As far as landmarks go, this is one of the most interesting and significant in Santa Barbara. It rivals the Mission in complexity and beauty. It is also the site of an active archeological dig. Most of the buildings are thoroughly researched reconstructions using the real foundation of the original Presidio. Only El Cuertal, the family quarters of the guard assigned to the western gate, and the Canedo Adobe, which was deeded to a soldier after the Presidio was no longer active, survive from the original buildings.
Founded in 1782, the Santa Barbara Royal Presidio was the last of four military fortresses built by the Spanish along the wilderness frontier. The original fort was a fully enclosed quadrangle that surrounded an open parade ground. It was surrounded by an outer defense wall that boasted two canon bastions. The chapel was the first in Santa Barbara for the local towns people, as the Mission was used primarily by the Christianized native population.
A series of earthquakes over 100 years and then the development of the downtown area destroyed most of the original buildings. In 1963 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation formed with the restoration of the Presidio as its primary objective. The Trust has donated the park to the state and continues to manage it. The State Park is always under some sort of construction.
There are three major structures. El Presidio is across the street from the Post Office. The living quarters, which are the newest addition, are on the other side of Santa Barbara St. El Cuartel is on the other side of Canon Perdido next to the Post Office and is the oldest surviving Presidio structure. A fourth structure is under construction next to the main Presidio. Many of the artifacts in the displays come from the archeological digs you can see surrounding the park.
Of particular beauty is the chapel, which has some wonderful details and is the site of special events throughout the year. The lieutenant's quarters, which are open to tours and special groups, are meticulously decorated in reproduction furniture and accessories. One of the rooms in the living quarters boasts a group of floor tiles retrieved from an on-site archeological dig.
Several portions of the Presidio are available to visitors on self-guided tours, including the Chapel, Comandancia, and Padre's Quarters, on the north wing of the quadrangle. Behind the north wing visitors can enjoy the 1940s Whittaker orchards and explore the exposed archaeological site of the Presidio outer defense wall. The Presidio Northeast Corner, consists of reconstructions of rooms that once housed the Presidio's Lieutenant as well as some of the soldiers and their families, a two-story observation tower and heritage gardens. All of these areas have been reconstructed over the past forty years and include period furnishings and displays.
Directions: From the 101 take the Garden Street exit. Turn left onto E. Canon Perdido Street. Drive about two blocks. El Presidio will be on your right. Parking is tight in this area but there is public parking on Canon Perdido Street just on the other side of State Street (about three blocks away).