Refugio Beach

Santa Barbara, CA

There's a nice, secluded feeling at Refugio Beach. It is located along a gorgeous stretch of open highway north of Goleta. The drive to the beach is almost as good as the beach itself! You pass golden-green rolling hills that lead down to the sea. Once at the beach, you can walk around the headland to the west and check out the tidepools. At low tide, you can see huge, pink starfish just below the water line. The lawn above the west end of the beach is a good place for large gatherings. Banana palms add a pretty effect here. The main section of the beach does not have bluffs like other Santa Barbara beaches, because the Refugio Creek has cut them away. Something about this and the abundance of canary palms give Refugio beach an old-style California feel.
The only thing this beach has working against it is that sometimes in winter there are lots and lots of sandflies that keep nipping your legs and driving you CRAZY! The more seaweed washed up on shore the more chance of sandflies.
Like other beaches in Santa Barbara, it can be super foggy in early summer or any month of the year, especially in the morning. One November morning we came here, you could hardly see right in front of you!
The swimming at the eastern end of the beach is great, though ice cold, in the late summer. It's a fun scene in summer with tons of kids from the campground bodyboarding and having a blast!
Walk up above the lagoon and enjoy the elevated view. There is a shady picnic table where you can stay a while.
To camp here, you must book ahead 7 months on the first day of the month- those who call in the first fifteen minutes get a spot. During the summer, a three-week Junior Lifeguard program is offered here for kids.
There is a short hike on the bluffs at the west end of the beach. The views are wonderful and it's a pleasant addition to your beach day.
You can also walk to the east all the way to El Capitan Beach past caves and meadow-covered cliffs, at low tide. You can also run or walk on a paved running path above the ocean all the way to El Capitan Beach. It is steep in parts, and one section is closed (you have to go around it in the bushes). 
Some people drive south from Refugio Beach and park along the freeway. They then cross the railroad tracks and take a little trail, crossing the running path, down to the beach, for a more private beach and free parking. It's a little iffy, though, pulling off onto the side of the freeway.
Other nearby places to visit are: to the north, Gaviota Beach, with its high railroad trestle; Solvang, a touristy yet picturesque Danish town; and Nojoqui Falls, a short stunning walk to a thin waterfall.

Continue to directions...

Surfer on a foggy November morning at Refugio Beach.

Foggy day at Refugio Beach- looking down on the beach from the hike on the western headland.

Canary palm above Refugio beach.

Summer afternoon at Refugio Beach.

Tons of people having a great day in the sun!

A mom and son. "Take a photo of me, Mom!"

California dreaming...

Kids playing at the shore.

Sand and sea.

Sunset at a little beach just south of Refugio Beach, accessed via a little trail off the running path that goes from Refugio to El Capitan.

Looking toward Goleta.

Magical little spot just south of Refugio Beach.

The lagoon at Refugio Beach. Photo by Suemae Lin Willhite.

Man sitting in the shade looking out over the lagoon. Photo by Suemae Lin Willhite.

Refugio Beach is located at 10 Refugio Beach Rd, Goleta CA 93117.
Exit Highway 101 at the Refugio Beach exit (13 miles north of Goleta and 20 miles south of Solvang) and turn towards the coast. Parking costs $10 per car. To park for free, park along the road before you get to the booth and walk down to the beach.
There are restrooms and showers (25 cents for a hot shower by the campground). There are lifeguards during summer.
Call 1(800) 444-7275 for camping reservations.


2010-08-20 23:38:00



2010-01-29 21:06:00

nice surf recently! )


2009-10-23 03:38:00

Refugio is a beautiful beach, and the favorite of many, many Californians. I really enjoyed my stay.)


2009-10-01 21:38:00

I miss the smell of beach tar.)


2009-09-20 03:55:00

A beautiful beach. Come early in the morning in winter and catch the sunrise. )

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