If you're thinking about going beach camping around Santa Barbara, this is the first thing you need to know. You won't find a place where you can pitch your tent on the sand and walk to town. If you're planning a getaway that includes a lot of time in town, you can find out more about how to plan it in this guide.
There are some excellent places around Santa Barbara for beach camping. In fact, some fo them are so close to the ocean that you can go to sleep listening to the waves - but they are miles out of town.
You also need to know about the Santa Barbara coast, which is unique in California. It's a section where the normally north-south Pacific coast turns east-west. The unique geography creates a "banana belt" climate that makes it a pleasant place to camp at the beach all year - except during winter rains. I can also be confusing when you're sitting on the beach at sunset looking over the ocean, and the sun is on your left.
All of the Santa Barbara area beaches below (except Jalama Beach) are California state parks. They have their own odd way of handling camping reservations. Believe it or not, if you want to get a spot in the most popular beach campgrounds around Santa Barbara, you may have to reserve as much as seven months ahead. Here's what you need to know about how to make state park camping reservations.
Carpinteria State Beach
Twelve miles south of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria has a beach a mile long for camping. They have both RV and tent sites (which can be hard to find in other places). At the park, you can go swimming, surf fishing, and tide pooling. This beach is also close to downtown Carpinteria, which makes it easy to get food and provisions and go our for a meal if you want to. For more details, pros and cons and what you need to know, check the Carpinteria State Beach guide
Gaviota State Park
Gaviota offers beach camping and is 33 miles west of Santa Barbara, although it may feel to you like it's north of town. The campground is right next to the beach but located below a towering railroad trestle. It can sometimes be annoyingly windy at Gaviota, and the trains can be noisy. But it's good for fishing off the pier. You can rent an RV and have it delivered to your campsite. For more details, pros and cons and what you need to know, see the Gaviota State Park website.
You can bring your camper for beach camping at Jalama Beach, or rent a fully-equipped trailer. This is a scenic spot that many people love, and definitely a good place to get away from it all. Sunset magazine says it's one of the most beautiful campgrounds in California. On the downside, it's far from town and at the end of a 14-mile-long, curving road that takes 25 minutes to drive.
Jalama is the kind of place to go to and stay put. It's suitable for tent, trailer or RV camping. Unlike the other beaches in this guide, Jalama Beach is a county park. To get information about reservations, get more details, pros and cons and what you need to know, use the Jalama Beach Guide.
Refugio State Beach
Refugio is 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. The tree-shaded campground is just across a small road from the beach. It's so pleasant that Sunset magazine named it one of the best campgrounds in California. If you take your bicycle along, the 3-mile-long blufftop bike path between Refugio campground and campground is a lot of fun.
You can rent an RV and have it delivered to the park. Get more info about that and the park's facilities at the Refugio State Beach website.
El Capitan State Beach - Not on the Beach
El Capitan has the word "beach" in its name, and it's beautiful, but when I say beach camping, I think it should be right at the beach. That means not across the street, up the hill or anywhere else that isn't steps from the sand.
Although it's a nice place, I I can't classify El Capitan as beach camping because the campsites are above the beach on a bluff. It's on this list, so you'll know what to expect and won't get fooled. And it might be just what you're looking for if your definition is different than mine. Get more details in the El Capitan State Beach guide
More California Beach Camping
Santa Barbara isn't the only place in California where you can go camping on the beach. You can also try these Ventura County Beaches You Can Camp At and check out more places to go Southern California Beach Camping. If you're going north of Santa Barbara, check out these Central Coast Beach Campgrounds.