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When it comes to the top California beaches, the Santa Barbara and Ventura coasts are in a class by themselves. These charming towns boast a unique blend of coastal beauty, history, culture and classic California style.

Above: the stretch of coast along the town of Summerland, just south of Santa Barbara, is one of the most beautiful areas you’ll see as you drive along Highway 101. 

There are plenty of hidden coves and stunning yet quiet beaches that you can hike down to along the Santa Barbara/Ventura coastline — many of them viewable from the highway that hugs the coast. But if sun, fun and activities are what you’re looking for, you can’t beat Santa Barbara, where beach volleyball is played almost 24/7. From the main beach area, known as East Beach, you can also rent kayaks, paddle board, people watch and enjoy easy access to all the great food that Santa Barbara has to offer. State Street, just minutes from East Beach, is lined with great shopping and top-notch restaurants.

Santa Barbara just may be the beach volleyball capital of the world. The above photo taken at East Beach — right in the center of town. Image courtesy of USA Today.

Excellent Camping Near Santa Barbara

The views along the Coast Highway between Ventura and Santa Barbara are simply spectacular. And the beaches lining the highway are known for legendary surfing and excellent hiking — not to mention some of the best camping you’ll ever find on the coast. You typically need to reserve in advance — and if you go directly to the state park websites (noted below), you can find out about availability. It’s a great way to experience the California coast at an affordable price.

Left: Beautiful Refugio State Beach, 20 miles west of Santa Barbara on Hwy 101, offers camping, trails, picnic tables and a gorgeous beach. Image courtesy of California Dept. of Parks and Recreation.

Some of our favorite ocean-front camping spots include El Capitan State BeachGaviota State BeachCarpinteria State BeachRefugio State Beach and El Capitan Canyon (private “nature lodging”). Ask anyone who’s grown up along the California coast and they’ll tell you that camping at these unforgettable spots was the highlight of their summers. Beautiful beaches, camp fires and fun family time is what it’s all about.

Views like this are what you’ll see as you drive along the coast between Santa Barbara and Ventura: miles of bluffs and pristine California beaches.

For a super-chill place to eat right on the sand, try the Shoreline Beach Cafe in Santa Barbara. Offering casual, no-frills dining — and great food to boot — at the cafe you can dig your toes in the sand as you grab a quick bite. Located in the Shoreline Beach area northwest of the harbor.


Ventura: Lovely and Low Key

While it’s true Santa Barbara may get all the tourists — and serve as home to the rich and famous — Ventura has more of a locals vibe, making it a low key stop on your California tour. A short one-hour drive from L.A., it offers miles of beautiful beaches, hiking and water activities, not to mention a California Mission and stunning views out to the Channel Islands. You’ll find affordable lodging in town near the coast and a few campsites in Ventura County including Emma Wood State Beach (see photo below).

Above: Park your RV and stay a while at Emma Wood State Beach, Ventura, where camping is practically right on the sand. This no-frills campground is nestled adjacent to the highway, the train tracks and the ocean. It can get a little noisy, but you’re practically right on the sand. For “self-contained” vehicles only — no tents.

Once you get to the Santa Barbara/Ventura coastline, you’ll find it is simply paradise. So plan to stay a while, and make your way through these top California beaches one by one.

Haskell’s Beach

Haskell’s Beach in the Goleta area, pictured above, is a hidden gem and one of our favorite top California beaches. Easy parking, great swimming and surfing, a snack bar (summer only) — and dog-friendly to boot — the beach regularly attracts sea lions and dolphins.


4 thoughts on “Santa Barbara and Ventura Beaches: Classic California Style

  1. Andy says:

    Sadly, California is one state that I haven’t made it to yet. I need to get over there. It looks really nice, great pictures! Thanks

    1. savvypaula says:

      Thanks for your comment, Andy. There’s a lot more to California than most people give it credit for. We hope you’ll visit sometime soon. 🙂

  2. What a nice article. I lived in Ventura and worked in Carpinteria. Every point you make about the beauty is true! The beaches all offer something different and you mentioned a few I never got to visit. Thanks for the post!

  3. savvypaula says:

    I love that area of coastal California, Go Inspire Beauty. I never get tired of visiting.

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