The Ultimate Guide to the Best Beaches in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is renowned for its beautiful beaches and Mediterranean style architecture. With over 20 miles of coastline, there is no shortage of spectacular sandy stretches to explore. From secluded coves tucked away on private estates to lively surfing hotspots and family-friendly shores, the area offers stunning beaches to suit every taste. Table of Contents…

The Ultimate Guide to Best Beaches In Santa Barbara [year]

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Santa Barbara is renowned for its beautiful beaches and Mediterranean style architecture. With over 20 miles of coastline, there is no shortage of spectacular sandy stretches to explore. From secluded coves tucked away on private estates to lively surfing hotspots and family-friendly shores, the area offers stunning beaches to suit every taste.

In this article, we’ll take you on an in-depth tour of Santa Barbara’s beaches. You’ll discover everything you need to know about each one so you can easily choose your perfect spot to soak up the sun.

We’ll cover all the must-see beaches, highlighting what makes each unique. You’ll learn insider tips from the best activities, parking, amenities and scenic outlooks at every shore. Get ready to uncover the cream of the crop with this ultimate local’s guide to Santa Barbara’s wonderful beaches!

An Overview of Santa Barbara’s Fabulous Beaches

With a privileged position facing south towards the Channel Islands, Santa Barbara enjoys a mild year-round climate ideal for full days spent at the beach.

Temperatures average 70°F – 80°F from June through October making these the best months to visit. In the winter lows remain pleasant at around 60°F. Santa Ana winds sometimes blow in September and October which are lovely warm spells, though these do stir up wildfire risks.

Beaches in Santa Barbara tend to be quite calm with gentle waves, making many spots family-friendly. However the unusual east-west orientation of the coastline means it is still possible find decent surf breaks, especially on the south-facing beaches.

You’ll discover a great variety, ranging from lively social hubs to hidden remote gems tucked beneath cliffs and exclusive hideaways on private estates.

While the urban State Street area offers boutique shops and eateries, the suburbs of Montecito and Carpinteria also provide refined upscale neighborhoods to explore.

There is an excellent network of walking and biking paths along almost the entire coastline. These neatly link most of the shoreline attractions and parks.

It is also possible visit some beaches and nature reserves only accessible via kayak or by hiking through the local’s secret coastal trails.

Santa Barbara County maintains many excellent parks and beaches which offer great value facilities like parking lots, restrooms, play areas, concession stands, volleyball nets and picnic tables.

Other stretches feature no amenities and belong to private mansions with no public access. Even neighbors may not know these hidden beaches exist!

To avoid disappointment, make sure you join us on this insider’s tour to discover exactly how to uncover the beaches below and the best ways to access and enjoy them. Let’s get started!

13 Best Beaches in Santa Barbara

1. Butterfly Beach

Butterfly beach along Channel Drive in Santa Barbara, California.
Butterfly beach along Channel Drive in Santa Barbara, California
  • Location: Channel Drive, Montecito
  • Highlights: Stunning coastal views, privacy
  • Activities: Sunbathing, swimming, scenic walks, surfing, paddle-boarding

Nestled beneath palatial mansions built into the cliffs, Butterfly Beach feels intimate and secluded thanks to its tucked away setting at the end of a residential street. This is one of the best places for uninterrupted privacy while sunbathing au naturel!

Despite the exclusivity, there is free public street parking along Channel Drive. You may need to arrive early as spaces are limited. Alternatively try Margaret Way just inland, though you’ll need to descend 111 steps from there.


Tours & Things to do hand-picked by our insiders


Once down on the sand you’ll discover a surprisingly wide beach stretching nearly three quarters of a mile. The eastern end tends to attract families as an informal kids pool forms there at low tide.

In contrast, the far western stretch is better known for adult nude sunbathing. Be aware several mansions have direct views from their terraces above.

The protective cove creates unusually calm waters making Butterfly Beach ideal even for weak or novice swimmers. Walk out up to 150 yards and you still may not be over your knees.

