This article discusses the many wonderful things to do in Carpinteria!
A lot of times California is synonym with beach towns full of boardwalks, piers, surfers, and stands selling fish tacos and ice cream.
I am not into stereotypes but it seems like the coastal part of the state turns into that when the barometer marks 75 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
With 800 miles of coast, there are hundreds of beach towns to choose from. Therefore, many residents of the state know they are not confined to famous places such as Santa Monica, Huntington Beach, or Santa Cruz. It is all about finding a relaxing and friendly vibe.
Carpinteria, located 10 miles south of Santa Barbara, has all the elements that make a town great: the main street full of places to eat and drink, a beach, bike paths, reasonably priced accommodations, and super approachable locals.
This post explores why this is an ideal place to visit and what can be done once you set foot in there.
Carpinteria – What’s in a name?
Let’s start talking about the town’s name. I know it may sound peculiar (or different since it doesn’t include a “San” or “Santa”).
When the Spaniards arrived in the area, they noticed the native Chumash had a canoe-building enterprise on the beach. The tribesmen used naturally occurring tar to seal the canoes (and make them float). Spaniards started to refer to the place as “La Carpinteria” or the carpentry shop.
Nowadays, many shorten the name of the town and call it “Carp.”
Where to Stay in Carpinteria
With so many things to do in Carpinteria, you may want to stay the night (or the weekend) in town. Also, with so much to do, the city can be used as a base to explore the area.
Notice that staying in Carpinteria can be cheaper than staying in Santa Barbara. The downside is that this being a small town, the lodging options are limited. Therefore, it is advisable to book way in advance.
- Motel 6 Carpinteria South – Ok, this may not be the place you want to see in a hotel recommendation list but remember the town does not have a bunch of affordable options. This motel has good ratings and it is located super close to Linden Avenue and the beach. I have stayed here several times and have enjoyed my stays. Check prices and book now!
- Best Western Plus Carpinteria Inn – This property is beyond cute because of its Spanish revival architecture, inner patio/courtyard, and central fountains. It even has views of the mountains. The rooms are gorgeous and the are plenty of suites to choose from. You will find a restaurant and bar on-site. It is possible to have breakfast in your room. Check prices and book now!
Note: There is another Motel 6 (Carpinteria North) in the city but, in my opinion, the Carpinteria South is a better choice.
Beach Town Gear
As I spend a lot of time on beach towns, I have my gear packed and ready to throw in the car. Here is an idea of what I take to the beach.
- Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must. My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers.
- Flip Flops – Flip flops are a must on any beach trip. I am partial to the Tevas brand. >>Take a look at these beautiful flip flops
- Water Sandals – If you want a more polished look, check out these leather-made salt water sandals.
- Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see this California appropriate option here
- Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock. I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
- Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
- Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck. The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function. >Buy this amazing hat here
- Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun. A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
- Towels – This is the accessory I always forget about. WETCAT’s Turkish Towels take minimum space and dry fast. >Buy a Turkish towel here
- Foldable Chairs – Portable chairs allow you to set camp at the beach, park, winery, and even a parking lot. A classic Coleman portable chair is a solid choice. >>Buy portable camping chair
- Beach Blanket – For laying on the sand, a beach blanket is necessary. Good ones are waterproof, sandproof, and light. The blankets manufactured by Wekapo fit several adults and are durable. >Buy this nice beach blanket here
- Soft Cooler Bag – A soft cooler bag with enough capacity is great for having drinks and some food items at hand. I love my CleverMade collapsible cooler bag. >Take a look at my cooler here
- Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle. >Check out the insane options here
- THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours. >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
- Dry Bag – Keep your valuables (and electronics) protected by bringing a dry bag. >These dry bag is awesome
- Beach Bag or Large Tote – Carry all your gear on an amazing beach bag. Get one with tons of pockets (I love pockets). >>>Check out my beach bag top pick
- Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone. I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000. It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
- Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
- Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on beach trips. Having a power bank is a lifesaver. The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here
Things to Do in Carpinteria
Carpinteria is a peaceful beach community with many nearby natural attractions. A seal and sea lion rookery are located along the bluffs area. There are tide pools full of starfish, anemones, and urchins. The tar pits are still visible today in one of the city’s parks.
Without a doubt, the main attraction here is the beach which some call the “world’s safest” because of its calm waves.
Here is a breakdown of the best things to do and see in Carpinteria.
Linden Avenue is the main artery in the city. The street has the classic California look: tall palm streets, colorful shops, all sorts of eating establishments, bicycle lanes, and slow-moving traffic yielding to pedestrians.
