Cold Spring Tavern

By Lynda Millner   |   January 16, 2020
The front of the Cold Spring Tavern

We needed to be tourists in our own town, so when my husband’s daughter and son-in-law came for a visit we took off. On her bucket list was to see a real stagecoach stop and away we went to Cold Spring Tavern. Leaving Santa Barbara it was bright and sunny. The closer we got to the top of the pass on Highway 154, the foggier it got. By the time we got to Stagecoach Road it was like winter.

The weather made the atmosphere even more warm and cozy with the Tavern fireplace roaring, surrounded by what looked like Lincoln logs for grownups. A real log cabin. We were invited to look in all three of the restaurant rooms and go in back to visit the outbuildings. The smell was heavenly. The help was grilling tritip outside for their lunch and dinner menu.

Treasures and Trash gift shop
The Ojai jail which only held two people

We checked out the old “Road Gang House” where the Chinese Road Gang bunked when they built the toll road through the rugged San Marcos Pass in 1868. Across from it is the Ojai Jail built by Andrew Van Curen in 1873 and once featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

Over 125 years ago, dusty stagecoaches stopped here at what was then called Cold Spring Relay Station to change teams of horses and allow travelers to rest. They could enjoy one of the most delicious meals in the Old West, according to the help. They say it’s still true today. Imagine a lamp-lit fireside dinner for a romantic evening. Or you can have lunch every day and breakfast on Saturday and Sunday.

The old road gang bunk house where the Chinese who built the toll road through the San Marcos Pass in 1868 lived

The Tavern began operating as a stagecoach stop in 1868. The original structure is believed to have been built in 1860. Ownership early on was not well documented. Records indicate the Doulton family purchased 160 acres, including the Tavern, for $10 in 1900. They transferred ownership in 1907 to the Miramar Corporation which went bankrupt and lost the mortgage in 1934. Caretakers oversaw the property until early 1941.

The Tavern and the 40 acres surrounding was purchased in 1941 by Adelaide Ovington and her daughter Audrey for $2,000. She is known to have said, “I want to buy that door and whatever comes with it!” She was a former actress and writer who ran the Tavern with her daughter until her death in 1972. Adelaide was also the wife of Earle Ovington, a Santa Barbara aviation pioneer and the first United States airmail pilot.

Audrey was a character in her own right. She wrote as well and was sole proprietor until her death in 2005. I remember Audrey being in a writers’ group I belonged to. A third generation now owns the Tavern, Wayne and Joy Ovington Wilson. Travelers now arrive in modern coaches and on weekends they arrive by the dozens on motorcycles also.

One of three rooms in the restaurant
If you don’t pay your bill, they sick the bear on you!

Some fun facts! Audrey built the small building to the side of the Tavern so that children had a place of their own. Charles Schulz visited in 1996 and Audrey asked if it was ok to name it the Charlie Brown House. Schulz replied yes, but when asked if she could add a Snoopy weathervane, he jokingly said he would have to sue her for $100,000. The Tavern first got electricity in 1954, but they still use gas lanterns for their warm glow. After a car ran through the Tavern in 1945, a large rock was placed next to the Tavern which now bears an historical plaque. Original plans to build Highway 154 included burying the Tavern under 125 feet of dirt. Thankfully that idea was too expensive and instead the Cold Spring Bridge was built for $2 million in 1963. The round table in the Long Room is from Gene Autry’s home and was purchased from Doc Sahr in North Hollywood for $25 along with a spittoon and branding irons.

Today cars take the place of stagecoaches but if you look carefully you can still see the ruts from the wagon wheels in the stone along the old pass. And so ended one of the most romantic eras of our American history.

For directions and hours call 805.967.0066 and make some new memories.


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