When thinking about camping a few immediate images come to mind. Trees, hiking, and roasting marshmallows. What if some of those images also included white sandy beaches, surfing, and tidepools? Well, at Carpinteria State Beach, you can get all of those things.
If you want to camp on the beach, hunt for sand crabs, and observe harbor seal pups; then Carpinteria State Beach needs to be your next stop. This campground is located in the quaint small town of Carpinteria, CA. The weather is mild yearlong making it an ideal place to visit at any time. Its located 12 miles south of the beautiful Santa Barbara and offers a unique environment shift from typical woodsy forests to a southern California paradise.
There are four major loops in the campsite named after the Channel Islands located seventeen miles offshore. With 200 campsites to choose from you can decide how luxurious you want to camp. All campsites are back in only and parallel parking is not permitted. The longest trailer or motorhome allowed is 35 feet but this is site-specific and not all sites allow the same length vehicles. Check-in is 2:00 pm and check-out is 12:00. pm.
Dump stations are available and although there are not water hookups at every site, there are coin-operated showers with hot water, bathrooms and water spigots nearby for all your watering needs.
There is a reservation fee charge at every site for $7.99. The sites can accommodate up to 8 people, but for every additional vehicle, there is a $7 fee per night. For anyone traveling over the age of 62, you get a $2 discount on the campsite per night.
Anacapa and Santa Cruz Loop
No hookup options available at these campgrounds. These sites are ideal for tent camping, but can also be utilized for dry camping with trailers or RVs. A lot of tent campers will reside at these spots. Camp spots in this loop start at $45 and go up to $60 per night.
Santa Rosa Loop
Full hookups available including water, sewer, and electrical. Electricity hookups are offered in amps 20 and 30. These camp spots fill up fast and are $70 per night.
San Miguel Loop
Only half of these sites offer hookups which only includes water and electrical. These sites range from $60 to $70 per night.
If you’re hoping to book one of these sites for a week during the summer, be sure to give yourself 6 months as this is a popular campground. Not every campsite offers firepits but they each have a picnic bench.
Since there is not a lot of wildlife, other than seagulls, food lockers are not provided and locking up your food isn’t necessary. No bears in these parts of town! Although, it is still recommended to keep food put away. The squirrels and birds are very brave here.
Dogs are not permitted on the state beach. While at the campground, dogs are to be kept on a leash no longer than six feet and may never be left unattended. At night animals must be confined to a tent or vehicle. Adjacent to the campgrounds is a large open grass area that many people use to throw the ball and let their dogs roam. However, there is no fence to keep them from running into the street.
Nevertheless, a quick drive south a few miles lands you at Rincon Beach Park. This is an expansive beach with tons of room to let your dog run and chase tennis balls in the ocean. With the steep cliffs behind you, there is no worry of your dog running out into the parking lot.
This beach doesn’t have much traffic making it an ideal spot if you’re bringing your dog with you. Forgot the tennis ball? No worries. There is plenty of driftwood to choose from!
For thousands of years, the Chumash Indians were the only inhabitants of this beautiful area. The Chumash used the naturally occurring tar that seeps through the sand to seal water baskets, fasten arrow and spear points to shafts, and repair their canoes. When explorer Gaspar de Portolá visited the area in 1769 he came upon a group of Indians splitting driftwood and shaping the wood to form canoes. Gaspar de Portolá’s voyagers named the village La Carpinteria, meaning the carpentry shop.
The canoes were made in order to reach the islands that lay seventeen miles off the coast. They collected resources and hunted animals on the islands that weren’t available on the mainland.
The Spanish and European settlements led to devastating effects on the Chumash people. There was a rapid spread of diseases and poor treatment from settlers.
To this day Asphalt Mining Natural tar deposits seep to the surface on the coastal bluffs and on the sand, forming large, black mounds that resemble large rocks. Residents have utilized the oozing black tar for a variety of purposes. One of which includes the first paved roads in Santa Barbara County.