Relaxation is breathed everywhere. The place is chic, cool, and warm but it is not congested like Santa Barbara or Santa Monica. You have the sidewalks all to yourself.
Even though the thoroughfare exhibits Old California charm, modern amenities catering to different needs are available. You will find food establishments, gear shops, a supermarket, pharmacies, and small convenience stores.
I recommend walking the entire length of the street to get to know more about the town. The other important thing to notice is that most businesses on Linden are local. If you are visiting or stopping by, consider spending your dollars on those.
World’s Largest Torrey Pine
The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine species in the United States and can only be seen on a natural reserve located between the cities of Del Mar and San Diego or on Santa Rosa Island (part of the Channel Islands National Park). I have written about the nature reserve located in San Diego County here.
Well, turns out the largest of these pines can be found in Carpinteria.
The Wardholme Torrey Pine was planted in 1888 and has grown to be the world’s largest. This tree is huge compared to the ones you find on the reserve. This is an easy to see, nice sight since it is located Downtown (across the public library).
Robitaille’s Fine Candies
Carpinteria has a wonderful candy store called Robitaille’s. The homemade mints of this family-owned business were selected as the official candy of the 50th Presidential Inauguration.
All their chocolates, fudge, mints, and brittles are handmade (no machinery). The selection in the store is mind-blowing (up to 800 items). Let me warn you. It is really difficult to select what to buy.
In addition, the interior of the store is pure Americana and the staff is genuine and friendly. I highly recommend paying a visit to this retailer.
Exact Address: 900 Linden Ave
This district is full of charming and historic homes that range in style from ornate gingerbread to colorful beach shack. The heart of the district is found between Palm and Holly Avenues from the beach to Carpinteria Avenue. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a house on the fun/unusual side.
Carpinteria Valley Museum of History
This museum, operated by the non-profit Carpinteria Valley Historical Society, examines the three major cultures that have called this area home. Entrance is free but donations are appreciated. Find more info here.
Exact address: 956 Maple Avenue
Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve
This 52-acre nature preserve is ideal for those who want to hike, bike, bird watch, or walk along the beach.
Some of the paths do not have beach views. If you want to walk along the bluffs (or access the beach), you need to get out of the “main” trail and cross the train tracks (exhibit great caution when attempting this, looks on both sides).
Once you have crossed the tracks, you will encounter several spots that afford great views of the beach, the Channel Islands, and the oil platforms. After a while, you are going to notice the path that will take you down to the beach.
The reserve can be found at the end of Bailard Avenue.
Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary and Rookery
The Bluffs Preserve is connected to the seal sanctuary.
While walking north on the preserve, you are going to see the Casitas Pier. Pay close attention to the sand next to the pier and you are going to notice several harbor seals sunbathing on the shore (they look like logs from afar). They tend to be surrounded by brown pelicans and cormorants.
Pups can be seen during birthing season, January to June. Please observe the animals from the designated viewing areas. Humans are not allowed to go to that part of the beach (and there are signs telling you so, respect them).
Tar Pits Park
Remember the story behind Carpinteria’s name? The cool thing is that you can visit the spot where the Spaniards saw the locals building their canoes.
Active tar seeps are located at the tar pits park. You are going to feel the smell once you are approaching the big black “rocks.” This is a unique sight. I have not seen something similar along the coast.
Carpinteria State Beach
This is probably the gem of the town. Many people visit because they want to experience a mile of beach ideal for swimming, surfing, lounging, and tide pooling.
I found the sand on this beach very soft and fine (that is a rarity in California). My only complaint is that I encountered a lot of driftwood, rocks, and seaweed. I am sure this is seasonal and the perimeter is “cleaner” during summer.
Let me mention this beach is completely kid and family-friendly. Apart from water activities, kids can play at the Tomol Interpretative Play Area or run at a big green space located next to the beach. There are multiple places to walk and ride bikes.
The beach offers the following amenities:
- Tent campsites
- Group campsites
- RV spaces
- RV sanitation station
- Picnic areas
- Direct access to the beach
- Green areas
Carpinteria State Beach Camping
The state beach offers four campground loops that total to about 200 campsites. Each campsite has a table and a fire ring. Onsite restrooms have coin-operated showers with hot water. Rangers offer interpretative programs for kids during summer.
Reservations need to be made way in advance since the place fills up quickly. Find out more information here.
