A buried archaeological site at Tecolote Canyon provides an ideal case study for relating past human land use patterns to changes in coastal paleogeography. Postglacial sea level transgression, erosion, and other marine and fluvial processes form the context for examining two deeply buried archaeological components excavated at CA-SBA-72. Archaeological shellfish assemblages provide proxy data for evaluating the evolution of local marine environments. Pismo clams dominate shellfish assemblages dated to 5800 cal yr B.P., suggesting the presence of a broad and sandy, high-energy beach environment. At 5500 cal yr B.P., the almost exclusive use of California mussels by humans signals the development of rocky intertidal habitats. During the late Holocene, estuarine species dominate the marine mollusk assemblages at CA-SBA-72, reflecting the development of local estuarine conditions or trade with nearby Goleta Slough villages. The buried components at Tecolote Canyon appear to have served as temporary camps for shellfish harvesting and processing. While general changes in coastal paleogeography and human subsistence have been reconstructed for the Santa Barbara Coast, high resolution ecological data from Tecolote Canyon suggest that Native peoples also adapted to localized and shorter-term shifts in intertidal habitats, changes not evident in most larger or more disturbed surface sites in the region. Linking these changes with shifts in human land use patterns highlights the interaction between humans and a dynamic coastal system. These data demonstrate the importance of small, buried sites in understanding the full spectrum of human subsistence and settlement choices and local environmental change. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.