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State Beach Camping in Santa Barbara
Even in the winter, camping is enjoyable in California if you know where to go. Santa Barbara County offers beautiful beaches, with mild temperatures year-round. If you’re looking to escape the city and spend a few days communing with the waves and the sand, why not check out one of these amazing areas?
There are five state beach campgrounds here, stretching from just above the city of Ventura to just below Point Conception. At each of them, you’ll find a variety of campsites – hike-in, bike-in, group areas, car and tent camping, and RV spots with hookups. Emma Wood offers a primitive experience, while the other four campgrounds offer creature comforts in the form of drinking water, showers, and restrooms. The wind and water provide beauty, and the hiking trails allow for an unparalleled connection with the Mediterranean ecology, which only exists in a few places on planet Earth.
At any of these sites, RVs may be rented from 101 RV Rentals, the only business allowed to work in these parks. This concessionaire will drive the trailer to the campsite of your choice, set it up for you, and then take it back down after your beach weekend is over. There is a three day minimum for all rentals; delivery service can be requested (after campsite reservations are made) by calling (805) 210-7391.
Emma Wood State Beach offers great swimming, fishing, and surfing. The park’s location at the confluence of the Ventura river and the ocean means that you’ll find a variety of wildlife to watch. This campground is next to the railroad line, which means one will see trains and hear their noises. Depending on your interests, this will either be a plus or a minus.
Carpinteria State Beach, twelve miles south of Santa Barbara, has long billed itself as the ‘world’s safest beach.” It’s easy to set up a beach chair and spend the day with a book and a cold drink here, but there are also nearby trails for walking and hiking, swimming, surf fishing, and tidepooling. From December to May, make your way to the seal preserve to observe these animals pupping and raising their babies! Grocery stores in town are within walking distance.
Refugio State Beach, at the north end of Santa Barbara County, is farther removed from civilization. This is a great spot for those interested in fishing, hiking, swimming, surfing, and living out one’s ‘desert island’ dreams – palm trees have been planted throughout to give the area the feel of a far-away dream. During the summer, kayak tours of the area are offered by the State Park Lifeguards organization.
Further north, El Capitan State Beach offers scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as swimming, surfing, hiking, off-road biking, and windsurfing. Rocky tide pools offer glimpses of sea and amphibious life, and the nearby creek allows one to observe the oak and sycamore ecosystem.
Gaviota State Park is at the northern end of this stretch of the 101. The campground offers scuba, snorkeling, and other beach activities. The winds here tend to be high, so while there are tent sites, RV users will be far more comfortable. To make up for this discomfort, the hiking here is difficult but rewarding, offering sweeping views of where the coast curves and first faces south. A boat launch area allows mariners to sail over to Point Conception State Marine Preserve.
While fires are not allowed on the beaches, camping areas offer fire rings, so be sure to bring marshmallows and fixings for S’mores – but remember that this area is prone to wildfires, so never leave fires unattended and triple check to make sure that there are no sparks and that all campfires are completely extinguished. Also, be sure to buy your firewood from the camp hosts - local wood means that you’re not introducing problems in the form of insects, bacteria, or other bioforms that could endanger the local flora and fauna.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of these businesses, and have paid for my camping with my own funds.
Content copyright © 2015 by Korie Beth Brown, Ph.D. . All rights reserved.
This content was written by Korie Beth Brown, Ph.D. . If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Korie Beth Brown, Ph.D. for details.
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