Oil and water: the gods smiled on Santa Paula

If Beverly Hills is Lana Turner, and Pasadena is Grace Kelly, then Santa Paula is Ava Gardner: earthy, lush, mysterious and utterly natural.


As you know, one of my main aims in taking photographs is not only to learn a new medium and get exciting software to satisfy my creative soul, but to learn more about California.  As a transplanted New Yorker, it has taken me twenty years to come around to where I can actually say I enjoy being in Los Angeles.

I have already lived in the East Bay up north and absolutely adored every minute there. If I had my way, Northern California would be its own state and I would work for the tourist board.  At some point soon, I will give you my insider’s tips on what to see and where to go there.


Meanwhile, my husband’s work and life are anchored to SoCal, and so I have made it my mission to explore the areas that are a bit off the beaten path and make them come to life, both for me and for anyone reading my blog or viewing my photos in the various places where I post them.

Clearly the Golden State has been blessed with diversity and abundance.  There is every kind of climate, terrain, population, resource, beauty and advantage that are found anywhere else on earth with few exceptions.  If we don’t destroy it by allowing an imbalance of power between profits and people, we can continue to develop the most admirable economy on earth and provide a magnificent lifestyle in the process.


I have been reading about and studying Teddy Roosevelt and will probably write a post in the future about the three remarkable Roosevelts from New York who changed the course of this country and the world.  In a strange and almost perverse way, Roosevelt, an avid and reckless hunter in his youth, became this country’s first environmental President, as he matured and realized the treasures that we might squander.

Earlier this week, I heard one of our Democratic candidates say that we must not let the fossil fuel industry destroy this planet, so we can leave it better than we found it for future generations.  I couldn’t agree more, and this state is committed to conservation, despite some notable setbacks like the egregious breach just this week of a pipeline that should never have been laid by what is an incompetent and flagrantly disrespectful oil company into one of the most valuable natural ecosystems on this planet: Santa Barbara and a previously pristine coastline. I am attending a wedding in Carpinteria in September and will bring back pictures of this stunning shoreline community, if you are not familiar with it firsthand.


One of the things I have absolutely reveled in for the past month, is my newly set up Lightroom 6/Creative Cloud program and am now doing all my processing work in it.  It allows me to open any plugin from any external processing software I buy (and some I have acquired free from the classes I have purchased from Creative Live) in one place, seamlessly, effortlessly and rapidly.  LR CC is lightning fast.  I can jump into Photo Shop CC and jump back and create a smooth, multi-step work flow in a fraction of the time it used to take me, when I carted my photos from program to program.  I can now loop the process to get the exact effect I want, for as many rounds as I care to, staying in Lightroom the whole time. Simple.

On Flickr, because I was looking for Santa Paula groups, I stumbled upon a photographer who lives in Santa Clarita and does some of the most stunning work I have ever seen, with two affordable cameras (Nikon D300 and D5200) and one prime lens: 35 mm.  I have said before and must emphasize, it is not the camera, it is the skill of the photographer who must not only be a scientist and technician, but an artist.  Every one of her shots is gorgeous –they glow with a special light effect I haven’t seen elsewhere — and I am going to try to learn how she achieves with those simple tools, work that spending $10K on equipment would not guarantee. She has so inspired me that I am going to devote an entire future set to her kind of photography. Now I wonder if I should have even bothered buying a full frame, very costly camera! We’ll return to this some day.


For the present, I want to share here just a few of the pictures I took in one of my unexpected, serendipities: Santa Paula in Ventura County.  This town, whose earliest monument  at the Portola Mission campsite reads 1769 — not old by European or even Yankee standards, but ancient for SoCal — is a sparkling jewel and so close to Valencia, but with a completely different climate, that it is hard to believe the two counties are right next to one another.

Santa Paula is not only a tribute to turn of the last century architecture and history, with museums and living structures that transport you back in time in a way few places do, it is also the city that oil and water built.

At around the time when the industrial revolution discovered the many uses of light sweet crude, it was discovered that Ventura County, especially the area that is now Filmore to Santa Paula, was riddled with seeps that oozed a viscous molasses-like oil into surface pools.  A rush ensued and derricks rose, human-power pumps and a sophisticated operation was in place virtually overnight, putting the two towns on the map.  Add the temperate, moist climate, a twenty-foot layer of deep, fertile soil, a festival of sunshine and mild sea breezes (Santa Paula is just minutes from the coast and the modern day town of Ventura), and the booming rail industry, and you now had an agricultural paradise that drew the wealthy from all over the United States. Oil revolutionized America and put the riches blessing Santa Paula on the map.


