The best part about camping at El Capitán State Beach? It just might be sunset. The campground, perched on a forested bluff above the beach, gives you the best seats in the house for watching the sun settle down into the Santa Barbara Channel. Relax in a camp chair and enjoy an amazing show at the end of an amazing day in paradise.
That bluff perch means you enjoy the best of all worlds at El Cap, about 20 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara. The campsites are like what you’d expect in a forest campground—spacious, and surrounded by oaks and sycamores, with the occasional mule deer or western gray squirrel sighting. All the while, you’re just a few minutes’ walk from the sandy shore. The beach is perfect for relaxing, with waves gentle enough to be family-friendly, and a feeling of seclusion that makes it more private and peaceful than your average beach.
When you feel like a stroll, follow the self-guided nature trail near the park entrance on El Capitán Point through dense groves of coast live oak and sycamore. Or get more adventurous on the strenuous 12-mile (round-trip) Bill Wallace Trail for some amazing coastal views. The trail follows El Capitán Canyon and Creek as it climbs inland into the Santa Ynez Mountains. You may forget you’re at the beach—until you get back, ready to cool off, post-hike.
TIP: Small amounts of tar in the sand (common on Central Coast beaches), can get on your feet and blankets, so leave your best binkies at home. Use mayonnaise or cooking oil to remove tar from your skin, or purchase the tar removal wipes found in the beach general store (which also sells all sorts of treats and supplies).
El Capitán is about 20 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara. Take US-101 to Exit 117 for El Capitán State Beach and head toward the ocean and the park entrance. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance via Reserve California. Day use hours are 8 a.m. to sunset. Dogs are permitted in the campground, but not on the Bill Wallace Trail nor on the beach.