If you live in California and are looking for a fun, unique “glamping” experience near the beach, El Capitan Canyon is a great family-friendly vacation spot to “Glamp.” For those not familiar with the term – Glamping is enjoying all the benefits of camping (firepits, roasting marshmallows, being outside!) with a more glamorous setting (bathroom inside! Bed! Linens! Heat!) We recently spent three days at El Capitan Canyon and loved it. Here are all the details!
El Capitan Canyon is situated about a 15 minute drive north of Santa Barbara, California, (in Santa Barbara County) right on the coast. Its just east of the state beach of the same name. We drove up from San Diego (which took about 3.5 hours). If you were to fly in, you could fly into LA or Santa Barbara.
Cabins and what to expect:
El Capitan Canyon has a few different options: Cedar Cabins, “Adventure Yurts” and “Safari tents”. Additionally, they have a separate campground where you can park an RV or pitch a tent. We didn’t stay in a yurt or tent, but peeked inside and they looked really cute. The downside of the yurts and tents for us was just that you have to use an external shared bathroom. In the summer months, I would be more apt to rent one of these but we went in January and weren’t sure what the weather would be like.
There are a few different options for cabins – some are larger and can accommodate larger groups, but the majority are a simple one bed version with a loft. They come with a very bare-bones kitchenette and a bathroom. All linens are included and also soap/shampoo. The beds are comfortable and there is heat. Every cabin has its own table and firepit outside. Like a hotel, the cabins are also cleaned every day.
What to bring:
We definitely thought the kitchen would be more well stocked. Its not. You will need to bring essentially everything you would need for a normal camping kitchen experience: Plates, Utensils, Napkins, BBQ and/or Camping stove, cups, and anything else you normally bring. The kitchen has some paper towels and a small amount of dishwashing soap and a microwave and small fridge. We didn’t prepare well. Luckily, the El Capitan Canyon store pretty much anticipates that folks will forget things and they have everything you need (just at a premium price 😉
El Capitan Canyon is clean, well cared for and has a great camp store stocked with necessities and some delicious local wines and beer. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner options for those to opt to not cook. Additionally, they have some fun takeaway “kits” like a S’more’s Kit that includes marshmallows, crackers and chocolate and also roasting sticks. They also have a BBQ dinner kit. On the grounds there is a playground and a pool, and the area near the store has some fun lawn games and lots of tables. Additionally, El Capitan Canyon offers some group activities like a weekend Llama hike, a fun run and other events like wine tasting.
Things to do:
Bike: The majority of the area is designated free of cars. So, for young bikers its a great place to ride around. Our seven year old got a new bike for Christmas and she tested it out and got comfortable biking all over the campground area. Additionally, you can bike from El Capitan Canyon to El Capitan State Beach (less than a mile) where there’s a five mile paved trail all the way to the next beach north called Refugio State Beach. (There is a washed out area of trail where bikes need to be walked).
Walk or ride to the beach: El Capitan State Beach is really beautiful. It includes a large campground, and there are several beach areas and picnic tables as well as some walking nature trails. Certain times of the year the surfing is good (my husband brought his board). Note, parking is $10 unless you have a state park pass. We saw lots of people walking from the Canyon to the beach with their beach chairs.
Hike: Right from the Canyon there’s an excellent trail (moderate difficulty) that heads up and offers 360 degree views of the ocean and mountains. (2-3 miles) There are no trees, so bring water and a hat and sunscreen. Additionally, you will see the recent burn scarred area. The Canyon very narrowly escaped fire a few years back. Download the All Trails App for other hiking options. Additionally, there’s short hike from the Canyon to a nearby animal farm which is fun for kids.
Swim: The Canyon has a heated pool guests can use year round.
Play lawn games: Grassy areas abound making it a great place to play lawn games. Additionally, in front of the store/restaurant they have tables, and a giant connect four game and corn hole.
The only drawback of El Capitan Canyon (IMO) is the cost. It was $278 a night (including taxes and fees) for mid-week for one of the smaller cabins which is pretty cost prohibitive for a lot of families. You could pretty easily book a much larger AirBnB cabin for the same price. However, you are paying for the area, amenities and the experience. We did get a coupon upon leaving for 20% off our next stay so I would call and see if they have any deals. Going on off peak times, and staying mid-week will help you save quite a bit. Also the Adventure Yurts and Safari Tents are much cheaper (between 150-200$) a night and would be a good option for a less expensive trip.
Overall our stay was wonderful. I would definitely go back and look forward to doing so sometime soon!