In 1882, Vail and his family moved to Santa Barbara, California. There he played an active role in the family's ranch on Santa Rosa Island, today part of the Channel Islands National Park. He also became a director of both the First National and Commerical Bank fo Santa Barbara, and served as president of both a real estate holding company and the Library Building Company. He also continued his public service on the boards of the local hospital and library which allowed him to play a major role in the establishment of an adequately accessible hospital and the construction of both a public library and National History Museum.
Vail became known throughout Santa Barbara as a "volunteer weatherman" because of his extensive meteorological research on the area and his constant desire to share this wealth of knowledge with the community. He frequently published articles and sent letters to the editor of the local Santa Barbara newspapers regarding weather, nature, and astronomy. His interest in astronomy, and he continued his observations of celestial phenomena during his life out west. Vail lived in Santa Barbara until his death in 1900.