El Capitan State Beach
Guide

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Introduction

El Capitán State Beach has to be one of the most beautiful places in California. It is located in Goleta, 17 miles west of Santa Barbara along Highway 101. El Capitán State Beach was originally less than 200 acres, but due to an initiative in 2002, over 2,000 acres were added to make the state beach as large as it is today. The magnificent beach is surrounded by enormous cliffs and rolling mountains. There are plenty of trails and miles of shoreline to explore while on your visit.

Because of its location, the weather is very moderate and often cool in the fall and winter, with warmer days in the spring and summer. If you plan to stay here for a few days, make sure you take a look at the cliffs and maybe go for a picnic on the beach. El Capitán State Beach offers a wide range of activities for you to enjoy all year round including surfing, hiking, biking, boating, and so much more.

While the state beach is rather large, there are a limited number of spaces for RVs and trailers. Nine spaces are specifically available for RVs and trailers to use. With so few spaces, you’ll be guaranteed some peace and quiet. There are no hookups, but you can use your generator.

Embrace the rich culture at the El Capitán State Beach and learn about the Chumash Native Americans and the Spanish explorers that later occupied the area. As you walk along the shore, you'll be able to experience the awe many of these explorers felt when they arrived at this beach. You can truly understand why this region was so significant to the Chumash community, especially if you visit the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park or Carpinteria State Park. There’s so much to discover at El Capitan State Beach, so experience it all when you bring your motorhome.

RV Rentals in El Capitan State Beach

Transportation in El Capitan State Beach

Driving

The state beach is nestled on the two sides of Highway 101 and is 17 miles west of Santa Barbara. The campground will be a smaller area compared to the rest of the camp, and the road is paved with plenty of helpful signs to guide you to the RV camping area.

There are a few things to be mindful of when visiting the beach. They may close the park due to inclement weather, but if they don’t, then you must be careful of the waves if you plan on getting in the water, as they can get up to 25 feet tall. If you arrive at night, then there is a self check-in process that you can use at the entrance of the park. There are grocery stores nearby if you need to pick up a few things for dinner or breakfast, and the camp store is also a good place to get a snack.

While in the park, you can get around by driving if you need to, but it is recommended that you use a bicycle or go on foot to further enjoy the experience. The camp store provides maps of the beach and suggestions of things to do during your stay. The beach has an extensive shoreline and can easily be navigated on foot, and there are plenty of accessible trails, overlooks, and beaches; plus, the camp store offers beach wheelchairs upon request.

Parking

There are plenty of parking spaces throughout the park, but, if camping at the park, you are required to park in your specific campsite. There are two large parking lots in the park that offer spaces for trailers and RVs at the Day-Use Parking area and the Extra Vehicle Lot. The Day-Use lot does close at sundown, and the Extra Vehicle Lot is located near the Del Mar RV camping area.

Public Transport

Luckily, this state beach is located near major metropolitan areas, like Santa Barbara, and as a result, there are a few transportation options for guests to use to get to the park. If traveling from Santa Barbara, there is a bus (line 11) on the Santa Barbara MTD that will take you from the city to the park entrance. While requiring a fee, there are plenty of taxi options in the area as well.

Campgrounds and parking in El Capitan State Beach

Campsites in El Capitan State Beach

Reservations camping

Del Mar Campground

There are over 130 year-round, family campsites at El Capitán State Beach, although there are only nine campsites specifically marked for RV and trailer camping. The sites are paved and partially shaded for your convenience. RV campsites can hold vehicles up to 42 feet in length. There are no hookups available, but you can bring your own generator and there is a filling station to get water. Pets are welcome, and you can also run your generator during the day.

Amenities include coin-operated hot showers, restrooms, a picnic table, and a fire ring. The camp store sells firewood and food if you need any supplies during your trip. Fires are only allowed in designated areas, so be sure to follow the guidelines.

You can reserve a spot up to three months ahead, and you’ll need to reserve a spot at least one day ahead of your trip. You can stay here up to seven nights in a row, and you can re-register for your site as long as they have space available. If you are staying with a large party you can choose one of the five group campsites overlooking the Pacific Ocean from the Marine Terrace at the park; each of the group campsites can hold from 40 to 100 people.

It is best to keep your shoes on at all times while in the park, even on the beach, due to tar balls polluting the area. Make sure you bring a pair of old shoes or water shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.