At high tide when the sand disappears, two concrete boat ramps make excellent free “docks” for sunbathing or easy ocean access. Their height keeps you well above waves.

During spring wildflowers bloom on the cliffs attracting butterflies, giving the beach its unusual name. Summer often brings reef sharks and bat rays close to shore seeking warmer shallow spots for breeding. Keep kids and pets away from the waters edge at dusk when sharks feed.

As well as great swimming and sunbathing, several surf breaks work well for longboarders around mid to high tides. Beach walkers can continue over 1.5 miles west below the bluffs to peaceful Sea Cloud Park. Just be aware trails disappear completely at a few points along the cliffs.

There are no facilities at Butterfly Beach so bring plenty water. The nearby Four Seasons Resort only allows patrons to use their restrooms. A 15 minute walk east leads to the upscale Biltmore Hotel which sells day passes allowing fine dining and restroom access.

To reach Butterfly Beach take Exit 94 off Highway 101 into Montecito following Channel Drive south through the unspoiled beach community to the public parking.


2. East Beach

R.A Apffel Park in East beach
R.A Apffel Park in East beach
  • Location: East Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara
  • Highlights: Beach volleyball, range of facilities, lively social scene
  • Activities: Swimming, surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, sunbathing

Offering the largest stretch of sand in Santa Barbara, popular East Beach runs almost two miles east along Cabrillo Boulevard from the harbor mouth to Ledbetter Point.

The main central section is a buzzing recreational hub with concert stages, kids play areas, designated barbeque zones and the historic Bath Street art colonnade.

You’ll also enjoy East Beach Grille serving burgers and seafood right on the sand. East Beach has pretty much all city conveniences nearby.

The far eastern end sees fewer tourists and more locals, surfers and Santa Barbara City College students. Spread out here for comparatively peaceful beach combing.

Around the point, butterfly kayak tours depart regularly for Leadbetter to view an unusual purple concrete ship wreck. Hourly rentals run $15 or guided trips cost $45 including gear.

Many East Beach visitors rent bikes or blades by the harbor to explore the scenic Shoreline Park Boardwalk at their own pace. This wide pedestrian thoroughfare links both shores of Santa Barbara for over 4 miles to Leadbetter Beach and offer staggering views. Well worth an afternoon!

Paid parking is plentiful with four large lots charging $2/hour along Cabrillo Boulevard. If these fill, try the harbor pay lots too with similar rates.

East Beach enjoys decent year-round waves for surfing, windsurfing or stand-up paddle boarding thanks to partially offshore Ship Rock. However only experienced surfers should attempt riding the main peak by the volleyball courts which shifts quickly across the beach break.

Longboards perform best around low to mid tides here. Rental shacks by the lots offer gear from around $10/hour.

Restrooms and showers are found next to both parking lots and the grassed picnic area at the eastern point (near the concrete ship).

Overall East Beach makes a lively safe choice for families and social groups with pretty much every activity imaginable steps from the sand.

The backdrops of dramatic bluffs, offshore islands plus stunning sunsets over the Harbor View Inn at the point make it especially memorable.


3. Sterns Wharf and West Beach

Sterns Wharf and West Beach
The iconic Stearns Wharf Pier
  • Locations: Stearns Wharf is located west of State St at the end of Cabrillo Blvd in Santa Barbara. West Beach runs along Cabrillo Blvd between the wharf and the breakwater.
  • Highlights: Scenic harbor views, tourist shops, restaurants, cruise port.
  • Activities: Fishing, sightseeing, paddle boarding, kayaking.

Jutting out into the harbor with staggering 360 degree views, Stearns Wharf makes an unbeatable spot for sightseeing. Completed in 1872, it proudly claims the title of oldest working pier on the West Coast.

Over a quarter mile long, the pier holds several boutique shops selling everything from candy to diamonds. Souvenir stores peddle typical tourist wares while Lee’s Tackle supplies serious anglers. Several seafood restaurants like Moby Dick’s occupy the very end. Free 1 hour parking allows easy loading access.

