The Santa Ynez Valley, located near a seaward corner of land in Santa Barbara County, is at the juncture of the Santa Ynez Mountains to the south, the San Rafael Mountains to the north, and the Santa Ynez River flowing east to the west. The Santa Ynez Valley is nestled by the Los Padres National Forest to the south, east and west as well. The beautiful, primarily agricultural area was difficult to reach due to the 3,000-4,000 foot mountains that blocked the area from the Pacific Ocean and nearby communities, including Santa Barbara.
The Chinese entered the region as agriculturalists (working on ranches raising grapes, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables), servants, laundrymen, cooks, and merchants in the 1860s. In 1869, the Central Pacific’s “Big Four”, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, and Mark Hopkins, supervised construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Their experience in clearing roads made them prime candidates for the construction of a difficult road with many curves and elevation changes in the Santa Ynez Valley. The Flint, Bixby and Company of Los Angeles, established in 1855, assumed the task because of their extensive land holdings and their need to get their stagecoaches through the critical San Marcos Pass between the San Francisco-Los Angeles route. From 1868 to 1869 Chinese workers built the Santa Ynez Turnpike Road now called the Stagecoach Road on Highway 154. The Chinese used hand tools to create the roads making their feat even more impressive. Some areas, such as one known as “Slippery Rock” where sandstone predominated, was so difficult for traveling that the Chinese had to chisel horizontal grooves in the road to provide traction for the horses pulling wagons and stagecoaches. The marks can still be seen today on the hiking trails. During the construction and maintenance of the road, the Chinese workers lived in a boarding house at Cold Spring, next to the Cold Spring Tavern, a midpoint on the road that allowed passengers and freighters to have refreshments and change horses. In 1876-1882 the narrow gauge Pacific Coast Railroad opened the formerly isolated valley further with a station in Santa Ynez. In 1897 the toll road became a free county road known as Stagecoach Road. Anti-Chinese sentiment and the advent of the railroad that contributed to the decline of the stagecoach resulted in the departure of the Chinese from their small Chinatown at Cold Spring by the 1890s. Some of them moved to Santa Barbara’s Chinatown while others found work in produce production.
The two-lane road with its S-curves and elevation changes continue to challenge today’s drivers. In 1969 George Hood and Fred Yoshino supervised construction of the Cold Spring Arch Bridge which bypassed Cold Spring entirely. In 1974 the American Society of Civil Engineers named the bridge a landmark.
Directions: Follow US-101 N to Calle Real in Santa Barbara. Take exit 101B from US-101 N. Take CA-154 with San Marcos Pass Road to Stagecoach Road (former Santa Ynez Turnpike/Toll Road)
Suggested additional tour: Visit the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Solvang, and Buellton. The Santa Ynez Historical Museum’s exhibit and the Anderson’s Restaurant in Buellton’s exhibit (2nd floor) include Chinese who were in the Santa Ynez Valley in the late 19th century. [The Cold Spring Tavern, Los Padres National Forest, 5995 Stagecoach Rd., Santa Barbara, CA 93105.]