Skip to content

Santa Barbara

El Capitan State Beach

Santa Barbara Beach

There’s something refreshing and rewarding about falling asleep beneath the stars, while pebbles poking through your sleeping bag and gusts of wind that threaten to flatten your tent can’t negate that.  For my family, the allure of camping is heightened by the promise of waking up to the sound of waves breaking against the shore. That is one of the many reasons why camping at El Capitan State Beach is one of the best places to rise and shine.

Undeniably, Santa Barbara County has incredible beaches and El Capitan State Beach is stunning. This beautiful, sandy beach, with rocky tide pools, is surrounded by oak and sycamore trees. This gem of a destination is only 17 miles north of Santa Barbara and gives visitors the chance to camp, hike, surf, beachcomb, and birdwatch.

Steve Crawford, a Facilities Engineer for ExxonMobil, is one of the many people that agree that “El Capitan State Beach is one of the most locally loved beaches in Santa Barbara County.  Steve shared, “We’re lucky to have it here in our backyard. A lot of people that work in the area frequent the beach during the week, either at lunch or after work. ExxonMobil is one of the top employers in the area, and when I’m at El Capitan State Beach, I constantly run into co-workers or other locals; we have a small, tight-knit community.  A lot of ExxonMobil employees also eat lunch at the glamping spot, just behind El Capitan State Beach—El Capitan Canyon.  The establishment has wonderful food and a huge array of choices given its size and remoteness.”

Things to do at El Capitan State Beach

El Capitan State Beach visitors can enjoy numerous recreational pursuits. Make your way through the woodlands on El Capitan Point, or if you want a longer hike, the Bill Wallace Trail provides hikers with over ten miles of views, with a 1,000-foot elevation gain. If you decide to hike along the beach, be mindful and consult a tide chart first. The beach that exists at low tide, may quickly disappear when the tide rolls in, trapping you against the cliffs. You can also hop on the bike path next to the campground for a peaceful ride along the coast. The path leads to Refugio State Beach and provides stunning vistas along the way.

If you prefer to be on the water, you’re definitely in the right place. Though the surf varies with the weather, at low tide during fall and winter, advanced surfers are known to find the perfect west or west-southwest swell. Fishing, walking along the shore, swimming, and playing in the sand, are also popular pastimes when camping at El Capitan State Beach. There’s also a day-use area at the park with horseshoe pits, picnic tables, hiking trails, charcoal grills, a general store, and access to the beach.

Camping at El Capitan State Beach

Can’t get enough of the fascinating place? We don’t blame you. Well, the good news is you can spend as much time here as you’d like, if you decide to camp. The campground at El Capitan State Beach has over 130 standard sites and is nestled on a low bluff, just above the ocean. Eight people and a maximum of three vehicles are allowed at each campsite. Each site is outfitted with a picnic table and a fire ring with a grill. There are restrooms with hot showers nearby. If you are traveling in an RV, there are a few paved sites that can accommodate a motorhome up to 42-feet-long. There are also five group camping areas that can fit between 40 and 100 people. To ensure that you’re able to get a spot at this year-round campground, feel free to book a site in advance.

There are basic amenities at the campground that can make you feel a bit more comfortable when camping at El Capitan State Beach. There are coin-operated showers, flush toilets and potable water. If you forgot something at home, check to see if it’s in stock at the general store. But the most appealing amenity, of course, is the beach and the view. The ocean below can be accessed via a stairwell leading from the bluffs and the campground down to the shore.

Glamping at El Capitan State Beach

Safari Tent

If you don’t feel like roughing it in a tent, El Capitan State Beach has the reputation of providing one of the most magical glamping experiences in the state. El Capitan Canyon has over 100 cabins and safari tents, which occupy the lush and leafy hillside compound. But despite the presence of other cabins and campers, you still get this feeling of privacy that is unparalleled.

There are several kinds of accommodations you can choose when glamping at El Capitan State Beach. There are basic canvas tents on wooden platforms and more ornate arrangements, like cedar cabins with bathrooms and kitchenettes. If you want to ultimate stargazing opportunity, there are yurts with domed skylights. All of these are situated along a winding road in the hilly portion of the state beach.

Guests also have access to complimentary cruiser bikes, and if you’re interested in arranging a surf lesson, whale watching excursion, kayaking trip, or wine tasting, the staff at the park can help you do that as well.

Fellow Travelers at El Capitan State Beach

Kayaking in Santa Barbara

Stands of live Oaks, Willows, and Sycamores along El Capitan Creek, create a lush, coastal woodland. An abundance of wildlife call these woodlands home. The Oaks provide food for dozens of species, including mule deer, western gray squirrels, band-tailed pigeons, scrub jays, raccoons and flickers, while the Sycamores and Willows provide shade.

Camping atop the bluffs gives visitors a perfect view of the water. California gray whales are sometimes seen during their annual migrations, while dolphins are a common sighting. The beach draws multiple species of seabirds. From your tent, you can watch as gulls, plovers, willets and sanderlings walk the beach and gracefully skim the shore.

But make sure you keep your eyes peeled for Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes, Great Basin Fence Lizards and various rodents as you hike and explore. These little critters make their home in the sage scrub and beneath the shelter of the woodlands canopy, grasses and herbaceous plants.

If you opt for glamping, that part of the park has goats, sheep and a donkey. However, because El Capitan State Beach is designated as a wildlife corridor, in an effort to protect local wildlife, pets are not allowed throughout the canyon.

El Capitan State Beach is a spectacular place, and it’s hard to take in all that the park has to offer in a matter of hours. That’s why camping at El Capitan State Beach is so popular. It gives you the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the scenic surroundings, connect with wildlife, and unplug and relax. Whether you choose the stay in a tent at the campground or opt for more luxurious accommodations, like the cabins or yurts, we guarantee that camping at El Capitan State Beach is something you’ll never forget.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.