Santa Barbara’s beaches are considered to be among the finest stretches of coastline in the world. Not only are they beautiful and easily accessible, they’re also perfect venues for a variety of sports and other activities catering to everything from family-friendly fun to romantic interludes. And because most Santa Barbara beaches are west-facing, they provide front-row and often unobstructed viewing of spectacular sunsets.
A Guide to Santa Barbara Beaches
El Capitan Beach
Because this jewel of Santa Barbara beaches is part of a State Park, beach-goers have access to excellent facilities, including overnight camping, showers, restrooms, picnic tables and grills, and even a small general store on weekends. There is plenty of parking, although it costs $5 whether your stay is a few minutes or a few hours. In addition to the facilities and usual activities such as swimming, surfing, volleyball and so on, this beach offers a wonderful feeling of remoteness, privacy and tranquility.
Location: 17 miles north of Santa Barbara on Hwy. 101. Look for the signs for El Capitan State Park.
Nearly 30 acres of beach and park comprise Goleta Beach County Park, sandwiched between Santa Barbara and the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus. There is something for everyone at this popular spot, including plenty of sand, expanses of grass, picnic facilities and paved trails for walking and bicycles.
Of all the Santa Barbara beaches, this is the only one with a non-commercial fishing pier, and is one of three with its own restaurant and snack bar. In addition to swimming, sunning, picnicking and people watching, Goleta Beach offers children’s playgrounds, restrooms, areas for volleyball and horseshoes, boating and a jet ski ramp.
The large, free parking lot attests to this beach’s popularity, especially with families and university students.
Location: Hollister Ave. to Sandspit Rd. OR Hwy 101 to Hwy 217 (to airport), then exit at Sandspit Rd.
Arroyo Burro (“Hendry’s”) Beach
Centrally located at the intersection of Cliff Drive and Las Positas Road, this is one of the most popular of all Santa Barbara beaches. This stretch of oceanfront attracts couples out for a romantic stroll, families seeking a spacious sandy playground, surfers, and dog lovers and their pets who enjoy the canine camaraderie plentiful at the beach’s off-leash area. In fact, this is such a dog-friendly favorite that canines have their own washing and grooming station.
While it is officially named “Arroyo Burro,” the stretch of shoreline carries the local’s moniker “Hendry’s,” referring to Anne Hendry, a Scottish immigrant whose family farmed nearby land from 1890 to 1919 or so.
The beach lies adjacent to tony Hope Ranch, an exclusive residential enclave, and is in the cliff-side shadow of the Douglas Family Preserve, a pristine plot of publicly accessible fields, woodlands and trails.
Outdoor showers, restrooms and a grassy area with barbecue grills and picnic tables add to the appeal, and a beachside restaurant, The Boathouse, offers breakfast, lunch and dinner just a few yards from the sand and surf.
Location: One block past intersection of Las Positas Rd. and Cliff Dr. OR HWY 101 to Las Positas Rd. (away from mountains), to Cliff Dr. Turn right on Cliff Dr.
When the Santa Barbara Harbor breakwater was constructed in the 1920′s, it slowed the natural north-south migration of sand along the Santa Barbara coast. Above the harbor, that sand created Leadbetter Beach, now one of the most popular beachfront recreation spots in the area. Beginner and intermediate surfers enjoy the usually gentle swell of the beach’s point break. Especially during the summer, when winds are the most consistent, windsurfers and kite surfers join the fun.
A large parking lot is convenient not only to this central Santa Barbara beach, but also to the adjacent park-like grassy area hosting picnic facilities, restrooms and outdoor showers as well as the Shoreline Beach Cafe.
Location: Take Cabrillo Blvd. (along the Santa Barbara waterfront) just past the Santa Barbara Harbor.
This broad expanse of sand rests between the Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearn’s Wharf, just across Cabrillo Boulevard from several beachfront hotels. Since it meets the ocean near the mouth of the harbor, it is not really a swimming beach, but it offers a good vantage point for watching boats come and go, and provides a front-row seat for the spectacular fireworks display on the Fourth of July.
Location: Take State Street to Cabrillo Blvd. Turn right on Cabrillo Blvd. The beach is on the left.
Acres of sand, over a mile of ocean access, social and recreational facilities, plenty of parking and convenience to Santa Barbara’s beachfront hotels make this the city’s “front yard” beach. It is always easily accessible and is as safe and clean as any public beach can be. In the summer months, it benefits from regular grooming and a contingent of lifeguards.
One of the most popular Santa Barbara beaches, East Beach is bordered by a grassy, palm tree-lined park that hosts a festive Sunday open-air arts and crafts show and sale as well as frequent, impromptu soccer games and lively drum circles. A paved path comfortably accommodates joggers, bicyclists and skaters.
The wonderful 1920′s vintage Cabrillo Pavilion and Bathhouse sits proudly near the south end of East Beach. Popular and versatile, the historic building offers a restaurant and snack bar, showers, lockers, a weight room, children’s play area and even a lovely banquet and meeting facility overlooking the ocean and Channel Islands. A dozen beach volleyball courts, picnic tables and grills are nearby.
