ranching community into an educational center and locus of emerging high-technology enterprises. The former Marine Corps Air Station was divided between the municipal airport and the University of California which established a campus on the coast in 1949. Aerospace industries formed the base of a technology sector that encouraged economic development and resulted in the expansion of Goleta’s residential and commercial districts.
Hemmed in by the ocean and the mountains, this part of the coast had not been easy to access, and Goleta’s increased development was partially a result of the new freeways and improvements in air travel. They increased the region’s links to the rest of the state and expanded markets. As federal and state spending shifted to highways and aviation at the mid-twentieth century, passenger railroads began to cut routes and train frequencies. Similar to many other small towns, Goleta lost its SP service. The last local train pulled away from the depot in 1965 and in 1973 the building was shuttered.
Railroads usually tore down abandoned depots, but Goleta’s survived through the determination of Goleta Beautiful, a group of local activists interested in the preservation of the town’s past. In 1981, the depot was cut into two pieces and moved across Highway 101 to a spot in Lake Los Carneros Park; part of the cut is still visible. Since then, the depot, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been under a constant program of renovation and improvement. It is home to the South Coast Railroad Museum, which the founders envisioned as an institution in which visitors could learn about the “history, technology, and adventure of railroading.” A special emphasis is placed on the role of the rural depot and the railroad in small-town life.
The freight office has been furnished and interpreted to the early 20th century, and live history actors help recreate the hustle and bustle of a busy depot. In addition, the museum displays an HO-scale model railroad exhibit and cases filled with railroad-related photographs, artifacts, and other ephemera, many with a focus on the Goleta region. Outside, the “Goleta Short Line” is a miniature train offering rides for kids and adults alike; it is especially popular during birthday celebrations held on the grounds. Throughout the year, the Depot staff organizes a number of special events including “Depot Day.” Held in late September, rail enthusiasts look forward to “Short Line” rides as well as the opportunity to operate a handcar. Activities geared towards children, a silent auction, and good food round out the day.
Also within Lake Los Carneros Park is the home of the Goleta Valley Historical Society at Rancho La Patera and Stow House. Purchased by the Stow family in 1871, the rancho became famous for its lemon groves which constituted one of the first commercial plantings of that fruit in the state. The legacy of the lemon groves planted by the Stows lives on in the annual California Lemon Festival. Held over a weekend in mid-October, the event brings residents and visitors together not only to celebrate the famous yellow citrus, but also to admire classic cars, witness ravenous contestants at a delicious pie-eating contest, and browse booths filled with regional arts and crafts.
Goleta Beach Park is a 29 acre ocean side recreation area popular with cyclists who enjoy the paved trails. The 1,500 foot pier offers beautiful views of the Pacific as well as the coast, and avid fishing enthusiasts like to cast a line from its heights. Every year on the west end of Goleta, nature reveals a magnificent event as swarms of striking Danaus plexippus, better known as Monarch butterflies, return to the Coronado Butterfly Preserve to spend the winter. Covered in native coastal sage scrub and eucalyptus groves, and traversed by Devereux Creek, the preserve is a popular destination throughout the winter months for admirers of the delicate creatures that cluster amid the trees.
The Pacific Surfliner service is primarily financed through funds made available by the State of California, Department of Transportation, and is managed by the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority.
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No payphones
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- No Restrooms
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- No vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least minutes prior to departure
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- No bag storage
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- No payphones
- No accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift