The Rancho Nuestra Señora del Refugio was a 26,529-acre (107.36 km2) Spanish land grant to José Francisco Ortega in 1794 and is the only land grant made under Spanish rule in what is today Santa Barbara County, California. A Mexican title was granted to Antonio Maria Ortega in 1834 by Mexican Governor José Figueroa. The grant extended along the Pacific coast from Cojo Canyon east of Point Conception, past Arroyo Hondo and Tajiguas Canyon, to Refugio Canyon, and encompassed present day Gaviota.
The first European visitors to California were Spanish maritime explorers led by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who sailed up and down the coast in 1542. Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno again sailed along the California coast in 1602. Spanish ships associated with the Manila Galleon trade probably made emergency stops along the coast during the next 167 years, but no permanent settlements were established.