Location: Take State Street to Cabrillo Blvd. Left on Cabrillo Blvd. The beach is on the right beyond the entire stretch of grassy, park-like frontage and extends all the way down Cabrillo Blvd. to the volleyball courts.
Butterfly, Hammonds & Miramar Beaches
One of the most prestigious stretches of sand on the entire West Coast, this continuous swath of Montecito beach has been a playground for the well-heeled and the well-known since the 1920′s. Extending from the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel on the north, to Fernald Point on the south, it offers a sun-soaked setting convenient to Montecito’s Coast Village Road and multi-million-dollar beachfront estates.
Although these three contiguous beaches can narrow significantly at high tide, at low tide you can stroll from the Butterfly cliffs just north of the Biltmore, past the exclusive Coral Casino Beach Club, on to Hammonds and Miramar Beaches and beyond to Fernald Point, where $30 million will buy you a spectacular oceanfront manor.
There is plenty of fun and recreation here as well. Surfers know Hammonds for its superior waves, groups of young locals (looking like they just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue) toss Frisbees, footballs and flirty glances, while joggers and walkers appreciate the safe and serene, lengthy and unimpeded venue.
Butterfly Beach is perhaps best-known, however, for its spectacular sunsets. As the most west-facing Santa Barbara beach, it is ideally situated to capture the visual rewards and romantic ambiance of what is, for many locals and visitors alike, the ultimate twilight ritual. Add the frequent site of dolphins putting on their graceful, playful show just offshore, and you have a postcard ending to a perfect Santa Barbara day.
Location: Butterfly Beach: Coast Village Rd. or Hwy 101 to Olive Mill Rd. Turn away from the mountains on Olive Mill Rd.; Hammonds & Miramar Beaches: Hwy. 101 to San Ysidro Rd. Turn toward the beach and continue to end (Eucalyptus Ln.).
One of the easiest stretches of sand among Santa Barbara beaches, Summerland Beach is just a block off Highway 101. Not only is it convenient, it is also user-friendly and fun. The beach rests below Lookout Park, a lovely oasis of green lawn dotted with picnic tables, barbecues, and playground equipment for the kids. A paved walkway leads to the mile-long expanse of beach, which, at low tide, connects with Fernald Point and the beautiful Montecito beaches to the north, and extends to Loon Point on the south. It’s hard to imagine that Summerland Beach was home to a forest of wooden oil derricks a century ago.
Location: Hwy. 101 to Summerland (Evans St.) exit. Turn toward the beach and enter Lookout Park.
Carpinteria (State & City) Beaches
When one of the most popular beaches in the entire California State Parks system neighbors a stretch of sand as well-cared-for and user-friendly as Carpinteria’s City Beach, the result is over a contiguous mile of broad, well-groomed and gently-sloping pleasure.
Carpinteria City Beach rests at the end of Linden Avenue, which runs through the town’s business hub, making the beach convenient to restaurants, shops and other amenities. Walking is easy, but there is also a waterfront shuttle.
Carpinteria State Beach Park provides camping and RV hook-ups as well as skate and bicycle rentals. There is also a visitor’s center with a model tide pool and plenty of information on this area’s rich history.
Both beaches offer plenty of sand and grass for volleyball, Frisbee and other beach-friendly activities, as well as restrooms, picnic tables, barbecue grills, and much more. Seals and sea lions are plentiful and fun to watch, as are the gray whales that occasionally glide by. Tide pools provide seaside stages for education and entertainment with a cast of characters that includes sea urchins and anemones, starfish, snails, crabs and other marine critters.
Because the beaches and their adjacent park facilities are so popular, there are usually crowds. But the amenities and pleasant, festive atmosphere make the number of people seem insignificant.
Location: City Beach: Hwy. 101 to Linden Ave. exit. Follow Linden Ave. through town to the beach; State Beach: Hwy. 101 to Casitas Pass Rd. exit. Casitas Pass Rd. to right on Carpinteria Ave., then left on Palm Ave. Follow Palm Ave. to the beach.
There is Rincon Beach, and then there is “The Rincon.” Rincon Beach and the small day-use park above it can be a relaxing venue for a picnic, a casual stroll on the sand or a swim. It offers restrooms, picnic tables and relatively easy access down the cliff to the shore.
“The Rincon,” as the significant point break next door is called, is a different story. Recognized worldwide as one of the West Coast’s premier (and sometimes dangerous) expert surfing spots, this has been, and is, a training ground for some of the surfing scene’s finest. Getting to the water’s edge here can be a bit tricky, and requires some navigating of driftwood, rocks and small boulders. The trek can be worth it, however, if one is content to keep a bit of distance and watch some of the best surfers and surfing in California.
Location: Hwy 101 to Bates Rd. exit. Take Bates Rd. to the beach parking lot.
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