"Santa Paula- Citrus Fruit Capital of the World!" Santa Paula by Tugboatguy

Santa Paula Travel Guide: 51 reviews and 185 photos

Santa Paula-Glen City of the Santa Clara Valley

Santa Paula is a charming town of 30,042 people living in the Santa Clara valley between the Topa Topa range of The Los Padres Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest on the north and South Mountain on the, well, south of town. The Santa Clara River lies south of the town at the base of the South Mountain foothills. South Mountain is about 10 miles long and looms over the town. The town's topography rises to the north toward the foothills of the Los Padres Mountains. Highway 126, the Korean War Veteran's Memorial Highway, runs east/west through the town. It has been called one of the most scenic highways in America, with vast lemon orchards on either side. Orange groves and avocados are also major crops. The Santa Paula town seal on the illustrated monument reflects the area's agricultural heritage. Inland from the Pacific Ocean, the town's temperature can frequently be 15-20 degrees warmer than the coast. Summer temperatures of 90-100 degrees fahrenheit are not uncommon. Sometimes, such protracted hot temperatures can cause lemons on the trees to burst or split, ruining the fruit. Santa Paula's evening temperatures can be quite warm, with warm air from the mountain slopes descending to warm the town air late into the evenings. In the late '60s and early '70s. the Japanese people 'discovered' lemons, everything from the essence of the lemon peel zest to the juice, and vast quantities of lemons are shipped out of the Port of Hueneme bound for Asia.

When I first moved to Ventura County 49 years ago and was flying as pilot out of Oxnard airport almost at the coast, I was advised that Santa Paula Airport was the diversion field in case of coastal fog. The Santa Paula Airport runway elevation is 245 feet above mean sea level, while Oxnard's runway is only at 43 feet. The greater elevation of the town away from the ocean also contributes to the hotter clime, than that of the coast. The Santa Paula Airport dating to 1930 is famous for the likes of aviators the Atlantic Ocean-spanning Lone Eagle Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, the missing world flight aviatrix and film's the late Steve McQueen, Cliff Robertson, Kirk Douglas and Susan Oliver flying in and out of the field, to name just a few of many celebrities based or visiting here.

Oil was first discovered in California near Santa Paula from a surface slope gusher in 1888, leading to the formation of Union Oil Company in 1890. Their original headquarters building on the corner of Tenth and Main in downtown Santa Paula is now the California Oil Museum. Crude oil seeps to this day from the side of a hill along Highway 150 northwest of town, and the early Chumash Indians used this crude to caulk their primitive canoes (tomols) that they paddled to the Channel Islands. Crude oil ('Black Gold') is still pumped from fields north of Santa Paula in Sulphur Mountain and from the South Mountain fields across the river.

The train depot dates to 1887 and is the oldest in the county still on its original site. President Benjamin Harrison campaigned at the depot in 1891, and a decade later, President William McKinley also did the same here.

The St. Francis Dam on the Santa Clara River northeast of Santa Clarita broke on March 12, 1928, sending a terrible flood Santa Paula's way. Two policemen on motorcycles rode through the town, warning the residents to evacuate. A statue near the train depot today recognizes their heroism. It is called "The Warning".

Art Mural Local Customs Tips & Oil Museum Exhibit

National Register Historic Site #8600219

The Saint Francis Dam Disaster, 80th Anniversary featured special exhibit commemorates the sudden and destructive dam collapse in vintage photographs, drawings, charts and artifacts to examine the 1928 disaster's history, from its construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct to the terrible aftermath of the dam's collapse with flooding of the Santa Clara Valley and its towns including Santa Paula. Through 27 July, 2008.

I have just (January 20-21, 2008) added nine new Tips on Local Customs in Santa Paula showing their nine art murals celebrating 100 years of History and Culture in Santa Paula, with many photos-please have a look!

More information on the California Oil Museum is in my Santa Paula Tips section on Things To Do. I have also added a direct web link for your convenience to the Museum in my updated tips. Please read and enjoy!

