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.