Try some of the freshest lobster around at the Tydes Restaurant or enjoy harbor views through floor to ceiling windows over a barramundi filet and sauvignon blanc at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill.

For cheaper eats hit Crustacean Restaurant & Seafood Market to sample their signature cioppino mixto broth brimming with mussels, crab, scallops and sustainable seasonal seafood.

Their upstairs Harborside Grill hosts free live music Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30pm. Reservations recommended.

Most shops and restaurants stay open until 9 or 10pm so it makes a lovely spot for post-dinner drinks or gelato while watching the sunset.

Peddle boats and electric boats can also be rented from Stearns Wharf by the hour if you want to tour the entire harbor. Parasailing trips depart from West Beach just behind the wharf too.

Sport fishing boats like The Condor Express and Virgint Sportfishing leave regularly on whale watching or bottom fishing trips from Stearns Wharf, running from $39/$75 per adult.

Larger excursions to the Channel Islands are also bookable through outfitters like Santa Barbara Sailing Center and Channel Island Outfitters in the marina.

West Beach skirts the coast below Stearns Wharf between the breakwater and Harbor View Inn offering decent swimming in calm waters. Sunbathing space disappears at high tide but it remains passable for beach strollers or jugglers practicing their skills.

The extended concrete path makes a perfect surface for biking or balding without traffic beyond the breakwater.

West Beach connects around the Inn to the Shoreline Boardwalk leading three miles west to Leadbetter Beach. Make this a full morning activity allowing time to enjoy en route parks.

Parking is plentiful either in the main harbor lot behind the wharf or along Cabrillo Boulevard. Expect rates around $2/hour 6am to 10pm from May 1 to September 30 with free parking before 6am or after 10pm.


4. Ledbetter Beach

Ledbetter Beach
The serene Ledbetter Beach
  • Location: Shoreline Drive, Santa Barbara
  • Highlights: Marina setting, grass picnic areas
  • Activities: Sailing, windsurfing, paddle boarding, snorkeling, kayaking, swimming.

Tucked inside the Santa Barbara Harbor three miles west from Stearns Wharf, Ledbetter Beach offers a sheltered marina setting thanks to the breakwater jetty enclosing its shores. Yacht masts and harbor activity replace wide ocean views but Ledbetter still holds some scenic charm.

The marina location makes it a hub for watersports like sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Rent boards or sign up for lessons at Santa Barbara Sailing Center right off the sand. Hourly rentals run just $15 or take a safety certified guided tour for $55 covering gear and instruction.

The nearby Youth Sailing Foundation offers accredited courses for aspiring sailors of all ages if you catch the bug! Wet suits are recommended May to November.

Ledbetter Beach hosts the city AMC youth sailing club plus UCSB collegiate team who compete keenly every summer weekend. Grab lunch from the Shoreline Beach Cafe concession to enjoy front row seats of the racing from Ledbetter’s grassy bluffs. Binoculars make it even better!

At low tides a tiny secluded sandy cove emerges below the cafe accessible by steep stairs. This hidden gem remains almost deserted despite starring in Hollywood films like Forrest Gump and Pirates of the Caribbean! Its shallow sandy bottom works beautifully for kids to try snorkeling too.

Well behaved leashed dogs are allowed before 10am and after 4pm only to avoid summer crowds. Owners must clean up after pets strictly with free bags and bins provided.

Sunbathing space virtually disappears at high tide but Ledbetter still attracts beach volleyball pick-up games thanks to permanent nets. These stay busy every evening as do the basketball and tennis courts.

Parking fills quickly on hot weekends but three paid lots right off Shoreline Drive plus metered street parking offer decent capacity around the beach for $1 to $2 hour depending on season.


5. Thousand Steps Beach

Thousand Steps Beach
The Thousand Steps of the Beach
  • Location: At the end of Santa Cruz Boulevard, Santa Barbara
  • Highlights: Secluded setting, scenic outlook point
  • Activities: Beachcombing, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, tidepooling

Despite its remoteness at the end of a private residential street, Thousand Steps Beach still attracts adventurous groups willing to earn their solitude.

