The California coastline takes a turn from its normal north-south orientation near Santa Barbara, running east-west for about 100 miles. It creates a "banana belt" climate that makes the Santa Barbara area one of the most pleasant places in the state, year round.
Some Santa Barbara camping spots are on the coast, and several are on the beach - and by that, we mean so close that you step out of your door into the sand.
California's state parks reservations process can be confusing and it's set up in a way that practically forces you to plan months ahead. Technically, you can reserve at any state park as little as 2 days ahead. You might even manage to find a spot still open if you're flexible about dates.
If you're planning a big trip in mid-summer, you need to be on the phone - or online - 6 months or more before you want to go.
Campgrounds and RV Parks
- Cachuma Lake: Tent, trailer and RV camping. They have lots of campsites, some with full electrical, water and sewer hookups, and some with electrical and water hookups. They also have several yurts for rent (a cross between a tent and tepee). They're north of Santa Barbara on Cachuma Lake.
- Carpinteria State Beach: Twelve miles south of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria State Beach offers a mile of beach for swimming, surf fishing, tide pool exploring, and camping.
- El Capitan Canyon: El Capitan is a step above other Santa Barbara camping spots. It's the kind of experience some people call "glamping" (glamorous camping). They have tent cabins among a grove of oak and sycamore trees along El Capitan Creek, equipped with real beds, full bathrooms, linens, towels, kitchenettes, private picnic tables, and fire pits.
- El Capitan State Beach: This beach is located off US Hwy 101 seventeen miles west of Santa Barbara.
- Jalama Beach: About an hour’s drive north of Santa Barbara, Jalama Beach is secluded and remote, but there are a store and cafe nearby.
- Ocean Mesa: This RV camping spot is next to El Capitan Canyon.
- Rancho Oso: Take your horses with you at to Rancho Oso, or you can ride theirs. It's located 30 minutes from CA Hwy 101, the airport and downtown Santa Barbara.
- Refugio State Beach: 20 miles west of Santa Barbara, this campground is just off US Hwy 101 at Refugio Road.
- Sunrise RV Park: Sunrise is close to downtown, beaches, bus lines, and grocery stores. It's just off the highway between Santa Barbara and Montecito.
You can also try Allstay’s Walmart Overnight Parking Locator to find the nearest store that allows overnight stays in their parking lot. These no-frills places (which do not provide water, electricity or a dump station) are best for self-contained RV camping.
If you want to camp near Santa Barbara but don't have your own vehicle, it's no problem You can rent one - and even have someone else set it up for you.
- Weekend Haul Rentals: They have a range of travel trailers for rent and are located in Ventura, a little south of Santa Barbara.
- 101 RV Rentals: Rent a travel trailer from them and you can pick it up - or they can deliver and set it up for you at Ocean Mesa, and at El Capitan, Carpinteria, Refugio, and Gaviota state parks.
To give a sense of scale, the map is about 80 miles from top to bottom. View this map on Google maps to see a bigger map that you can zoom in on and use to get driving directions.