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El Capitan Beach

Santa Barbara, California, United States


NOTE: May 2015 There has been an oil spill near this beach, with wildlife affected, and the beach is closed.
El Capitan Beach is such a nice place to walk! If you walk west towards Refugio Beach there's a secluded feeling and you come across huge caves and cliffs with layers that slant as if the earth's crust was pushed up violently. You can walk all the way to Refugio Beach. The green rolling hills that frame the beach are a pretty change from the look of most Santa Barbara beaches, as is the sand that is soft enough to walk on barefoot! Come prepared though with some vegetable or baby oil and a terry towel because little dollops of tar will stick to your feet.
Last time I walked along El Capitan Beach I saw ten dolphins playing near shore! And I saw a huge crane standing and poking his neck out.
It is wonderful to swim at El Capitan Beach in summer. Tons of kids bring their bodyboards because there are some fantastic glassy breaks near shore. On summer afternoons it's so warm and pleasant here, and the water is warm enough to stay in for a while (It's certainly not tropical though). Check the water quality before you go.
Surfers like the west side of this beach where El Capitan Point creates a classic point break. Right tubes that last longer than anywhere else along the coast make for some fun rides. Rocks create an element of danger though.
Bring a beach umbrella because there's no shade.
There is great camping here, with stairs leading down to the best part of the beach where the caves are. The sites are surrounded by sycamore and oak trees, giving them a woodsy feel. The upper campgrounds are a little too close to the freeway and railroad tracks so try to get a lower one.
A 3-mile bike path follows the cliff from here to Refugio Beach.
The drive to El Capitan is along open road that looks out over the sea! It feels great getting here and getting back! The wooded drive down to the beach from the freeway is romantic, and the walk down the paved path from the parking under the pines is nice too.
If you're hungry, there's a small camp store at the parking lot where you can get ice creams, shave ice, and treats.
Other nearby places to visit are: to the north, Gaviota Beach, with its railroad trestle and classic California feel; Solvang, a touristy yet picturesque Danish town; and to the south, Goleta with its rugged Bacara Resort Beach, pretty Coal Oil Point, and fun Dinosaur Park.

Photo Gallery

Large, smooth stones sit on the sand at El Capitan Beach.

A solitary walk from El Capitan to El Refugio Beach.

A large crane at El Capitan Beach.

Big piles of kelp that look like bowls of spaghetti rest on the sand. I LOVE them!

Hanging out at the entrance to a huge cave!

The wildly slanted rock strata!

Stairway to the campgrounds.

Hanging out at the cave.

Lots of beach fun at El Capitan!


This is an interactive map, you can zoom and move it.

From Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north. It takes about 12 minutes to get to El Capitan Beach. It's the second exit that says El Capitan, the one for El Capitan State Beach. Turn left at the exit and follow the road under the freeway.
It costs $10 per car to park at El Capitan and there isn't anywhere else to park nearby so bring some cash.
There are restrooms and showers right at the beach.
Call 1(800) 444-7275 for camping reservations.
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