Sunbathing space disappears at high tide but coves and scenic outlooks reward those embarking along the bluffs in either direction.

As the name suggests,you must first descend a staggering 150 stairway down towering sandstone cliffs to reach the sand.

While legends claim an original 1,000 step descent, recent storms and rock slides eroded over 850 steps already. Just pace yourself on the knee-jarring descent and be sure to wear proper footwear.

Your payoff is a virtually deserted golden cove perfect for romantic picnics or family beach combing. Parents should supervise children closely as waves and currents remain deceptively strong despite the protection of off-shore ledges. Lifeguards do not patrol this beach.

At low tides, fascinating pools full of starfish, crabs and anemones emerge around Thousand Steps making it a popular spot for snorkeling. Use caution wading over slippery rocks wearing protective water shoes only.

Just 15 yards offshore lie the guitar-shaped remains of the Dos Cuadras Producing Platform shipwreck, a 1960s oil derrick toppled in the Coalinga Quake.

Scuba divers can explore the ghostly ruins underwater around this unusual dive site. Guided excursions or gear rental are bookable through the Channel Island Dive Adventures office in the harbor.

While the sands of Thousand Steps disappear at high tide, the drama of the location still captivates. Follow the bluffs left to the stunning La Cumbre Peak lookout to enjoy staggering views overlooking the Riviera coastline and Channel Islands. Trail maps are available from Santa Barbara Hiking or Santa Barbara Adventure Company downtown to make navigating the area easier.

Thousand Steps has no facilities or lifeguards so pack water, lunches and sun protection.  Arrive early as street parking is very limited on Santa Cruz Boulevard.  Instead try the small gravel turn off area on Las Canoas Road just above the cliffs which can hold around 10 cars tightly if you don’t mind a short walk. Just don’t block driveways or you may get towed.

Well behaved leashed dogs are allowed before 9am and after 5pm daily. Owners must clean up after pets strictly. Garbage cans are not provided on site so you must pack out any waste.

Due to tricky access and lack of amenities, Thousand Steps Beach best suits older adventurous kids and moderately fit explorers looking to earn bragging rights finding Santa Barbara’s final frontier.


6. Arroyo Burro Beach

Arroyo Burro Beach
Dog walkers at Arroyo Burro Beach
  • Location: At the end of Cliff Drive north of the Bird Refuge, Santa Barbara
  • Highlights: Off leash dog area, family friendly vibe
  • Activities: Dog walking, swimming, beginner surfing

Arroyo Burro, also referred to locally as Hendry’s Beach offers a beloved community spot where dogs run free and families barbeque weekends away.

One of the most scenically perched beaches in Santa Barbara thanks to fabulous Mesa mountain views, Arroyo Burro/Hendry’s lies tucked off beaten paths requiring a short drive to reach it. But make the effort as this 1/4 stretch of pristine golden sand rewards with far fewer crowds than East or Butterfly Beaches.

The key draw is the off leash dog section allowing pets to roam freely dawn until dusk under voice command. Dozens of local hounds joyously cool off playing fetch in gentle shore break waves at any time. Owners keep a watchful eye of course from blankets spread over the lawns. Bring Fido to make friends!

Nearby the beach also holds an unusual dog wash facility for rinsing off sand after a beach romp. Hoses, shampoo and towels mean pets return home clean as whistles.

For kids the center section features a net climbing frame plus volleyball court to stay occupied for hours. Lifeguards patrol between Memorial Day and Labor Day only. Parents should still supervise youngsters closely due to moderate rip tides swirling around the points to either side.

The bluffs at Arroyo Burro/Hendry’s make the spot moderately sheltered from winds keeping things warmer for sunbathing. Palm trees sway over dozens of shaded picnic tables too. Barbecues require a permit available from the booth weekends and summer weekdays.