Several water sports are practiced at Carpinteria Beach. Please notice most of these activities are available during summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day).
The Carpinteria Beach Store (Linden and the beach) rents boogie boards and other equipment. Kayak rentals are available during the weekend at the end of Ash Avenue.
Rincon Designs sells locally made boards and apparel. They rent boards and wetsuits too.
A little bit away from Downtown Carpinteria, on a different strand of sand (Padaro Beach), you will find A-frame Surf, a store catering to all the needs of a surfer. In addition, you can enroll in the classes offered by Surf Happens Surf School.
Carpinteria Salt Marsh
This is one of the few remaining coastal wetlands in California. The paths in this preserve have interpretative signs that help visitors to learn about the flora and fauna of the place. Free docent tours are available on Saturday (10:00 a.m.)
Seems like alpacas are taking the world by storm. Their cute faces are featured on social media on regular basis and I see more and more kids holding alpaca plush toys.
If you want to do something different in Carpinteria, this is a good option. Canzelle Family Farms have been breeding alpacas for over 20 years. In addition, the farm is a house to llamas, sheep, dogs, and cats.
You can only see the alpacas on a guided tour and reservations are needed. There is nobody controlling access to the farm but if you are not participating in a tour, you will be asked to leave.
If you are going, the GPS will take you to a spot along a major road (4036 Foothill Road). You then have to turn left and keep going all the way to the end. It can be confusing since there is nothing indicating if you are going the correct way.
This business offers everything you may need to start your own garden (or to take care of one). They have a wide selection of soils, plant species, tools, fountains, bird feeders, ornaments, pottery, containers, and more. I loved their succulent area since the variety was astonishing.
The nice thing is that the public is welcome to visit the store’s 3-acre botanical garden. They present 11 garden vignettes showing habitats from different parts of the world. This is a good option for those who want to escapes the beach for a bit.
Close to Carpinteria
This beach is located north of town along Santa Claus Lane and Padaro Lane. Sometimes locals call the segment along Santa Claus Lane “Santa Claus Beach.” Therefore, do not get confused if you hear the term.
Parking in here is on the street and there are no restroom facilities (except for some porta potties along the road).
There are beaches on both sides of Rincon Point. To the north, you have Rincon County Park and to the south, Rincon Point State Beach. The beaches are accessed from the Bates Road exit on the 101 Freeway. This is a very popular place for surfers.
Best Restaurants in Carpinteria
Carpinteria has many good places to eat. Thus, do not worry. You are going to eat well while enjoying the beach. Here are some of my favorite restaurants in town.
I love, love The Worker Bee Café. This joint offers egg dishes, pancakes, sandwiches and shakes. I had the potato skins with scrambled eggs, jalapeno bacon, green onions and sour cream last time I visited. It was beyond delicious!
The food is good here but the owners/servers are what make this place special!
Other breakfast options include Crushcakes and Café, Jack’s Bistro & Famous Bagels, and Esau Café.
Lunch and Dinner
The lunch and dinner options are good too.
I really liked the food at Rincon Brewery. My husband had the fish tacos and I had the La Reina trip tip tacos. We cleaned those plates in a matter of minutes. Their menu consists of sliders, burgers, sandwiches, soups, and salads. Their atmosphere is relaxing and welcoming.
In addition, I like the Thai food at Siam Elephant and the Japanese fare at Sushi Teri. For pizza, you can go to Nutbelly and for tacos go to Tacos Don Roge.
And, you cannot leave town without trying something from The Spot. This small, unassuming shack has a killer line every single time I visit. The serves burgers, pastrami sandwiches, hot dogs, nachos, fries, onion rings and shakes among other things. This is a local favorite for sure!
For good coffee, Lucky Llama Coffee House is your best bet.
If you want to spend some time tasting (after all, this is Santa Barbara County), you can head to Rincon Brewery or Island Brewing Company. You can taste the offerings by ordering a flight or a paint (they let you taste a before ordering).
If beer is not your thing, The Apiary serves cider and mead (fermented honey and water). That is something unique that you can try (it is not that common to find mead in California).
Corktree Cellars offers wine flights and tapas on Linden Avenue.
More about the Area
North of Carpinteria you will find the Gaviota Coast. You can read my post about the area here.
Santa Barbara is located about 10 miles north. Make sure to visit this beautiful city.
Plus, here are some posts with more ideas on things to do in Southern California.
I do hope you visit Carpinteria one day and experience all the fun and incredible lifestyle. Have you been? What are your recommended things to do in Carpinteria?
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