santa barbara then & now: the mesa

The Mesa neighborhood of SB happens to be one of the oldest historical areas in the city, however it is also one of our youngest residential districts. The Mesa, Spanish for “table” is Santa Barbara’s elevated section of land that extends from Hendry’s Beach (Arroyo Burro) all the way to East Beach. Real estate on the Mesa consists mainly of single-story beach homes and cottages as well as beautiful Medditerrean villas that overlook the pacific.


The “Low Field” & Oil Boom: Earle L. Ovington (mentioned in the previous Samarkand post) who was an aviation pioneer who built SB’s first airfield in Samarkand believed The Mesa to be the ideal place for a municipal airport. The federal government agreed, providing Ovington’s runway was long enough to accommodate the largest commercial plane then in service.  Ovington named the airport “Low Field”. But Ovington’s airport crash-landed before he could pave the runway, and for a most unpredictable reason – the Mesa had oil!

The Mesa Oil Field was discovered within SB city limits, south of Cliff Drive and the field sprouted over 100 oil derricks in the early 1930s. The oil boom that was believed to take place quickly halted in the late 1930s, as it proved to be much smaller than initially thought. This was when the residential neighborhood plans began to develop on the Mesa.

The Fellowship Group:

Most know Fellowship Circle, a halo shaped road on the hill right by Hilda McIntyre Ray park, but most don’t know that it was the site of a religious cult back in 1919. The cult leader, Reverend George Littelfield and his followers bought an astonishing 87 acres of land where the self-sustaining commune planned to live. Plans for farms and orchards were hatched and Littlefield also set up his own printing press, Red Rose Press, named after his rose garden that now occupies much of Red Rose Way, where he published religious materials to hand out around town and across the nation. The site of his printing press can still be found today at 506 Fellowship Road.

Neighborly Advice

We spoke with local lifelong Mesa resident Matt Vaughn at his favorite Mesa coffee shop, The Good Cup, where he explained why he loved growing up there, “The Mesa is a very safe and laid back beach community, geared towards a ‘Lazy Acre’ approach to life, where people take care of themselves, their neighbors, their land, and their environment.” He explained how people are “more apt to walk around because of the beautiful location and the sweeping ocean vistas”.  Matt told us that The Mesa has its own community, its own local paper, The Mesa Paper, and people really know each other and have been there for years and have stayed a long time for a reason, and that reason is the beauty of nature.” As a kid, a typical day on the mesa included “learning how to ride bikes at Shoreline, walking to Washington Elementary with all the neighborhood kids, playing catch at La Mesa Park, and walking to the beach with the family.” Other Mesa landmarks include “The Douglas Preserve (formerly The Wilcox Property)” where one can walk and explore, bring their dogs, enjoy the peace and quiet while overlooking the ocean, and “Mesa Café, where you are going to run into regulars and enjoy a great meal.”


Today the mesa is the ultimate beach neighborhood the features 3 elementary schools; Washington, McKinley, and Monroe. Santa Barbara City College, also gets to call The Mesa home, and is one of the top 5 city colleges in America as well as being the most beautiful, as it’s campus overlooks the ocean and it’s parking lots are steps from the sand. There are major parks including Shoreline Park, and great restaurants. The Douglas Preserve is a major landmark and one can find people surfing, paddle surfing, sailing on any given day at any of the beaches. Nite Moves, an event unique to The Mesa located at Ledbetter Beach across from SBCC is a wonderful tradition and is truly a locals’ favorite. Nite Moves gives athletes a choice between an out-and-back 5-kilometer walk or run that parallels Shoreline Drive, a 1-kilometer open ocean swim. kids  5-11 years old get to take part in the Kids Mile run. After the race one can enjoy grabbing a drink from the beer garden, catered food by local restaurants, dessert from Santa Barbara ice cream icon McConnell’s all while listening to live music from local bands. This event truly illustrates what The Mesa today is really about: family, friendship, all while giving back to the community. The Mesa is both beautiful and tranquil with a strong sense of community where all residents care and preserve the gorgeous location and their environment.


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