First-come first-served

First-Come, First-Served

There are no first-come, first-served campgrounds at this state park.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in El Capitan State Beach

In-Season

Diving

Adventurous RV visitors can try diving in the chilly waters to get a glimpse at life under the surface. Under the rolling waves, divers will find rocky areas with sea kelp beds and coral reefs. You can begin your diving experience in the calmer southern waters and find great reefs near the western side of the beach. If you are inexperienced in diving, try hiring an instructor to help your group learn how to participate in this activity safely.

Kayaking

Traveling around the shoreline via kayak is an amazing way to check out the scenic cliffs while riding the waves of the Pacific Ocean. You can rent kayaks in the area and then take the kayaks on the trip from Refugio beach to El Capitán. This six-mile round trip path will challenge many novice kayakers, but you'll be able to experience a unique view of the beach. You'll also chance to interact with various wildlife, including dolphins and Southern California's famous seals and sea lions.

Taking Guided Tours

The camp offers guided tours for you and the whole family. There will be a fee associated with the tour, so be sure to ask one of the camp staff before you go on the tour. Walking tours are very popular, but there are kayak tours available as well.

The kayak tours go on for about three miles, and, during that time, you will explore the areas between Refugio and El Capitan beach. On the tour, you will learn about over 1,500 species of plants and animals that call the area home. Taking a guided tour during your RV vacation is a great way to learn more about this beautiful area.

Surfing

With the beach right next to the campground, it’s kind of obvious that you may want to go surfing. Due to its location, there are many chances to catch a wave – some that are even 25 feet tall.

Be sure to watch the weather report before you go out on the ocean. You may also want to talk to the lifeguards on duty to give them a heads up if you want to go further out into the ocean. Depending on when you decide to visit, you may find some pretty nice swells west of the beach in fall and winter when it is low tide.

Due to its difficult nature, it is recommended that only experienced surfers ride the swells in this area. Please be aware that there is only one designated surfing location that also tends to become crowded during the peak season.

Off-Season

Fishing

There are plenty of fishing areas available on the shoreline, and deep-sea fishing is also available. You may need a valid fishing license to go on the water, but from the shoreline, that will not be needed.

You can go surf fishing - where you fish while on a surfboard - or simply fish from the shoreline. If you plan to go surf fishing during your RV trip, avoid areas with a lot of seaweed, and look for areas that have darker water so you have a higher chance of catching anything. You should bring some sunscreen with you if you plan on being outside for a long period of time.

Birding

A variety of birds can be spotted in the park, especially if you go to El Capitan Canyon. Normal sightings include the Hairy Woodpecker, American Kestrel, and Red-tailed Hawk, which you can see year-round. Because of the huge diversity of terrain from the coast to the woodlands, there are many different types of birds that you will be able to spot. There are also a few bird feeders around the camp as well. You might see the Anna’s Hummingbird feeding on some of the delicious treats. Be sure to pack your binoculars and a good pair of hiking boots in your camper before heading out.

Hiking

You can hike along the shoreline, but be sure to check the forecast before you go. If you decide to hike along the cliffs, the rocks are known to erode over time and the cliffs may have a few unstable rocks, so be careful of your surroundings.

There are a few trails that you can go on, but the Bill Wallace Trail, spanning ten miles with a 1,000-foot lookout, is the longest and will take you around the entire area, from the beach to the woodlands. There are also plenty of picnic tables on the trail where you can snack while overlooking the incredible views of the shoreline. Try hiking the Ansio Trail from El Capitán to Refugio Beach because this three-mile hike will show you some amazing sights for birdwatching and taking photos.

Pets are not permitted on the trails because they're only allowed in the campsites or on paved areas, but you can bring a bike on the trail if you wish. Also, make sure you check with park officials before hiking along the beach because the tide shifts could potentially pin you against a cliffside in a dangerous situation.

Geocaching

El Capitán State Beach is one of the few parks in California that participate in geocaching. There are different kinds of geocaching, but, to put it in simple terms, it is like a massive treasure hunt.

To play, you will need a pen or pencil, sturdy hiking boots, a water bottle, and a device that has GPS. You'll locate a cache on the smartphone app, and you can follow the hints and GPS to the location of the cache. At the site, you'll have to use a keen eye to find hidden containers, or "caches." Remember to write your name in the logbook when you find it, and bring along little trinkets that you can trade out for the treasure you find.

Be sure to leave each site as undisturbed as you found it in order to keep the adventure going. Plus, make sure you limit your intrusion upon the natural environment by cleaning up after yourself, sticking to the trail as much as possible, as well as leaving all natural items undisturbed.

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