At either end of Arroyo Burro/Hendry’s, rockier coves hold beginner surf breaks working best an hour either side of high tide. Rent foam boards and wetsuits nearby from Pismo Beach Surf Shop for $10/hr to try riding slow rolling two to three feet waves confidently. Staff offer private or group lessons too.

Pay parking fills fast on spring and summer weekends so come early. However three lots provide nearly 300 spaces for just $2/hour. Cliff Drive also sees moderate metered street parking weekdays.

Well maintained restrooms stay open year round featuring both indoor and handy outdoor beach showers. These make rinsing sand easy either before heading home or visiting the Boathouse Restaurant just across the parking lot.


7. Mirmar Beach

Mirmar Beach
Mirmar Beach from Rosewood Hotel
  • Location: Located in western San Mateo County, California. and stretches along the beautiful coastline of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Highlights: With its pristine sandy shores and mesmerizing views, Miramar Beach offers a secluded escape where visitors can relax and unwind while enjoying stunning sunsets.
  • Activities: The best walking beach in Montecito. Also best for Swimming, sunbathing, exploring tide pools teeming with marine life.

Miramar Beach is a beautiful coastal area located in Santa Barbara, California. It is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, offering stunning views and a relaxing atmosphere.

One of the main attractions at Miramar Beach is its pristine sandy shoreline. Visitors can take leisurely walks along the beach or simply relax on the sand while enjoying the sound of crashing waves. The beach stretches over a mile long, allowing plenty of space for people to spread out and enjoy some sunbathing or picnicking with family and friends.

For those who love water activities, Miramar Beach offers fantastic opportunities for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, and even paddleboarding. The calm waters make it an ideal spot for beginners or those looking for a more gentle aquatic adventure.

Nearby are several charming cafes and restaurants where visitors can grab refreshing drinks or delicious meals after spending time at the beach. These establishments offer various cuisines, giving guests plenty of options to satisfy their cravings.

Additionally, Miramar Beach boasts breathtaking views. If you venture slightly away from the shoreline towards places like Butterfly Beach or Coral Casino Beach Club, you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

To access Miramar Beach conveniently, there are parking lots available nearby so that visitors can easily bring all their necessary items without having to worry about long walks or carrying heavy loads. The beach is also wheelchair accessible, ensuring that everyone can enjoy its beauty and activities.


8. Summerland Beach

Summerland Beach
Sandy cove of Summerland Beach
  • Location: Located on the South coast of California.
  • Highlights: Secluded sandy cove, scenic coastal trails
  • Activities: Horse Riding, Picnic, Dog walking.

Summerland Beach is a lovely coastal spot located in Santa Barbara, California. It offers wonderful activities for people of all ages to enjoy.

One of the exciting things to do at Summerland Beach is horseback riding. You can take a ride along the sandy shore, feeling the cool breeze and listening to the soothing sound of waves crashing against the shore. It’s an amazing experience that allows you to connect with nature while enjoying these magnificent animals.

If you have a furry friend, don’t worry! Summerland Beach also welcomes dogs and their owners for some fun-filled walks. The beach provides ample space for dogs to run around freely and play fetch or simply stroll along next to you on this beautiful stretch of sand.

Aside from these fantastic activities, Summerland Beach itself is absolutely gorgeous. With its picturesque views of the ocean glistening under clear blue skies, it creates a serene atmosphere that calms your mind and lifts your spirits. Whether you want to relax on a towel basking in the sun or explore tidal pools teeming with fascinating marine life, there’s something here for everyone.

Moreover, if you’re seeking more adventure beyond horseback riding or dog walking, nearby attractions like hiking trails are available too. These trails offer breathtaking vistas of the mountains and coastline surrounding Summerland Beach.


9. Rincon Beach

Rincon Beach
Surfers ready to ride wave at Rincon Beach
  • Location: At the north side of Rincon Point next to a private gated community on the Santa Barbara County line.
  • Highlights: Rincon Point is a world-famous surfing spot
  • Activities: Surfing, swimming, Walking.