As a child, I grew up in Carpinteria. Our summers were full of playing at the beach, swimming to the docks, and playing in the tidepools. With endless beach activities, there is hiking and biking trails, fishing, and eating. So much eating.
During the months of December through May, the seal rookery is packed with newborn harbor seal pups and is closed to the public. During this time hundreds of harbor seals congregate to give birth and feed. You can view this spectacular sight by standing at the top of the bluffs that overlooks the ocean and the rookery. Bring your binoculars for some up-close action!
You can bike ride or hike the Coastal Vista Trail which will take you to the sanctuary. The trail runs for several miles along the bluffs. The sights are breathtaking and offer great lookout points to view the Channel Islands during a clear day. The Carpinteria Harbor Seal Preserve is one of only four harbor seal rookeries left off the southern California coast.
During low tide, rocky formations are exposed and allow people to explore the tidepools. In the pool,s you’ll see starfish, mussels, crabs, anemones and the occasional octopus. If you’re lucky you’ll California sea lions and harbor seals feeding and playing in the waves or lounging on rocks nearby.
Sometimes common dolphins will be seen swimming alongside surfers at Rincon beach. Between December and mid-May, gray whales migrate from their breeding grounds off the coast of Baja California were the water is warmer for their newborn calves.
Kelp forests are abundant in these waters and seaweed is often found washed up on shore. If you’re feeling adventurous, sift through the kelp’s holdfast which is the root portion of the organism. You’ll find all kinds of interesting critters including kelp crabs and brittle stars.
Carpinteria State Beach is considered one of the safest beaches because of the protection from the Channel Islands and the off-shore reef. The tide is fairly gentle and it stays shallow for quite a way out. The beach is made up of fine sand but be weary of drift wood if you’re barefoot.
Boogie boarding or body surfing is encouraged and tons of fun. I recently returned back to my small hometown and decided just to get my toes wet in the sand. Well, that quickly turned into me going all the way in the water with my shorts and shirt. I body surfed like I was a kid again. It was the most invigorating feeling I had felt in a long time. Ocean swimming isn’t just for kids!
During the summer months, the city puts out floating docks approximately 100 yards from the shore. You can swim out to these docks but they’re usually covered in bird poop. Either way, as a kid we would swim out to them and hang out there for hours.
Tomol Interpretive Play Area was built in 2011 and allows kids and adults alike to learn more about Carpinteria’s history and the native species to the area. The playground represents a Chumash village that once existed on the Channel Islands and the mammals that inhabit the ocean. Concrete replicas of constructed huts the Chumash lived in are located on the “shore” next to a Tomol which is a traditional plank boat or canoe.
A bald eagle is perched in its nest educating children the materials used to make their nests. The park has boulders that feature rock paintings and tactile sea creatures that reside in tidepools that children can touch. It also has concrete statues of a harbor seal and a sea lion to demonstrate the differences between the two species.
The park is fairly large and is a short stroll from the campgrounds. It’s right next to the Island Brewery, so you can literally sit on the patio and watch your kids while also enjoying yourself.
Carpinteria State Beach offers a Junior Rangers program designed for kids ages seven to twelve years old. Kids receive a logbook which is stamped every day they participate in the program. In this program, they’ll learn about ocean safety, animals, and the environment.
Just about everywhere you go in Carpinteria, you’re a mile walk from anywhere you need to be if not shorter. Linden Avenue’s downtown area is a whopping quarter mile with over twenty eateries to choose from. All within walking distance to the campgrounds.
If you’re not keen on the sand between your toes, downtown is a block away from the campgrounds. Explore cutesy antique shops, grab a beer at the Island Brewery, or eat at the infamous burger joint – The Spot.
