Come and discover the Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County!
Santa Barbara is one of my favorite destinations in Southern California. Since it is located about 100 miles from Los Angeles, I try to visit two or three times per year.
You guys know how I am. If I chose to keep going to a place, I make an effort to keep discovering it. I research places I have not seen yet.
And, that is how during my last visit to the area, I decided to stop by the northern county state beaches. I have driven around this scenic area tons of times but I have never had the opportunity to stop and take a good look at the views.
Well, things turned out better than what I expected. I discovered a stretch of shoreline full of magnificent views and fascinating history.
The Gaviota Coast is Southern California’s largest stretch of undeveloped coastline, containing approximately 50 percent of its remaining rural shores. Located in Northern Santa Barbara County, this 76 mile swath of pristine beaches and hilly landscapes passes through National Forest lands and five state and county parks.
Gaviota means seagull in Spanish. The soldiers that were part of the first land expedition in Alta California (the Portola Expedition) knew the area as La Gaviota since some of them killed a seagull there. The nickname ended up being more popular than the official name.
I have not explored the entire length of the coast yet. Therefore, this post concentrates on three State Beaches: Gaviota, Refugio and El Capitan.
Table of Contents
Gaviota State Park
This is my favorite beach in this specific coast.
The park is divided in two units by Route 101 (the freeway). Both units of the park contain trails for hiking, mountain biking and horse riding. The east unit contains trails to the Gaviota Peak, hot springs and caves. The west unit includes the beach, a pier and a campground.
I spent more than an hour exploring the park’s beach. Cliffs are strongly caressed by the waves and the volcanic activity is very noticeable in the area.
You see layer after layer of rocks. I really enjoy taking a close look at formations like this.
I couldn’t resist and ended up knew deep into the water. Too bad I wasn’t prepared for a dip.
The waters in the park are part of the Kashtayit (place of the willow) State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA). California leads the nation and many parts of the world with its notorious Marine Conservation Areas. These enjoy different levels of protection and conserve marine habitat and diversity.
The beach is also known for the high train trestle that passes over it. We saw the Amtrak passing by like three times.
Gaviota Coast: Vista Point
This stop between Gaviota State Park and El Capitan State Beach affords great views of the coast and its cliffs. The stop has six interpretative signs explaining the history and notable facts of the coast.
Gaviota Coast: Refugio State Beach
Refugio State Beach offers excellent coastal fishing as well as trails and picnic sites. Palm trees planted near Refugio Creek give a distinctive look to the beach and camping area. Visitors can get a unique perspective of the coast line by taking the kayak tours offered by State Park Lifeguards.
The beach and the area take their names from Rancho Refugio. This particular ranch gained a place in history when Captain Hippolyte Bouchard sacked and burned it.
Bouchard sailed under the flag of the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata (known today as Argentina). To Californios, he was a pirate. To Argentineans, he is a patriot.
Bouchard attacked the Monterey Presidio, destroyed Rancho Refugio, spared the mission and presidio of Santa Barbara and proceeded raid Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Gaviota Coast: El Capitan State Beach
El Capitán State Beach offers visitors a sandy beach, rocky tidepools, and stands of sycamore and oaks along El Capitán Creek. It’s a perfect setting for swimming, fishing, surfing, picnicking and camping. A stairway provides access from the bluffs to the beach area.
The Anza expedition camped near this beach in 1776. The name Capitan probably refers to Juan Bautista de Anza, the expedition’s leader.
Anza’s expedition intended to find a more direct route to Monterey and to further colonize land (San Francisco was on sight). They also wanted to stop the advancement of the Russians through the north.
Father Pedro Font, who recorded the expedition, wrote the people of the expedition, some of whom have never seen the ocean, had much to admire when they reached the Gaviota Coast.
It is interesting to note that even thought De Anza reached San Francisco and claimed the area for the Kingdom of Spain, Russians kept peaking around the Spanish coast.
They had hunters from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska hunting for otters. The competition for pellets was fierce and got violent several times. The pellets were known as soft gold.
- Access to the beaches and parks cost $10 per day.
- Your “day pass” is good to enter all the beaches along the coast. This allows for easy beach hopping.
- Google each beach name for additional information about camping and onsite store hours.
- Beaches can get very crowded during summer months. Try to arrive early to grab a good parking spot.
- As I wrote above, this coast is largely undeveloped. If you want to spend the day at the beach, bring enough food, water and drinks. The nearest supermarket or restaurant can be located more than 15 miles away (depending on what beach you visit).
More of Santa Barbara
Which beach would you like to visit?
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