From Carpinteria west, the Santa Barbara County shoreline extends to Point Conception, one sandy and mellow beach after another. The coastline’s southern exposure results in clearer water, smoother sand and warmer sun than other California communities. Or so locals like to boast, anyway.
These are my home shores and I’m delighted to share my favorite beach walks, bluff-top rambles and coastal hikes. COAST WALKS: Santa Barbara is a collection of time-tested classic walks long enjoyed by my family, friends and fellow Santa Barbarans, as well as newer adventures worthy of your time and attention.
It’s been a great pleasure walking about and writing about the Santa Barbara coast. Particularly rewarding are the coast walks I’ve led for schoolkids, conservation groups and The Wayfarers, a walking vacation company.
Santa Barbara County offers miles of pleasant sand beach with the ocean and islands on one side and the mountains on the other. Many of the county’s beaches are lined by narrow coastal terraces that have the effect of protecting them from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Sailing, surfing and stand-up paddling are popular shoreline activities, as are kayaking, fishing, boogie-boarding and beach volleyball playing. But walking is the most popular beach activity for visitors and locals alike.
For the coast-walker, the Santa Barbara County coast is really three coasts in one: the famed beaches in and near the city of Santa Barbara; the Gaviota Coast, ecologically unique enough to be considered as national parkland, and north county shores, including isolated beaches and a portion of the vast Guadalupe Dunes.
The best-known beaches are the southern- most sand strands, particularly the city of Santa Barbara’s classic palm-lined beaches that attract visitors from across the country and around the world. Enhanced by the Mediterranean climate, Santa Barbara beaches are world renowned for their beauty and as a place to play.
The beaches back of “The American Riviera,” as Santa Barbara is sometimes known, offer a great sampling of SoCal beach culture and plenty of sights-to-see. Explore Stearns Wharf and the harbor. Walk into history and learn about the native Chumash era, Spanish exploration, and the early days of Santa Barbara as a beachside retreat.
Saunter along the beaches down-coast from Santa Barbara to Montecito’s Butterfly Beach, to Summerland Beach, a onetime Spiritualist community, and on to Carpinteria Beach, sometimes billed as “The World’s Safest Beach.”
Up-coast from Santa Barbara, take a hike along the blufftops to lovely butterfly preserves where a multitude of monarchs dwell. Walk around wetlands near the University of California, Santa Barbara and count the amazing number of native and migratory birds. Visit a World War II “Battleground,” the shore shelled by a Japanese submarine in 1942.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic sunset stroll, a family beach walk or heart-pounding bluff-top hike, you’re sure to find it along the Santa Barbara Coast.
Walk on John McKinney