The Santa Paula area was first settled by the Chumash tribe of Native Americans approximately 10,000 years ago. European exploration of the region began with the arrival of Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who sailed the California coast in 1542. Gaspar de Portola, former Spanish governor of Baja California, led an expedition through the area for the Spanish Crown in 1769 and recorded the presence of the Chumash village of Mupu at the site of present-day Santa Paula.
The Santa Paula area was incorporated into a series of Spanish and Mexican land grants beginning in 1795, the last being Rancho Santa Paula y Saticoy. In 1862 ownership of the rancho passed into the hands of George Briggs, who began to subdivide it and sell it in parcels to farmers. The Santa Paula town site was laid out by Nathan Blanchard and E. L. Bradley in 1873 (later incorporated in 1902). The following year, Blanchard planted the first orange trees west of town. When the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1887, he began shipping oranges by rail around the country. Oil pioneers Wallace Hardison and Lyman Stewart moved to town in 1886 and began California’s earliest oil production in nearby canyons. This began Santa Paula’s long history in oil and agriculture. The early wealth created by these industries built many of the historic and cultural attractions of the city.