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Best Beaches in Santa Barbara County

El Capitan

“El Cap,” as it is fondly referred to locally, is part of the California State Parks and because of that beachgoers have access to excellent facilities. Overnight camping, showers, restrooms, picnic tables and grills, and even a small general store on weekends are a few of the perks. In addition, the plentiful parking, for a modest $5 fee, is welcomed on weekends and holidays. There is a splendid feeling of remoteness and tranquility in spite of the facilities and activity.

Location: 17 miles north of Santa Barbara on Hwy. 101 at the El Capitan State Park sign.

Goleta Beach

Resting between Santa Barbara and the UCSB campus, GoletaBeachCountyPark encompasses nearly 30 acres. It is a popular spot with families and university students due in part to the expanses of sand and grass, picnic facilities and paved trails for walking and bicycles.

Fishing enthusiasts know that this is the only non-commercial fishing pier in the Santa Barbara area. It also has its own restaurant and snack bar. In fact, fun and facilities abound here. In addition to swimming and sunning, GoletaBeach offers children’s playgrounds, areas for volleyball and horseshoes, boating and a jet ski ramp, picnicking and restrooms. There is also a large, free parking lot.

Location: Hollister Ave. to Sandspit Rd. OR Hwy 101 to Hwy 217 (to airport), then exit at Sandspit Rd.

Arroyo Burro (“Hendry’s”) Beach

Although its official name is “Arroyo Burro,” the “Hendry’s” moniker refers to Anne Hendry, a Scottish immigrant whose family farmed nearby land from 1890 to 1919 or so.

One of the most popular beaches in Santa Barbara, much loved Hendry’s is conveniently located at the intersection of Cliff Drive and Las Positas Road. You will witness romantic strolls, families enjoying the spacious sandy playground, surfers, and dogs and their owners enjoying the canine camaraderie plentiful at the beach’s off-leash area. This dog-friendly beach even offers a canine washing and grooming station.

Adding to the spot’s appeal are outdoor showers, restrooms and a grassy area with barbecue grills and picnic tables. A beachside restaurant, The Boathouse, offers breakfast, lunch and dinner just a few yards from the sand and surf.

Adjacent to exclusive residential enclave Hope Ranch, the beach resides in the shadow of the Douglas Family Preserve, a pristine plot of publicly-accessible fields, woodlands and trails.

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Location: One block past intersection of Las Positas Rd. and Cliff Dr. OR HWY 101 to Las Positas Rd. (away from mountains), to Cliff Dr. Turn right on Cliff Dr.

The bluffs of Shoreline Park overlook the quaint Ledbetter Beach near downtown Santa Barbara

The bluffs of Shoreline Park overlook the quaint Ledbetter Beach near downtown Santa Barbara

Leadbetter Beach

When the north-to-south migration of sand along Santa Barbara’s coast was slowed in the 1920’s by the Santa Barbara Harbor breakwater, the piling of sand to the north created Leadbetter Beach, today one of the area’s most popular beachfront recreation spots. The mostly gentle swell here is favored by both beginner and intermediate surfers. Windsurfers and kite surfers join the mix during the summer when the local winds are especially consistent.

Convenient parking provides easy access to the beach, adjacent ShorelinePark and the Shoreline Beach Café. There are picnic facilities, restrooms and outdoor showers.

Location: Take Cabrillo Blvd. (along the Santa Barbara waterfront) just past the Santa Barbara Harbor.

West Beach

West Beach

Guests at several Santa Barbara beachfront hotels enjoy views across Cabrillo Boulevard to WestBeach, and beyond to the ocean and ChanelIslands. Resting between the Santa BarbaraHarbor and Stearn’s Wharf, it is more useful as a vantage point for watching boats depart from and return to the harbor than it is for swimming. It also provides a front-row seat for the city’s dramatic end extensive Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza.

Location: Take State Street to Cabrillo Blvd. Turn right on Cabrillo Blvd. The beach is on the left.

East Beach

This is Santa Barbara’s “front yard” beach. In addition to its convenient location and easy, plentiful parking off of oceanfront Cabrillo Boulevard, it provides more than a mile of ocean access and is safe and clean. In the summer months it is blessed with a contingent of lifeguards and regular grooming.

The grassy, palm tree-lined park adjacent to the beach hosts a festive open-air arts and crafts show and sale every Sunday and is frequently the scene of impromptu soccer games and lively drum circles. Joggers, roller skaters and bicyclists enjoy the paved path that runs for much of the length of the park.

Near the south end of East Beach, the 1920’s vintage Cabrillo Pavilion and Bathhouse is a popular historic building featuring a restaurant and snack bar, showers, lockers, a weight room, childrens’ play area and even a lovely banquet and meeting facility overlooking the ocean and Channel Islands. There are a dozen beach volleyball courts, and picnic tables and grills are nearby.

