The California Coast has some of the most picturesque and serene beaches in the country. Thankfully, there are a handful of campgrounds a short drive from the LA/OC area that allow for one to feel like they escaped the city. Carpinteria is one of these so called “gems” of a campground.
Leaving Huntington Beach and heading north on the 405 is sadly the quickest route. I say sadly because the 405 is almost always a parking lot on a Friday late afternoon. Driving our Sprinter Van in heavy traffic is not exactly a great way to unwind after work. However, we piled in the rig and headed north.
The 405 eventually connects to the 101 at which point you take that north/west towards Santa Barbara. You could opt for a similar time frame and take PCH through the santa monica area and eventually connect to the 101 near malibu.
The 101 freeway vs. Pacific Coast Highway
The 101 requires you to sit in more traffic on the 405 as you snake your way through the canyons. The scenery is mostly just rolling hills with the lackluster LA skyline in the distance. I will say that driving by the Getty is always cool to see. I like the architectural design of the building perched on the hill overlooking the valley below. It also makes me feel like I am physically in the game GTA V. The 101 will bypass the entire downtown area and the hassle of stoplights in exchange for the inevitable traffic patterns of the LA freeway system.
PCH is a good alternative if you are wanting to people watch. Exiting the 405 and heading west to Santa Monica will give you a quick look at the iconic Santa Monica Pier and allow for a quick drive through Malibu. This will eventually hook you up with the 101 as well however its less freeway traffic in exchange for stoplights.
North of LA
Once you make the connection between the 101 and PCH in Ventura, you simply head north along the coast. The view is as expected. Look out to the left of the vehicle and you see endless ocean while to the right some rolling hills. One spot in particular that is a staple amongst the California Surf culture is Rincon… on a decent swell you can see the point breaking from the highway. Some say it is one of the greatest breaks in California. I’ll be honest here, its pretty good but the crowds get too heavy for it to be fun for everyone.
Carpinteria is a sleepy little beach town just south of Santa Barbara. The state beach is smack in the middle of the town. There are numerous camping spots and they can accommodate the larger RV’s as well as those of us who prefer the tent. The campground has a small creek that flows through it under a bridge that is a great spot for your kids to hang out as it connects to the ocean.
There is a grocery store about a block from the campground so if you forgot anything from home you don’t have to worry. The store is also stocked up on firewood so you don’t have to worry about packing that in the car. You can just grab it when you get there.
If you need a quick bite to eat while you set up the campsite and don’t want to deal with cooking, there is a great little pizza place just outside the entrance to the camp ground. They have a thinner style crust but their sauce is pretty good. I personally am more of a chicago deep dish as opposed to the new york style thin crust but pizza is still pizza.
Carpinteria State Beach Campground is located at:
5361 6th St. Carpinteria Ca. 93013
The entrance is a straight shot into it and easily maneuverable for larger RV’s and trucks pulling trailers up to 35 feet in length. Of special note is that dogs are welcome in the campground itself but not on the state beach.
We opted to tent camp and scored a location right next to the beach so we could see the kids from the campsite. This made it easy to hangout and still give the kids some level of independence from mom and dad without being out of sight. Parenting kids at a young age is a balance of safety and independence. You don’t want to overprotect but you have to make sure they are safe. We could see the ocean right out of the back of the van.
Things To Do
There are some small tidepools at low tide on the southern end of the beach that make for a decent morning walking destination. There is a high likelihood of seeing multiple sealions relaxing on the sand near the rocks.
The kids enjoyed playing at the creek outlet. The water has a connection to the ocean and flows both in and out based on the level of the tides. At low tide, the water has a steady flow where the kids enjoyed building damns and bridges or searching for the perfect rock to skip.
The bridge by the campground has train tracks running over them. It presents itself as a nice little walk from the tent campsites with a great view of the creek and beach. However, the Surfliner train does pass through the area intermittently all day every day. There is an occasional cargo train as well. I’m calling this out only because some train engineers seem to really love the horns more than they like letting you sleep.
Booking for any state beach campsite is basically 6 months out to the day. It is difficult to get any campsite booked due to the volume of people trying to get it. You absolutely must make reservations the day they open up for reserving or they will be sold out.
Carpinteria State Beach is a nice campground that offers RV and tent camping on the beach. Pets are welcome in the campground but not on the beach. Reservations are extremely difficult to get and must be done months in advance. Facilities are cleaned regularly so toilets and showers are available. Trains can be loud when they go by.
I would definitely consider this spot for a quick family weekend trip. I do not think it holds enough stuff to do for a full week of camping. There are other things to do in the area, but when tent camping in California, security is an issue if you are worried about stuff being stolen from your campsite if you drive to other attractions.
The beach gets pretty busy on weekends. The surf is terrible but great for kids. Be aware of the submerged rocks in the area and the larger population of juvenile great whites lurking off the coast here. The study from CSULB showed that 98% of the time a great white is swimming nearby people at Del Mar and Carpinteria beaches.