Donna Polizzi: Sand, Sun and Seals Part of Carpinteria’s Small-Town Charm, Big-Time Appeal

There’s something for everyone amid the laid-back atmosphere of a classic California beach community.

It can be reinvigorating to step away from the busy-ness of life long enough to enjoy the unlimited treasures that are around every corner of every city on the Central Coast. Many of us, even those of us lucky enough to live in the midst of paradise, benefit by taking the time to explore the richness that abounds here.

It truly is a remarkable region, with breathtaking vistas, fun shopping, a tasting room everywhere you look, and so much to do that it would take numerous books to cover it all. And that’s why I drove down to Carpinteria the other day for a much-need break from work.

Several years ago, while living in Santa Barbara, I worked in the Carpinteria Valley. I didn’t realize it then, but I missed out big time because I never took the time to stroll through the 52-acre protected area that is now known as the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve or the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve. So I started there.

My hike began at the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Park, at Sandyland Road and Ash Avenue. The picturesque, winding wood-plank path was lined with beautiful green plants and wildflowers that led to a sandy beach adjacent to the park.
The land was so peaceful and quiet. I could hear birds chirping, nearby waves crashing, but not much more. I’m a nature lover, and for a few hours, I slowed down long enough to relax, reflect and take pictures to capture the moments.

A mile or so to the east, the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve on eastern Carpinteria Avenue provides a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean and the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary.

It was so much more than I expected. The ocean sparkled in the deepest blue imaginable.

To add to my delight, I discovered that January through May is the season when the harbor seals give birth to their pups on Carpinteria State Beach. At the time I visited, there were 63 new pups!

The bluffs are the perfect place to view these adorable wing-footed mammals. The Channel Islands were the backdrop, and they seemed close enough to hit with a pebble. Large yellow wildflowers dotted the landscape and fragrant eucalyptus filled the crisp, clean air.

Linden Avenue, downtown Carpinteria’s main street, has the feel of a classic small beach town. It’s the perfect place to stroll after a hike. This charming street leads directly to the beach and is lined with a variety of restaurants, wine-tasting rooms and specialty shops crammed with antiques, crafts, art and history.

Linden Avenue is also home to Robitaille’s, a candy shop at 900 Linden Ave. whose claim to fame is providing mints to President Ronald Reagan.

Island Brew Company, at 5049 Sixth St. just off Linden Avenue, is where locals hang out to end their day with a cold micro-brew and some lively conversation.

I confess to being a foodie and to loving Mexican food, and Carpinteria doesn’t disappoint. I enjoyed lunch at Delgado’s Mexican Restaurant, 4401 Carpinteria Ave. This family-owned cantina has been there for decades and has some of the best cheese enchiladas I’ve ever had.

A local shared that Delgado’s is also known for its huge margaritas and reasonable prices. Few things rival sitting out on the patio with friends in beautiful, year-round weather, munching on chips and salsa while enjoying a generously prepared margarita.

Sandlyland Road is a quintessential beachfront street, filled with charming rentals that you can reserve for a night or a week. A few blocks to the east is the popular state campground, located right on what is affectionately known as “The World’s Safest Beach.”

The Tomol Interpretive Play Area and picnic area is right next to it. You can’t find a better place for a family to have fun, relax and play together. And nearby Linden Field makes throwing a Frisbee while enjoying the ocean breeze an absolute must.

Carpinteria is the southern gateway to Santa Barbara County. It is home to some of the Central Coast’s most valuable, protected environmental resources. Enjoying the natural habitat and the plethora of interesting things to do in the 2½-square-mile town are the ingredients for a delightful getaway.

I snuck away for a few hours, and it wasn’t near enough. Next time I go, I think I’ll take Amtrak and stay for a long weekend.

One day away can rejuvenate the soul, give perspective and refresh us in ways that change our course for the better. So take a break, get up and get out there!

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a Central Coast travel resource providing members with a customized list of recommendations on the best places that locals want to go.

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