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TOURIST ATTRACTION

Andree Clark Bird Refuge
updated: Apr 30, 2011, 9:00 AM

By the dedicated staff

Named for a young woman who died too soon, the Andree Clark Bird Refuge is Santa Barbara's fountain of eternal youth.

Whether it's the super fit joggers and cyclists who pass its freshwater lake every day, or the baby ducklings and other waterfowl that learn to swim among its dense reeds, the refuge is a special Santa Barbara spot nestled between East Beach, the Zoo, the cemetery, and the railroad tracks.

Those of us who run or cycle along Santa Barbara's celebrated Cabrillo beach path daily or weekly almost take for granted the chance to get off the pavement and onto the grass along the refuge, but this 42-acre spread, made possible in part by the Clark family (see the story of their mysterious estate here), is worth a standalone visit. Here are just a few reasons why:

How will you get there? Let us suggest a few ways. You could walk, if you are staying in any of the hotels along Santa Barbara's waterfront, and get some good exercise along a beautiful route. You could run, if you are of the running persuasion, and extend your route past the refuge, along Butterfly Beach and even into Montecito. You could rent a surrey bike, and pedal with three or four friends and family members. Many of the downtown hotels offer free cruiser bikes for their guests to use, and cruising on one of those to the refuge is one of the best things you can do in Santa Barbara, stopping of course at Stearns Wharf and Chase Palm Park en route. You could drive, and there is free parking, although it is limited and often crowded on the most beautiful of weekend days. The parking lot is found at the end of Los Patos Drive, a left turn off of Cabrillo just before you pass underneath Hwy. 101.

A perfect place to sit and contemplate. The refuge component of Andree Clark isn't just for the waterfowl. Scenic vistas and quiet calm waters - which somehow never seem to reek of stagnancy - make this a great place to relax and observe. But there aren't plentiful seating opportunities, aside from three dock-like water-adjacent benches among the reeds, and a few benches along Cabrillo Boulevard. In most spots, the heavy reed growth at the water's edge impedes the most immediate view. But you'll still be able to see the Montecito Golf Club and homes of the Riviera on the north-facing foothills, and the Clark Estate shrubs on the south side.

Historical reference. The land for the refuge wasn't donated by the Clarks, but Huguette Clark put up the $50,000 needed to drain a salt pond that was on site previously, and create a freshwater lake instead. Before this work, a racetrack surrounded the pond. She stipulated that the refuge would be named for her late sister, who died of meningitis in her teens. The donation made sense - the property could be clearly seen from her estate across the street, named Bellosguardo. The Clarks spent their winters in Santa Barbara and traveled here via private rail car. The estate remains untouched, except by caretakers and abundant speculation about its future after Huguette's death.

Those beautiful birds, and other creatures too. It was the day after Easter on our last visit to the refuge, and we saw both birds and bunnies. From the Los Patos side of the property, you can look directly across to the Santa Barbara Zoo, where you might even spot monkeys and California condors, whose habitats border the lake. Stay long enough and you'll certainly hear the sound of the zoo's train whistle as it makes its rounds. Migrating waterfowl make the refuge a top on their travels north and south, so you are likely to see some animals uncommon to coastal California in the right seasons. And of course, ever-present seagulls and coots make this their permanent home.

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Judith Sarena sent in some great photos of all kinds of flying creatures found at the Bird Refuge. [pics] (03/11/08)
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Ever wondered what's up that private driveway between the bird refuge and East Beach? John Wiley took a picture from the air. [pic] (08/13/08)
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Liz Muraoka took some pictures of an immature bald eagle she saw at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge. [pics] (11/24/08)
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Over the weekend, an Edhat subscriber went to the bird refuge to get a glimpse of a Canada Goose. [pics] (12/23/09)
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Saw this and did a double take. And then thought: If that were a cart corral, it's the nicest one ever! Taken down by the bird refuge. [pic] (02/09/10)
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What a surprise to see this solo swan among the Grackles and Mallard ducks at the Bird Refuge Saturday. Kathee Miller photos. [pics] (08/16/10)
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The placid Andre Clark Bird Refuge was a near perfect mirror Wednesday. If not for the reeds along the water, you could turn this shot upside down. [pic] (01/20/11)
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Today was a beautiful day for a walk around the Bird Refuge. Birds and their fluffy offspring were enjoying the spring weather. [pics] (04/29/11)
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