On a recent trip to SolidWorks World 2010, I stayed in the area for a few days after the conference was over. One of the things I wanted to do was take a drive in the forests and mountains. I picked the Los Padres National Forest. I was limited on where I could drive in the area because of cloud cover in the mountains in the area. Here is a summary of a trip that could be done in a day.
Start in Ventura, Santa Barbara, or somewhere else in the vicinity. To start with, you have to make a decision on what route you want to take.
Option 1: Take Highway 101 over to Highway 154 and go by Lake Cachuma and the Bradbury Dam in the western tip of the Los Padres National Forest and on the edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. Stop at the vista point about a mile or so before you get to the lake to take in the view. Both are great sights to see.
Option 2: Take Highway 101 through the Santa Ynez Mountains near Gaviota State Park. On this route, you get a bit closer to some mountains. I took 2 drives through here (once each way) while it was raining and the sun was trying to peek through the clouds. I saw a rainbow both times.
What ever route you take, make sure you go over to Solvang, CA just west of Buellton. Solvang is a Dutch themed village with lots to see. Thanks to fellow blogger Matt Lorono for the tip on this little out-of-the-way village. Spend as much time here as you want, but keep in mind, you will still need 5 hours or so if daylight to see and get thru the mountains.
Next, go west to Buellton and get on Highway 101 North and head for Santa Maria. You may be interested in checking out the surrounding vineyards while you are here, but watch the time.
Be sure you have lots of gas, there are not many places to get gas until you are out of the moutains.
From Santa Maria, take Highway 166 East and drive through the Cuyama Valley. There is not a lot to see while going thru this valley, but the foothills of the mountains to the North look like oversized sand piles from the highway.
While driving through the valley, watch for Highway 33 (also known as Maricopa Highway) and head South. To me, this section of the drive is the best part of the trip. Here you will be driving through the Los Padres National Forest and into the mountains. This is a winding road through the mountain valleys and along the mountain sides. You will be cresting over 2 mountain peaks on this route, the (first) northern peak is about 5600 feet above sea level. This route also takes you through Matilija Canyon along the eastern section of the Santa Ynez Mountains. You may also want to check out Matilija Springs before you get to Ojia.
Just South West of Ojia, head on over to Lake Casitas before heading home.
You can start and end this drive at whatever point you like. This is the route I took.