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.
Here, you'll learn where the locals hang out and where the crowds flock to find their favorite place in the sun.
Hidden Gem: Haskell's Beach in the Goleta area, pictured at right, is a hidden gem and one of our favorite top California beaches. Easy parking, great swimming and surfing, walking trails, a snack bar (summer only) -- and dog-friendly to boot -- the beach regularly attracts sea lions and dolphins.
Santa Barbara just may be the beach volleyball capital of the world. This photo taken at East Beach -- right in the center of town. Image courtesy of USA Today.
Santa Barbara Central - Beach Activities and Beyond
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 Coast Highway. 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.
Beautiful Refugio State Beach, above, is located 20 miles West of Santa Barbara on Highway 101. Camping, trails, picnic tables and a gorgeous beach await you. Image courtesy of California Dept. of Parks and Recreation.
Santa Barbara Harbor
The Santa Barbara harbor area is the center of all beach activity in town, with great ocean-front restaurants and nice places to stroll as you decide which top California beach will be your haven for the day. Heading north past the harbor is Leadbetter Beach, with nice surfing, picnic tables, outdoor showers, bathroom facilities, a park and more. It can get a little busy here, but there is good parking and a nice casual, beachfront restaurant to enjoy -- the Shoreline Cafe. Eat inside, on the outdoor tables, or grab a spot on the sand.
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.
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. Some of our favorites ocean-front camping spots include El Capitan State Beach, Gaviota State Beach, Carpinteria State Beach, Refugio 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.
Sensational Year Round
Once you get to the Santa Barbara/Ventura coastline, you'll find it is simply paradise. The weather is quite good year round, with June through August being the high season. So plan to stay a while, and make your way through these top California beaches one by one. Please come back to our website in the days ahead as we add more beaches from this beautiful part of the world to our list.
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.
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