More information about EastBeach and its facilities is available at Santa Barbara's Government site, or by calling (805) 564-5418.

Location: Take State Street to Cabrillo Blvd. Left on Cabrillo Blvd. The beach is on the right beyond the entire stretch of grassy, park-like frontage and extends all the way down Cabrillo Blvd. to the volleyball courts.

Butterfly, Hammonds & Miramar Beaches

These three Montecito beaches are actually one contiguous stretch of sand that is one of the most prestigious ocean-side playgrounds on the entire West Coast. In fact, it has held that distinction since the 1920s. Beginning just north of the luxurious Four Seasons Biltmore Resort and extending to Fernald Point on the south, it offers sun-soaked sand serving both a world-class resort and multi-million-dollar beachfront estates.

Although frequently un-walkable at high tide, at lower tides the fortunate beachgoer can stroll from the Butterfly cliffs within sight of the Biltmore, past the exclusive Coral Casino Beach Club to Hammonds and Miramar Beaches, and beyond to Fernald Point. If you have an extra $30 million, you might just be able to pick up one of the spectacular oceanfront manors you see along the way.

You will notice plenty of beach fun and frolic here as well. Hammonds often offers surfers some of the best waves in Santa Barbara County, attractive young locals toss Frisbees and footballs while joggers and walkers take advantage of the safe, serene, lengthy and unimpeded (at low tide) venue.

The thing ButterflyBeach is perhaps best-known for, however, is its absolutely spectacular sunsets. Santa Barbara’s most west-facing beach is ideally situated to capture the visual display and romantic ambiance of what has become a ritual for many locals and frequent visitors alike. Add the chance you will see graceful and playful dolphins just offshore and you your personal twilight postcard is complete.

Location: Butterfly Beach: Coast Village Rd. or Hwy 101 to Olive Mill Rd. Turn away from the mountains on Olive Mill Rd.; Hammonds & Miramar Beaches: Hwy. 101 to San Ysidro Rd. Turn toward the beach and continue to end (Eucalyptus Ln.).

Summerland Beach

Easily accessible just one block off of Highway 101 and extremely user-friendly, the beach at Summerland is hard to beat. Pull into LookoutPark and you will see a verdant expanse of lawn complemented by picnic tables, barbecues, and playground equipment for the kids. Head down the paved walkway and you will arrive at a mile-long expanse of beach extending south to Loon Point. To the north at low tide, you can stroll to Fernald Point and connect to the beautiful beaches of Montecito. It is difficult to imagine that SummerlandBeach was home to a forest of wooden oil derricks a century ago.

Location: Hwy. 101 to Summerland (Evans St.) exit. Turn toward the beach and enter Lookout Park.

Carpinteria (State & City) Beaches

Join one of the most popular beaches in California’s State Parks system with a well-cared-for neighboring stretch of sand such as Carpinteria’s broad and well-groomed CityBeach and you have more than a mile of pleasure.

CityBeach rests at the end of the town’s charming Linden Avenue. That makes it convenient to the many restaurants, shops and other amenities that make Carpinteria a favorite of locals and visitors alike. It is an easy walk or ride on the waterfront shuttle.

CarpinteriaStateBeachPark offers camping, RV hook-ups, skate and bicycle rentals. There is also an information-rich visitor’s center with a model tide pool.

Both beaches provide lots of sand and grass for volleyball, Frisbee and other beach activities, and there are restrooms, picnic tables, barbecue grills, and more. Seals, sea lions and gray whales are frequent visitors as are sea urchins and anemones, starfish, snails, crabs and other marine life in the many tide pools.

Although there are usually crowds at these beaches and the park facilities, the festive atmosphere, friendly ambiance and amenities make visits well worth it.

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Location: City Beach: Hwy. 101 to Linden Ave. exit. Follow Linden Ave. through town to the beach; State Beach: Hwy. 101 to Casitas Pass Rd. exit. Casitas Pass Rd. to right on Carpinteria Ave., then left on Palm Ave. Follow Palm Ave. to the beach.

Rincon Beach

RinconBeach can be a pleasant and slightly secluded locale for a swim, stroll and picnic, and the small park above it offers picnic tables and restrooms. Just around the point, “The Rincon” is a different story. It is world-renown as one of the West Coast’s premier – and sometimes downright dangerous – expert surfing spots. Some of the biggest names in surfing train here. The somewhat tricky trek to the water can be well worth it if one is content to stand back and watch the power of the ocean and the skill of some of the best surfers in California.

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Location: Hwy 101 to Bates Rd. exit. Take Bates Rd. to the beach parking lot.