Hollywood's Darling for Movie Sets

In the days before Hollywood, Santa Paula was also dubbed the Film Capitol, in reference to movies shot there starring the likes of Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and John Wayne. Many Hollywood films continue to be filmed in and near Santa Paula. The late actor, Dana Elcar, was a resident of Santa Paula. One of his best roles was in the Paul Newman and Robert Redford Academy Award-winning film, "The Sting", where Elcar played the role of Newman's conspirator pal, a fake FBI agent. In his later years, Elcar became blind, but continued to direct and be a prominent force in Santa Paula Theater Center productions until his death in 2005.

Many films with rural, agricultural scenes have been filmed in Santa Paula. The vast lemon packing houses have also figured prominently in the movies. Also, one of the top Hollywood stunt pilots, Mike Dewey, is headquartered here, with his hanger one of the Santa Paula Airport Museum hangers. If you have seen a film with an aircraft flying through a barn, or WWI biplanes dogfighting above lemon orchards in a valley, chances are Mike was one of the pilots. He and his late father, Jim Dewey, ran Dewey Aviation, now CP Aviation at the airport. His museum hanger contains hundreds of pictures of his Hollywood exploits.

Mira Slovak was another Hollywood stunt pilot based here (died June 2014 age 88) . The late actress and lady pilot, Susan Oliver, based her white and green Meyers 200 aircraft here. Other Hollywood actors who have flown out of or based out of Santa Paula airport are the late Cliff Robertson and the late Steve McQueen, who had a 15 acre Santa Paula rustic ranch.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Wonderful weather for agriculture, people and aircraft pilots
  • Cons:Can be a tad 'hot' in June, July, August and September, but 'Some like it Hot'.
  • In a nutshell:More than just Lemons, Oranges and Crude Oil.
  • Last visit to Santa Paula: Apr 2015
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (32)

Comments (37)

  • Yaqui's Profile Photo
    Aug 2, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    Howdy Doug, your pages are always insightful and updated. You always do such a tremendous job with your tips. Awesome page!

  • XenoHumph's Profile Photo
    Feb 5, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    Great place with both history and outdoors! Too bad for the flooding and fires, however!

  • Yaqui's Profile Photo
    Dec 28, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    Howdy Doug, Santa Paula is such a gem! One of those hidden treasures of California. I wish more people would visit her. I need to see that spinning ball for myself:)

  • Aug 21, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    Hi there, We just moved to Santa Paula and I'm looking for someone who gives bi-plane rides for my fiance. Or other planes if a bi-plane isn't possible. Thanks so much! Suzy (heysuz_home@yahoo.com)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Jun 27, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    What a nice description of the area and the town itself. You tempt me to get out that way and enjoy the sites.

  • Roadquill's Profile Photo
    Dec 22, 2009 at 10:47 PM

    Hi Doug, Saw your post and realized I hadn't seen you on VT in a while.. Merry Xmas and have a great 2010, Karl

  • Maria250's Profile Photo
    Sep 2, 2008 at 12:30 PM

    So nice to read about the sneakily spitting camels. I understand it felt nasty, but it's such a nice, nice read. I enjoy your tips a lot!!

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Jul 3, 2008 at 10:53 PM

    Oil Museum and "Philadelphia Story" additions were terrific. Wonderful information about the fantastic murals in Santa Paula of Citrus, transportation, Indians, Latinos, architecture, and airplanes.

  • MissyWQ's Profile Photo
    May 22, 2008 at 11:37 AM

    Wonderful info about Santa Paula. When are you coming to Santa Barbara? 1. if by land...2, if by tugboat......I'm in the phone book.

  • travelgourmet's Profile Photo
    Apr 27, 2008 at 4:35 PM

    Right you are, Doug. It felt like 100 + in SP. Will have to plan the airport on a 1st Sunday. People not walking around, in the bars. lol. Oil Museum was interesting but they took out the train display. Went on to Ojai and enjoyed the afternoon. Larry

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