The best of Santa Barbara

Lysa Allman-Badwin | 8/28/2014, 11:57 a.m.
With all there is to see and do in Santa Barbara, as we learned in the first two parts of ...
A stay in a Cedar Cabin at El Capitan Canyon allows you to reconnect with nature. Photo by Lysa Allman-Badwin

With all there is to see and do in Santa Barbara, as we learned in the first two parts of this feature series, you definitely need some downtime to relax and rejuvenate.

Accommodation options in and around town are plentiful, from your customary chains such as Holiday Inn, Embassy Suites, Comfort Inn and Suites, Doubletree, Best Western and the like, to upscale hotels and resorts, including the Bucara Resort & Spa, the Hotel Milo Santa Barbara and San Ysidro Ranch, to quaint inns such as the Spanish Garden Inn, Inn by the Harbor, the Simpson House Inn and the West Beach Inn.

But because we had rented a Jucy ( for our 10-day road trip up the coast, this allowed us to travel and stay a little bit “off the grid.”


It has been a few years since I have had an opportunity to go camping, so I was very excited about embarking upon a two-night stay at Ocean Mesa at El Capitan, located just 20 minutes north of Santa Barbara. When we made our reservation, we knew we’d be the little guy among the larger “siblings,” such as towable RVs, 21- to 40-foot motorhomes and the top-of-the-line Class A motorhomes ranging from 22- to 45-feet with expandable sides and just about every amenity you could think of that you would have in a traditional home.

Yet the description of the place is what fit the bill: “Ocean Mesa is surrounded by Los Padres National Forest above the magnificent Pacific Ocean … explore our 15 miles of hiking trails, enjoy a music-filled Saturday evening under the stars … or just relax and take in the magnificent ocean views of the Gaviota Coast.” I was already hooked!

Upon our arrival, we found a very beautiful and clean campground backing up to the picturesque mountains, just a stone’s throw from some of the most beautiful unspoiled stretches of the California coast. Each campsite encompassed a very spacious, elongated, concrete pad for your vehicle, a tree-carved picnic table for eight, a gravel and asphalt area, fire ring with grill and the appropriate hookups for your particular recreational vehicle needs. They also have 20 tent camping sites. And unlike what you’ll find at many campgrounds, most were separated by 6-foot high rows of verdant bushes as a privacy buffer.

In addition to a little convenience store within the check-in office, campers here also have access to the adjacent Canyon Market & Cafe, located just a short five-minute walk down the Bill Wallace Trail, which meanders through a verdant avocado tree grove.

The market is a charming country store featuring a delicious, organic menu of gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner items, a large selection of local area wines, specialty items and the customary convenience store sundries.

The ambience here is captivating, highlighted by wooden bridges, a creek, handcrafted artwork pieces, a camp ring and stage (for groups) and a little gift shop selling body products, jewelry and the like. Other campground amenities include a modern and spacious bathhouse and comfort stations, a large heated pool and Jacuzzi, 15 miles of hiking trails, entertainment activities and laundry facilities. It is also wired for Internet and TV, though the best part is an inviting ambiance in which to enjoy the great outdoors and meet other people—families with children, couples, retirees and those who live on the road full-time—from across the country.