Rincon Beach in Santa Barbara is an amazing place for surfing. It is widely regarded as one of the best surf spots in the area, and it’s famous among surfers. The beach earns its nickname “Queen of the Coast” because of its incredible waves and perfect conditions for riding them.

Situated at the border between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Southern California, Rincon Beach offers beautiful views along with its awesome surfing experience. Surfers from all around come here to test their skills on the impressive swells that roll into this spot.

What makes Rincon special is how consistent and powerful its waves are. They break just right, allowing surfers to catch long rides that bring pure joy while cruising across the water. Whether you’re a pro or just starting out, you’ll find something to enjoy at Rincon Beach.

The beach itself stretches along a scenic coastal highway overlooking breathtaking cliffs and blue waters. Even if you’re not into surfing, it’s still worth visiting just to soak up the beauty of this place.

Remember though, like any popular surfing spot, it can get crowded at times. But don’t let that discourage you; there’s plenty of room for everyone to have fun catching waves!

So if you love surfing or simply want to witness some epic wave action, head to Rincon Beach in Santa Barbara. You won’t be disappointed!


10. Campus Point Beach

Campus Point Beach
Campus Point Beach walk
  • Location: On the east side of Goleta Point at the University of California Santa Barbara campus
  • Highlights: Campus Point, home to UC Santa Barbara students, locals and traveling surfers.
  • Activities: Beach Walking, Biking, Hiking, Sunbathing, Surfing

Campus Point Beach in Santa Barbara is a great place to go surfing! It is known as one of the best spots for beginners to learn how to surf. During the summer, when the waves are small, many people come here to ride their boards and have fun in the water.

If you walk east from Campus Point Beach, you will reach Goleta Beach. On the other hand, if you go west, you will find Depressions Beach. These are both beautiful beaches worth exploring.

One special thing about Campus Point is that it has a unique feature called Labyrinth Trail. You can take some stairs from Campus Point Beach up to this trail and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding area from above. It’s definitely worth checking out!

So if you’re looking for a fantastic surfing spot around Santa Barbara, make sure to visit Campus Point Beach. Whether you’re just starting out or have some experience on a board, this beach has something for everyone who loves riding waves!


11. Santa Claus Beach

Santa Claus Beach
Santa Clause beach near the scenic drive-away
  • Location: Take the Casitas Pass Road exit on US Route 101 to Santa Claus Lane in Carpinteria
  • Highlights: Quirky themed street near beach
  • Activities: Surfing, swimming, beach volleyball

Santa Claus Beach offers visitors a quirky themed subplot thanks its bizarre moniker and Christmas decorated name sake road. Local lore claims 1960s property developers changed small beach lanes to Santa Claus and Jollyman to attract holiday vacationers. Their ploy clearly worked!

Today cute original wooden street signs still direct families “This Way To The Beach” past kitschy decorated homes to a sweet sandy pocket cove with gentle waves, picnic tables and free roadside parking.

While only 150 feet wide, little Santa Claus Beach holds space for games of volleyball or frisbee plus decent summer surf inside its sheltered sandy point. South swells produce fun lefts wrapping around the shores that mostly break slower in summer for longboarders. Rincon Point just upcoast challenges experts in winter.

Kayak and paddleboard rentals are available year round through Island Packers nearby for exploring the shoreline caves and celebrity homes on private beaches accessible only by sea. Guided tours run $30 to $60 for gear and expert instruction. No experience needed!

Restrooms and showers are a 5 minute walk north on the beach near Carpinteria State Park so just come prepared if nature calls while playing at Santa Claus Beach itself. Pack water, snacks and sunscreen too as no other facilities exist directly on site.

Leashed dogs enjoy romping freely early mornings and evenings when crowds thin out most days. Owners should follow strict pet etiquette cleaning up all waste which must also be carried out. Garbage cans are not provided.

While tiny, Santa Claus Beach offers families a festive budget friendly beach escape convenient to Santa Barbara and local services in Carpinteria. Affordable motels line the streets just inland if needing staycations too! Just mind driveway access points and park carefully when claiming your plot of paradise.


