Camping in Santa barbara

Anyone have any experience Camping in the Santa barbara region?

If I arrived on a Thursday(Aug 9) is it likely that i’ll find be able to secure one of the first come first serve spots in the county parks? (Cachuma lake or Jamala). I ask because everything in the region on ReserveAmerica is booked up through the weekend(I believe ReserveAmerica only covers state and federal parks). I’m afraid me and my friends won’t have a place to stay.

We’re also looking at the Pismo beach/San luis Obispo region. Any advice would be appreciated. We basically want something coastal in the lower central coast region.

There’s a big tree in a park that’s famous for having homeless people sleeping under it, IIRC.

You should check out nearby Carpenteria. They have the World’s Safest Beach. Right near it, if it’s still there, is The Spot, which serves by far the most fantastic hamburgers. Look for signs to the World’s Safest Hamburger Stand.

It’s pretty crowded this time of year. Thursday is a very popular day to start the weekend. You are better off on a Monday or a Tuesday for drop in, but without a reservation, there are no guarantees. Obviously it’s hit or miss, but if you don’t get in a drop in campground on your first shot, you are likely to get shut out of all other options.

There are no campgrounds in Santa Barbara city proper. All the beach campgrounds are pretty nice. I prefer Refugio or El Capitan, west of Santa Barbara. Gaviota is also quite nice. There’s McGrath and Emma Wood in Ventura, with Emma Wood being very close to the city of Ventura, thus being a bit more urban.

I would guess Lake Cachuma might be more available because it can be freakin’ hot out in the valley. There’s a huge fucking fire going on right now. An article in the News Press said that it wouldn’t be contained until Labor Day. WTF? That’s a month from now! If the fire is still going on, it could be pretty smoky. Plus, there’s tons of deerflies that actually bite and draw blood this time of year. The fire and heat kind of rule out all the other inland valley campgrounds which are really quite nice in the spring when there is plenty of water (except this year, when we got 3 inches of rain) and the weather is mild. I was going to say, if you are adventurous, you could try Mono campgrouund which is down a 20 mile dirt road, but like I said, probably unbearably hot this time of year.

There’s Jalama Beach, up towards Lompoc, which is a really terrific, albeit windy campground. You may have better chances there. There is also a private and expensive campground at El Capitan Canyon, about a mile from El Capitan beach. Up towards San Luis Obispo, there’s Pismo Beach, a hotbed of gearhead dunebuggy derelicts. It’s one of the few places in California that you can drive on the beach. Montana Del Oro next to Moro Bay is really beautiful and fairly isolated with fantastic hiking and a Northern California vibe. I hear good things about San Simeon.

Next time, get a reservation. I have no idea what your chances are with dropping in.

And Napier, in as much as the Spot is a great historical filthy shack, the chiliburgers are mediocre. You are better off at In-N-Out or Fatburger.

Thanks Darryl,

This was last minute and we were hoping to get a spot at el capitan, but it looks completely booked on Reserve America.

the county parks look like our best bet at this point, but i’m still looking for advice so consider this my bump of the day.

Well darn, I was going to recommend El Capitan as well. We camped there a million times when I was a kid.

I camped Jalama last weekend. Let me tell you in no uncertain terms that it will be very hard to get a spot.

When you make the turn off Hwy 1, you’ll see a sign posted saying the the park is full for both Camping and Day Use. You’re free to ignore this. When you get there, you will be told to put your name on a list and then return at 3:00pm when they will read names off the list of those who will get a spot. The number of free spots, of course, depends on who is leaving that day. We were number 25 on a list of 45+. We didn’t get a spot the first day. People with RVs/Campers are told to go sleep at the WalMart parking lot (overnight parking is allowed) and try again the next day (gotta come back down in the morning again to get put on the list, then return later to hear the roll-call). The girls in the site next to us were having a camping bachelorette party. The one girl who lived in SLO was the organizer and drove down to Jalama every day during the week for 3 days to try to get a spot (guess she doesn’t work).

Jalama is an amazing place to camp, but it’s an absolute madhouse at this time. But yeah, since it’s a country park it’s still possible to get a spot as opposed to State Parks on the reservation system.

Good luck!

Oh and also, be sure to scope out the spots and ask people when they’re planning to leave and see which are the best ones (shade!). If/when they call your name you’ve got to make a decision right then and there as to which number spot you want, looking at only a map.

If you do get a spot, expect to be asked CONSTANTLY by people on the prowl: “You planning on leavin’ today?”

ETA: I’m making it sound like a friggin’ circus (which it is), but I’ll reiterate that it’s an amazing place to camp. Way better than El Cap or Cachuma IMO/E.

jayrot, what day did you show up?

We came on Friday. As I said, didn’t get a spot on the first night. Actually a nice guy felt sorry for us (probably a little lonely and starved for attention) allowed us to crash his spot on that night. There’s a 2 car limit per spot and he only had one. Since were there overnight on Friday, we got our names on the list bright and early on Sat. morning got a great spot and moved over at 3pm.

I heard peripherally that some people got taken off the list one day because they had been going around asking people to take over their spot after they leave, essentially circumventing the roll-call system. It’s basically all the human nature stuff that comes along with a popular item in short supply with high demand (e.g. people trying to reserve 3 spots at once, etc.) but they’ve got the system down pretty good.

If I’ve scared you at all, let me say that I would probably do it again. Of course I just live in Santa Barbara so it’s not that far of a trek if it doesn’t work out (still a bummer). Obviously the earlier (in the day) you get there, the better. As to exactly how early, I wish I could say. I heard that the RV cohort at WalMart started to mobilize at 3am. Obviously they don’t start taking names at 3am, though.

I take it that Jalama used to be one of the best kept secrets on the central coast since it wasn’t on any list of National or State Parks. Apparently it was written up in Sunset magazine at one point and then the cat was out of the bag, as they say.

Incidentally, cell phones don’t work at Jalama and there only 2 payphones which don’t work too well.

The Fig Tree! We almost ended up there ourselves before we bailed out of that overpriced, but beautiful city.

My parents are camping at El Cap right now!

I second Carpinteria beach. Are the showers still free?

Have they re-done it or something? I never much liked that campground, the sites are close together–hardly any privacy. Refugio and El Capitan State Parks are usually packed during the summer. The private campground at El Cap might be an option, but it’s pretty expensive.

At Pismo, there’s a couple of State Park CG’s, Oceano and North Beach. I prefer Oceano, there are some nice spots set amid large trees, just over the dunes from the beach. You can also camp on the beach at Oceano Dunes, but you’d want an AWD or 4WD for that.

If you’re willing to go a bit further north, Montana de Oro is worth checking out.