Cold Springs Tavern is a historic site where stagecoach passengers enjoyed a break from the rough and tumble road and a bite to eat while the horses were being changed for the last push up over San Marcos Pass. Today you’ll find a quaint tavern on the left, where music is played on the weekend afternoons, and one on Santa Barbara’s best restaurants on the right. A scramble up the creek leads up to a pretty moss and fern covered waterfall. Do note, the rocks are slippery and there is plenty of poison oak.
Cold Springs Tavern not only supplies some of the best food in town and live music on the weekends, but the possibility of a beautiful hike as well. Originally a rest stop for stagecoaches traveling from Los Olivos to Santa Barbara, the Tavern is now one of the most picturesque places to hang out on a warm Saturday or Sunday afternoon. You’ll not only see the widest variety of people gathered together anywhere in this area—ranging from bikers on their custom Harleys to those arriving in stretch limos—but be able to enjoy a cool drink and the sound of rocking music live on the Tavern steps.
No trespassing signs have been added to the area above the Tavern in the recent past and you may not be able to hike up to the falls. If in doubt, see if you can get permission in the Tavern to walk up the creek.
The small creek which cascades by the upper end of the Tavern will also supply an enjoyable hike for those who don’t mind a little uphill scrambling over a series of boulders covered with bright green moss. From the Tavern, walk up the left side of the creek along a narrow trail for several hundred feet until it ends. From there continue up the creek, boulder-hopping. Though the route is somewhat steep, you’ll find it extremely beautiful, especially in the winter months and early spring, when the mosses are at their most intense and brightest, almost completely covering each rock so that little sandstone is visible.
A word of caution: the moss may be slippery so take your time and test your footholds. Also, while the creekbed is somewhat open, the poison oak is plentiful. Be careful what you touch.
The surprise is at the end of the mile scramble—waterfall covered with moss and thick clusters of maidenhair ferns. The water (when the creek is flowing) trickles over the edge, turning into a fine mist, making this spot a rich, green paradise.