12. Refugio State Beach

Refugio State Beach
Family Camping at Refugio State Beach
  • Location: 10 miles west of Santa Barbara via Highway 101
  • Highlights: Secluded beach, nature trails
  • Activities: Camping, fishing, hiking, surfing

Boasting over two and half miles of pristine shoreline located below steep clay bluffs, Refugio State Beach somehow remains a spectacular yet rarely visited gem just 15 minutes drive up the coast from the city bustle.

Pronounced “Refuryo”, this uniquely tranquil escape protects rare coastal wetlands, oak groves and lush riparian canyons teeming with wildlife less than a mile from the highway making it surprisingly accessible.

Over twenty private shaded campsites nestled along a rippling creek right on the beach create a perfect overnight escape to disconnect surrounded by raw nature. Sites cost just $45 nightly including fire pits and picnic table. Flush toilets, potable water, hot showers and small store with firewood and snacks serve basics needs.

Rustic 2.5 mile roundtrip trails hugging the tranquil coastline passing pockets coves and a remote WWII era amphitheater reward hikers or trail runners with staggered isolation. Steep spur paths also climb 300 feet atop bluffs for unreal views too. Just beware fast unpredictable surf and storms can leave these routes briefly impassable after heavy rains. Check conditions.

In season, anglers flock trying their luck casting from cliffs or just offshore rocks teeming with calico bass, halibut, perch and even 12 pound bucketmouths! Tackle rents at neighbouring Gaviota Park Store with helpful tips on best baits too.

While summers stay mellow with beach combing and tidepooling, winter swells discipline accomplished short boarders charging fast hollow peaks tearing down the points. Check surf report before committing. Conditions and intensities vary widely thanks to shifting sandbars. Exercise extreme caution here as no lifeguards ever patrol.

Overall Refugio’s splendid beaches, rugged landscapes and trails encapsulate everything magical about the quieter wild edges of the Central Coast. Pitch your tent or just stay awhile soaking in vibes echoing California’s frontier spirit!


13. El Capitan State Beach

El Capitan State Beach
El Capitan State Beach Campground
  • Location: Highway 101 Exit 104-B west of Goleta
  • Highlights: Over 20 miles scenic oceanfront for exploring
  • Activities: Beachcombing, swimming, surfing, kayaking, hiking

Spanning over three miles in western Goleta, stunning El Capitan State Beach offers deserted sandy stretches perfect for active adventurers and nature lovers.

While facilities remain limited to parking and restrooms, open county parks behind the beaches provide over 15 miles of oceanfront for combing, lagoon kayaking or beach trail hiking.

Experienced surfers can chase waves wrapping inside rocky points and sandbars especially around Cuarta Canyon creating fun peaks working 6 to 8 feet on big swells. Just use extreme caution as intense rip tides, reefs and no lifeguards patrol make these breaks risky. Check conditions rigorously beforehand. Join guided surf tours like Captain Kirk’s for added safety hitting top secret local spots if just starting out.

The real joy comes simply meandering untouched golden sands for miles where snowy plovers, herons and hummingbirds feed undisturbed. Hundred year old coastal oaks frame breathtaking sunrises too on clearer days. Just arrive super early beating crowds.

While free roadside parking exists near beach trailheads, arrive before 8am or it fills completely on warmer weekends. Gates close promptly at sunset each evening to deter late night partiers. RVs and group campers should use permitted county park lots instead respecting neighborhood parking limits.

Leashed dog walking stays permitted in the parks farther inland but not actually on beaches themselves where protected nesting zones take priority over pets during March to September ecology season. Owners can unleash hounds responsibly on trails behind dunes keeping strict voice control and cleaning up any waste fully.

Overall El Capitan’s sprawling dunescape offers nature lovers miles of magic for making personal wilderness discoveries off the beaten path from LA to Santa Barbara. A real treat worth repeat visits! Just be sure to prepare your own food/water, watch tides closely and leave no trace while out roaming this unspoiled coastal icon.


