Santa Barbara Beaches North: Goleta, El Capitan, Refugio and Gaviota
North of Santa Barbara, the coastline grows gradually wild and windswept, leaving Southern California's arid sunniness behind.
That debuts at the 29-acre Goleta Beach County Park, which still close to the city proper, has its share of palm trees. It also offers grass picnic areas, barbeques and the Goleta Beach Pier. Swimming is popular here. A playground and hiking trails make it fun for groups and children.
It's close enough to the city to be convenient for downtown
Santa Barbara hotels,
perfect for a day at the beach and then
Seventeen miles north you'll find the popular camping spot El Capitan State Beach, 168 acres of beach, and dune trails flanked by a stately sentinel of giant sycamores.
Surfers especially love the swell off El Capitan Point, but swimmers and fishermen love it here, too. You'll see seals and sea lions offshore, and a three-mile hiking and bike trail along the bluffs and highway leads to Refugio State Beach, just up the road.
Refugio (the "g" is hard as in "goo") is popular for fishing, camping and picnics. The beach itself nestles in a small cove, with palm trees lining either side of the mouth of Refugio Creek. But the entire park offers 2,700 acres to explore, all with a striking view of the westernmost sweep of Southern California.
Up the road 13 more miles, where U.S. Highway 101 turns inland, Gaviota State Park arguably marks the last stand of the public Southern California coast. Beyond it lays Point Conception and the central coast.
It's easy to know you've reached Gaviota: A tall railroad trestle crosses Gaviota Creek, a landmark familiar to fans of the movie Sideways, where the character Miles moped after learning a publisher rejected his book.
Winds buffet Gaviota, but swimmers, picnickers, campers and scuba divers come in strong numbers. But it is also a popular boat launching point for surfers who motor in rubber inflatable Zodiac boats farther up the coast.
Scuba divers use the boat launch in equal numbers, and Gaviota Pier draws fishermen. Away from the beach, a trail winds up to 2,500-foot Gaviota Peak (six miles round-trip) for a dramatic view of the coast. Another trail leads to Gaviota Hot Spring, an all-natural sauna for the trail-weary.