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The most dramatic event of the Spanish period was the powerful 1812 earthquake, and tsunami, with an estimated magnitude of 7.1, which destroyed the Mission as well as the rest of the town; water reached as high as present-day Anapamu street, and carried a ship half a mile up Refugio Canyon.Following the earthquake, the Mission fathers chose to rebuild in a grander manner, and it is this construction that survives to the present day, the best-preserved of the California Missions.They help to build up the town so they were honored by naming not only streets after them, but the dining commons at UCSB are also named after them.

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Evidence for a Paleoindian presence includes a fluted Clovis-like point found in the 1980s along the western Santa Barbara County coast, as well as the remains of Arlington Springs Man, found on Santa Rosa Island in the 1960s.

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Chumash lived on the south coast of Santa Barbara County at the time of the first European explorations. The present-day area of Santa Barbara City College was the village of Mispu; the site of the El Baño pool (along west beach, was the village of Syukhtun, chief Yanonalit's large village located between Bath and Chapala streets; Amolomol was at the mouth of Mission Creek; and Swetete, above the bird refuge.

Portuguese explorer João Cabrilho (Spanish: Cabrillo), sailing for the Kingdom of Spain, sailed through what is now called the Santa Barbara Channel in 1542, anchoring briefly in the area.

In 1602, Spanish maritime explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno gave the name "Santa Barbara" to the channel and also to one of the Channel Islands.

Education in particular is well represented, with four institutions of higher learning on the south coast (the University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara City College, Westmont College, and Antioch University). Highway 101 connects the Santa Barbara area with Los Angeles to the southeast and San Francisco to the northwest.

The Santa Barbara Airport serves the city, as does Amtrak. Behind the city, in and beyond the Santa Ynez Mountains, is the Los Padres National Forest, which contains several remote wilderness areas.Santa Barbara street names reflect this time period as well.The names de le Guerra and Carrillo come from citizens of the town of this time.The Mission fathers began the slow work of converting the native Chumash to Christianity, building a village for them on the Mission grounds.The Chumash laborers built a connection between the canyon creek and the Santa Barbara Mission water system through the use of a dam and an aqueduct.Santa Barbara (Spanish for "Saint Barbara") is the county seat of Santa Barbara County in the U. Santa Barbara's climate is often described as Mediterranean, and the city has been promoted as the "American Riviera".