If you like Mexican food, there is no shortage in Carpinteria! Tacos to Go offers the best breakfast burritos in town, Reynaldo’s Mexican Bakery, Senior Frogs, and Oaxaca Fresh never fail to deliver outstanding food. And that’s only the Mexican restaurants on Linden Avenue…
Feeling more exotic? Siam Elephant offers a delicious array of Thai cuisine and is rated #3 best restaurant in Carpinteria. They offer a pumpkin curry that’s offered year-round that is absolutely to die for and a pineapple fried rice that’ll change your world.
Craving good wine and cheese on your camping trip? Corktree Cellars has a stellar menu with nine different cheese platters to choose from. With twenty kinds of wine, there’s something for everyone. They also have a traditional menu.
However, if a beer is more your thing, Carpinteria has two local breweries. Rincon Brewery and The Island Brewery. The Island Brewery can actually be seen from the campgrounds. They have wide open doors that allow views across the railroad tracks across the grass field all the way to the ocean shoreline. The fresh ocean air combined with delicious grub and beer will surely warm the heart. Don’t forget to try the phenomenal avocado beer!
Fun fact: Carpinteria hosts an annual Avocado festival during the first weekend of October every year. The tiny town has an approximate census of 13,000 people, but during that weekend, the town hosts over 100,000 people. If you’re going to be in town in October, don’t miss the Avocado Festival where you can try avocado ice cream, listen to live music, and taste test a variety of guacamole that contestants bring to be judged.
Whatever your preferred food choice is, Carpinteria will provide; and all within a short distance. Forgot to pack marshmallows? No worries, the local supermarket is half a mile away.
Didn’t bring your bike camping? No problem. There’s a bike rental within walking distance just 16 minutes away. All of the hiking trails are also bike friendly as well. As this is a beach town, you’ll see tons of beach cruisers and even skateboarders around town.
If you’re looking for a challenge try Franklin Trail. This is also a hiking trail, but I have seen cyclists and horseback riders on this trail. Before the Thomas fire in December of 2017, the foothills were covered in chaparral. After recently going up the trail myself, the devastation is unreal. However, because there is less shrubbery, there’s less blocking your view of the ocean and the islands. There is also a lot of re-growth happening. The mountainside is slowly becoming green again.
The trail starts at the local high school and takes you past avocado orchards and greenhouses before you really “start” the trail and get into the wilderness. There are two phases to the trail currently and The Franklin Trail Project is working on opening up phase three.
Keep in mind, this trail is not a loop and goes straight up with lots of switchbacks and peaks at 1,703 feet. It’s a 5.2-mile ride up the mountain and 5.2 miles going down. Bring lots of water, snacks, and sunscreen!
Hikers can set out in either direction along the coast and enjoy picturesque ocean views. Heading southeast hikers pass Jellybowl, Tar Pits Park, the oil company pier, and lastly the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Preserve. At the rookery, you must turn inland to avoid disturbing the seals if it’s during birthing season.
You can return to the beach beyond the preserve and continue all the way down the beach to Rincon Point which is a 3-mile one-way adventure. Another option is to turn inland, cross the railroad tracks, and pass into the Carpinteria Bluffs Natural Preserve.
However, if you prefer a guided tour, volunteers at Carpinteria State Beach host nature and birding walks once a month on a Saturday. The walks begin at the Visitor Center around 8:30 AM and last approximately two hours. If you don’t have your own binoculars for bird watching, the volunteers have several available to loan.
Kayaking and Paddleboarding
Because of the off-shore reef which causes waves to break far from shore the water is fairly mellow. Exploring the kelp forest from a kayak or paddleboard is a great way to view these underwater forests. You can rent equipment from the Boathouse for $15 an hour ages twelve and up and $10 an hour for children under twelve. Rentals include a paddle, life jacket, and a helmet.
In conclusion, Carpinteria State Beach is a small town with plenty to do and explore. Take a couple days to enjoy this adorable location and discover all it has to offer. This unique town will surely steal your heart. You will not be disappointed by your beachfront camping experience.