Best Beach Restaurant: Boathouse Restaurant at Arroyo Burro Beach

Boathouse Restaurant at Arroyo Burro Beach
Boathouse Restaurant during sunset

The Boathouse Restaurant at Arroyo Burro Beach deserves special mention as a local dining icon since 1981. Their beachfront patio offers just about the best place in town to grab sunset dinner and drinks while watching paddleboarders catch the dying waves in as the sky ignites behind the Channel Islands. Awesome!

Quite simply this a totally chilled Santa Barbara classic everyone should try at least once for the views alone. Get your name on the wait list upon arrival then take a quick dip until your table sends a text.

While dinner reservations book ahead in peak season, lunch and breakfast usually see less crowds. Their $15 bottomless mimosas special 9am to 2pm each Sunday turns up quite a party too! Happy Omelette Making Hour indeed…

The Boathouse menu focuses on high quality locally sourced dishes from land and sea. Highlights like charbroiled scampi, island swordfish and roasted tri tip keep guests returning year after year. Be sure to also try their signature chowders, named the nation’s best four times running by Yankee Magazine. Pair a cup with their longstanding favorite beach cocktail, the Chamberlain, featuring Karl Strauss amber ale and freshly squeezed OJ. Delicious!

With its relaxed yet lively waterside setting and friendly staff, the Boathouse makes an easy family friendly choice to refuel and grab golden hour while enjoying all Arroyo Burro’s amenities and activities nearby. Well worth a try when visiting Santa Barbara’s quintessential neighborhood beach.


Tips for Enjoying Santa Barbara’s Beaches Responsibly

  • Always check weather and tides using apps like Surfline or MagicSeaweed before heading out to make informed safety decisions. Intense currents and large waves can arise suddenly surprising even experienced locals. Never turn your back to the ocean when waves are large. Exercise extreme caution on stormy or unusually high “King Tide” days staying well above the high tide line at all times.  Follow lifeguard instructions without hesitation if directed to exits waters immediately.
  • Cliffsides and coves commonly feature fragile sandstone terrain prone to crumbling dangerously from erosion or digger bee burrows which are hidden unseen. Never approach or climb unstable cliffs or bluffs especially below posted warning signs. Use extreme caution sitting directly atop or below cliffs anywhere as falling rocks seriously injure tourists annually.
  • When swimming without lifeguards, stay in shallow waters under 5 feet deep only unless highly experienced handling currents and waves. Never bodysurf intense waves head first as spinal injuries commonly occur. Wear fins instead to avoid feet or limbs jamming into sand suddenly if wiped out aggressively forward. Back injuries often happen this way.
  • Bring all trash back home with you or use proper bins on site to leave no trace. Never leave food scraps or wrappers behind on beaches as these can choke wildlife or leach toxins into fragile marine ecosystems when washed out to sea. To protect birds and pups, also fill holes dug in sand before leaving and keep kites or drones clear of seasonal nesting zones marked off near dunes.
  • Prevent sunburns by wearing hats, sunglasses and high SPF sunblock even on cloudy days thanks to amplified UV rays near water. Reapply sun protection every 80 minutes after swimming or sweating. Stay hydrated while playing too!

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring Santa Barbara’s cream of the crop beaches with this complete insider’s guide!

From family friendly East Beach to Rincon Point surfing to kayaking Refugio Cove, memorable ocean adventures stay possible year-round thanks to Santa Barbara’s privileged climate and geographical diversity.

Just be sure to check individual beach seasonal access, amenities and responsible guidelines before visiting to ensure a safe enriched experience. As well consider lesser known wildcard spots like Thousand Steps or Dinosaur Cove to earn exclusive bragging rights while getting back to nature away from crowds.

The choices prove limitless with over 20 miles of spectacular coastline hugging the Santa Ynez foothills west of town. You may need repeat visits to uncover all these beaches best gems! Just don’t forget sun protection, water and common sense while making lifelong memories along the California Riviera beaches paradise that is Santa Barbara.

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