El Capitan Beach and Refugio Beach

Santa Barbara County

El Capitan
State Beach and
Refugio State Beach


Highway 101
17 - 20 miles west of Santa Barbara
  (805) 968-1033


Day use per vehicle: $10
Park Hours: 8:00 AM to dusk

Main Attractions

  • Surfing
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Beach walking

Facilities and Features

  • Parking, restrooms
  • Campgrounds
  • Showers
  • Hiking trails
  • Lifeguards during peak season


  • Campsites, restrooms
  • Picnic area
  • Beach wheelchair available at entry station. At Refugio Beach call (805) 968-1033 to reserve beach wheelchair
  • Bluff-top bike/walkway trail
  • Nature Trail at El Capitan
  • Campfire Center


  • Rogue waves
  • Rip currents
  • Rising tides trapping beach walkers against cliffs
  • Dangerous cliffs

Special Regulations

  • Dogs on leash in campground
  • No dogs on beach or trails

Nearby Beaches

  • Gaviota State Park, 9 - 12 miles northwest
  • Jalama Beach County Park, 39 - 42 miles north
  • Goleta Beach, 13 - 17 miles south

map of El Capitan State Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA

El Capitan State Beach

Only a half hour drive up the coast from Santa Barbara, El Capitan Beach sees a lot of visitors year-round. Among favorite activities along the rock and sand beach are surfing, exploring tide pools, picnicking, sun bathing, and fishing.

A bike-walk trail meanders along the coast, provide great views of the ocean. Clusters of campgrounds along the shore make it a popular destination for campers.

Highlights of El Capitan State Beach

El Capitan Beach property extends across the railroad tracks and Highway 101 up into the lower slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains, but most visitors confine themselves to the beach areas. A nature trail and a rolling bike-walk trail offer great ways to explore the coast and the forested areas along El Capitan Creek.


A variety of birds can be spotted in the trees. Among the most common are scrub jays, flickers, California thrashers, and band-tailed pigeons. Squirrels scurry about the tree limbs while mule deer forage among the oaks and shrubs. Out along the coast birders spot gulls, loons, Clark's grebes, and scoters. Looking out to sea, you may well see dolphins and passing gray whales.

El Capitan Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA

Refugio State Beach

Three miles up the coast from El Capitan State Beach, palm tree-lined Refugio State Beach rests in a shallow cove. Its sandy beach attracts sun bathers and picnickers, beach walkers and anglers. During the summer months lifeguards are on duty.

Key Features at Refugio State Beach

  • Mile-long sandy beach
  • Campground close to beach
  • Kayak Tours led by lifeguards
  • Plenty of picnic tables and BBQs
  • General store open on weekends

A coastal bike and walk trail connects Refugio State Beach with El Capitan State Beach, 3 miles down the coast.

Refugio Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA
map of Refugio State Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA

Refugio State Beach

From the bluffs along the edge of the ocean visitors can get a great view of the Channel Islands. Walking along the 1.5-mile long beach can lead to many wonders. Harbor seals can be spotted bobbing in the surf. The tide pools are filled with rich colonies of sea stars, sea anemones, crabs, and other interesting creatures.

Some people like to swim in the freshwater lagoon formed where Refugio Creek empties into the ocean.

Ocean Safety

California State Parks and Recreation cautions that "large surf, cold water temperatures, backwash, sudden drop-offs, pounding shorebreak, and dangerous rip currents can turn what seem like safe activities such as playing near the surf line, wading, or climbing on rock outcroppings, deadly." Learn more about ocean safety at CA State Parks: Ocean Safety

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