El Capitán State Beach

California, United States
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Lush sycamores and oaks flourish along El Capitán Creek at the entry to El Capitán State Beach. Tall bluff-top groves are visible for miles along the terraced coastline. This extremely popular beach, 17 miles west of Santa Barbara off U.S. Highway 101, is a perfect place to enjoy camping, hiking, surfing, picnicking and beach walking.
Getting There
The beach is located off Highway 101, seventeen miles west of Santa Barbara.

The Day Use Annual Pass is accepted at this park.
Seasons/Climate/Recommended Clothing
At El Capitán, the moderate climate brings cool fog during the summer months. Late summer and fall are sunny and warm; winter storms often break up into crystal-clear days.
Operating Hours & Contact
The park is open from 8am to sunset.

For a recorded message about this park, please call 805-968-1033.
Tips & Rules
• Do not hike along the beach without first consulting a tide chart or talking with a lifeguard. The beach that exists at low tide may disappear when the tide comes in, trapping you against the cliffs. Current tide tables can be found at the entry station/kiosk and on information boards found within the park unit.
• Stay away from the cliffs. They are dangerously unstable and may collapse.
• Keep dogs on leashes no longer than six feet, and in a tent or enclosed vehicle at night. Only registered service dogs are allowed in park buildings, on trails or on the beach.
• A parent or guardian must accompany youths under 18 years of age. Any unaccompanied youth must present written consent from the parent or guardian stating the dates of the authorized stay and the name of the park.
Campsites: The 132-site campground is open all year. A downhill walk from most campsites takes you to the beach. Each site has a picnic table and stove or fire ring; restrooms with hot showers are nearby. Trailers and recreational vehicles up to 35 feet in length can be accommodated.

Camping reservations are accepted between April 1 – November 30. During the remainder of the year campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Three vehicles maximum per site and occupancy limited to 8 people.

The Del Mar RV area (No Hook-ups. No Amenities – Tables, Fire-Rings, etc.) can accommodate vehicles up to 42 feet in length.

There is a fresh water fill station. The closest dump station is in Goleta.

Group Campsites: Five group camping areas, accommodating 40-100 people, overlook the ocean from the marine terrace.

Make Campground Reservations

Hike and Bike Campsites: Register at the park entrance to camp in the “Hike and Bike” area. Hot showers, restrooms, tables and barbecues are available. Two night stay maximum.
A self-guided nature trail winds through the woodlands on El Capitán Point. The Bill Wallace Trail, named for a coastal protection advocate and former Santa Barbara County supervisor, winds through the park, offering hikers more than ten miles of views with a 1,000-foot elevation gain.

Surfing conditions change with the weather. However, at low tides during fall and winter, advanced surfers sometimes find a perfect west or west-southwest swell.
Plants & Animals
The impressive stands of coast live oaks, sycamores, and willows along El Capitán Creek create a lush coastal woodland. The oaks provide food for wildlife, while sycamores and willows provide shade. Band tailed pigeons, flickers, and scrub jays share the acorns with raccoons, western gray squirrels and mule deer. The dense sage along the creek is home to black phoebes, California thrashers and wren bushtits. Sea birds include scoters, western and Clark’s grebes, gulls, terns and loons. Long-billed curlews, willets, plovers and sanderlings walk the narrow beach.

Dolphins may be seen just offshore; the bluff tops offer excellent views of California gray whales during their annual migrations. Great Basin fence lizards are at home in the sage scrub. Southern Pacific rattlesnakes hunt for various rodents, including the California mouse and the Pacific kangaroo rat.

Beneath the woodlands canopy, grasses and herbaceous plants offer shelter to a wide variety of insects, reptiles and birds. During fall, monarch butterflies decorate the trees—look for clusters of reddish-brown wings with black veins.
Chumash Indians lived here in the village of Ahwin as long as 3,200 years ago. They built their dome-shaped houses along the creek that had scoured out the canyon. Skilled hunters and gatherers, the Chumash are known for their exquisite basketry and for building seaworthy plank canoes (tomol) that allowed them to travel to the offshore islands. Some of their beautiful cave paintings can be seen at nearby Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park.

Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo “discovered” this area in 1542, claiming it for Spain. In 1782, the Spanish built the Santa Barbara Royal Presidio - the last Spanish fortress constructed in Alta California - to protect the nearby missions and settlers from foreign invasion and attacks by the native people. For the Chumash, Spanish colonization meant the end of their traditional way of life. Exposed to European diseases against which they had little immunity, their population quickly plummeted. After Mexico gained its independence from Spain, most surviving Chumash became ranch hands and servants on the new ranchos. Today, a growing number of their descendants are rediscovering their traditional heritage.

The first commander of the Santa Barbara Presidio was José Francisco Ortega, who had been chief scout for the Portolá expedition when they discovered San Francisco Bay. When Ortega retired as a brevet captain after 40 years of military service, the Spanish Crown granted him 26,500 acres of land west of what is now El Capitán State Beach, which takes its name from this early Californian. Ortega’s grandson, José Dolores Ortega, obtained another 8,800 acres of land, including the site of the future state beach, from the Mexican government in 1841. He and his family lived on Rancho Cañada del Corral, raising cattle and farming until they were forced to sell it in 1866, following years of ruinous droughts.

In 1953, the State of California purchased 111 acres of the former rancho to create El Capitán State Beach, and in 1967, the Legislature approved purchase of an additional 21 acres. Growing threats of development to the lands across the highway from the park led to a public/private fund-raising effort in 2002 that raised $500,000 in seven weeks to purchase 2,500 acres of land known as El Capitán Ranch. This property was added to El Capitán State Beach, and today the park offers high quality coastal recreation while preserving an important part of California’s environment and history.
Accessible Features
Camping: Six campsites have firm surfaces and accessibly designed tables, but assistance may be needed with water spigots. The restroom/shower building in the de Anza Loop and the restroom and beach shower in the day use parking lot are accessible. Other campground restroom and site improvements are pending.

The Nature Trail trailhead is near the Entrance Station. This short trail will take the user out to the beach and through a wooded sycamore grove. For additional information, call (805) 968-1033.

Beach/Shore Access: Contact Entry Station staff, Lifeguard or Camp Host for beach wheelchair information.
Park News Alert
Please Note: For the current status of this park, please call 805-968-1033.

El Capitán State Beach no longer has an RV dump station. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
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