Santa Paula (Spanish for “St. Paula“) is a city in Ventura County, California. Situated amid the orchards of the Santa Clara River Valley, the city advertises itself to tourists as the “Citrus Capital of the World”. Santa Paula was one of the early centers of California’s petroleum industry. The Union Oil Company Building, the founding headquarters of the Union Oil Company of California in 1890, now houses the California Oil Museum.
The population was 30,657 at the 2020 census, up from 29,321 at the 2010 census. The area of what today is Santa Paula was originally inhabited by the Chumash, a Native American people. In 1769, the Spanish Portola expedition, the first Europeans to see inland areas of California, came down the Santa Clara River Valley from the previous night’s encampment near Fillmore and camped in the vicinity of Santa Paula on August 12, near one of the creeks coming into the valley from the north (most likely Santa Paula Creek). Fray Juan Crespi, a Franciscan missionary traveling with the expedition, had previously named the valley Cañada de Santa Clara. He noted that the party traveled about 9 to 10 miles that day and camped near a large native village, which he named San Pedro Amoliano. The site of the expedition’s arrival has been designated California Historical Landmark No. 727.
Franciscan missionaries, led by Father Junipero Serra, became active in the area after the founding of the San Buenaventura Mission and established an Asistencia; the town takes its name from the Catholic Saint Paula. Santa Paula is located on the 1843 Rancho Santa Paula y Saticoy Mexican land grant.
In 1872 Nathan Weston Blanchard purchased 2,700 acres (10.9 km2) and laid out the townsite. Considered the founder of the community, he planted seedling orange trees in 1874. Several small oil companies owned by Wallace Hardison, Lyman Stewart and Thomas R. Bard were combined and became the Union Oil Company in 1890.
Santa Paula was incorporated in April 1902. Lewis Arthur Hardison was the first mayor.
The large South Mountain Oil Field southeast of town, just across the Santa Clara River, was discovered by the Oak Ridge Oil Company in 1916, and developed methodically through the 1920s, bringing further economic diversification and growth to the area.
While the field peaked in production in the 1950s, Occidental Petroleum continues to extract oil through its Vintage Production subsidiary and remains a significant local employer.
A major expansion began in 2016 when construction started on a 500-acre (200 ha) master-planned community of 1,500 homes.