Cold Spring Tavern – Santa Barbara, California - Gastro Obscura

Santa Barbara, California

Cold Spring Tavern

Hidden in the Santa Ynez Mountains off Highway 154, this tiny restaurant once served as a stagecoach stop. 

In the mid-19th century, Cold Spring Tavern was known as the “Cold Spring Relay Station,” a stagecoach stop. At the time, anyone looking to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco had to take a stagecoach ride through San Marcos Pass in the Santa Ynez Mountains. Weary travelers would eat their meals at the tavern before re-boarding their stagecoach, which would’ve been replenished with new horses for their continued journey down the mountain.

A century later, Cold Spring Tavern has not changed much. Blanketed by a forest of trees and a small creek that runs through the lot, the site consists of several buildings, including the original tavern that now serves as the restaurant and the Log Cabin Bar next to it. Besides the renowned tri-tip sandwich (so named because it incorporates a triangular cut of beef) that’s served with a house-made horseradish sauce, they also serve wild game such as venison, rabbit, and buffalo.

Visitors can also see the old “Road Gang House” that is right behind the tavern. The Road Gang House was built by Chinese immigrants in 1868 for shelter as they paved the toll road through the San Marcos Pass. Another building near the restaurant was a bunkhouse for the stage drivers who would stop by to rest and to add or remove horses to their stagecoaches. The bunkhouse is now a gift shop.

Located on Stagecoach Road along the Highway 154, Cold Spring Tavern is the only stop in an area that consists of miles of trees and roads. Nonetheless, it becomes quite packed on the weekends with people enjoying tri-tip sandwiches or their wild game chili. It is quite the hidden gem in the heart of Santa Monica mountains that weary drivers can visit to enjoy lunch, dinner, and the rustic view.

Know Before You Go

During the weekends around noon, the restaurant begin serving its Santa Maria–style tri-tip sandwiches. They also offer live music.

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