From the end of the 19th century to the second World War, Santa Paula, a delicate little town of colorful Victorian gingerbread adorned houses and hillside vistas overlooking neatly tilled fields of fruit basket crops, flourished. Union Oil, Unocal, and even Howard Hughes gave their solid brass imprimatur to Santa Paula and it burnishes that legacy to this day.

We were so excited when we realized that not only did Santa Paula have this deep history and a still thriving fruit and vegetable economy that rivals the more northerly central valley of California around Fresno and San Francisco, that we decided to consider it for our future permanent retirement location.  On a hillside that holds the McKevett neighborhood, are some of the most beautiful homes and surroundings I have ever seen.  It truly looks like Capri in California — just as lovely as Montecito and a lot more affordable.  It is the hidden secret that only promises to gain more and more attention as people pour out of Los Angeles’s overpriced enclaves in search of a better climate, rain, rivers of produce, and an old fashioned, gracious, social life.  Santa Paula is home to dozens of cultural venues, holds a stunning hot air balloon festival every few years and boasts an agricultural parade on Labor Day, complete with the prettiest tractors and threshing vehicles any farmer could dream of.


This is only an introduction to this local paradise — just 30 minutes west of us and as different from Valencia and points east (the high desert) as Monaco is from Santa Fe.  All in a radius of less than an hour from us and a stone’s throw from the country’s second largest metropolis.

Stay tuned! More pictures ahead …

Images: Beth Byrnes, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Ventura County California


15 Comments on “Oil and water: the gods smiled on Santa Paula”

    • Thank you Robin! I am sure Ohio is loaded with Victorian treasures but they are rather rare in lower California. I have other photos of similar houses, since Santa Paula has dozens of them, happily. 🙂


      • You know that New England has quite a huge collection of Bed and Breakfasts, along with scenic tours of Victorian houses. I like about five of our town’s houses that are just so interesting and gorgeous inside and out. I am glad you live by Santa Paula and were able to share this with us, Beth. Smiles back at you!


        • Thank you Robin. I grew up in the northeast and traveled extensively through those areas. In fact, where I lived in New Jersey, the town was over 300 years old so we had every kind of old house. I loved them. It is harder to find in Southern California so Santa Paula is rare and a treasure. 😀


          • I did not know how rare this was in California but did feel that homes like this are not necessarily the ‘style’ you see in photos of this state. I feel ever more blessed to see this treasure and liked the entrance with bike trail sign and other interesting features here. This would be a place if I were out West I may feel like I were ‘back home again!’
            Pss-st, Beth. did I tell you I have a hope for someone who I met a few weeks ago at the Arts Festival? I have only met him twice but I am crossing my fingers. If you want to see his pottery but not his picture, his business is Earthly Arts Pottery, his name is Jonathan Kesler. We talk about birds, language and all sorts of things. He is in Kalamazoo, Michigan at another Arts Fest, then home and off to Kentucky. Fits perfectly in with my own busy schedule, we shall see!


            • Robin, that is so promising! I will keep positive thoughts about this for you. And, I will check out his pottery site. How great!

              Northern California has a lot of this kind of architecture. It is far more rare in Southern California where I am. California should be at least two states. NoCal and SoCal are completely different, virtual polar opposites. I am much more a Northern California fan and have lived there.

              But we are thinking we might pick Santa Paula as our ultimate dwelling place (even after we recreated that environment in our yard anyway).

              Next stop, Earthy Arts Pottery!!


  1. Great photos. Wish you were still here in the East Bay. :-/ Be sure and let me know if you ever wander back up here. Brentwood is growing SO fast. Houses are going up everywhere. Somehow, it still stays green with an ordinance to build parks with every development. Nothing like the beauty of the Napa/Sonoma area, though.


    • Thank you Susan. I wish I were up there too! I am not sure we could afford it any more. We were thinking maybe Oakland? I love the old houses there. I have forgotten where Brentwood is but I haven’t seen anything up there that I didn’t love. I would even be happy in Yreka! Napa and Sonoma are beautiful — we spent a week in St. Helena and loved it. So much beauty in Northern California, if I don’t watch out, I will be pining for it again. Believe me, if we plan a trip, I will give you a heads up!


  2. It is a real joy to see your professional photos of a wonderful state that has so much to offer. I had the privilege of visiting many parts of California many times with friends and family. Keep up the great work. It is enjoyed by all.


    • Lynn! It was lovely of you to come over here and take time to read all this and say such kind and generous things to me. Southern California is slowly growing on me, LOL. Maybe in another 20+ years I will prefer it to New York, hee hee. 😉


    • Anne-Marie, thank you! I think I had real luck that day as the light seemed especially right for picture taking but maybe it is like that all the time in Santa Paula. Believe me, if we were to move there in our retirement, I would sign up to promote that town and conduct tours, immediately. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Island whirld | Beth Byrnes

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