Refugio to El Capitan State Beach
[out of 5]
|For:||Can be rugged, possibility to have to climb a difficult rock if the tide is not low enough.|
This hike will start at Refugio only because free parking is a little easier to find. You can do this hike from El Capitan, too, if you want, too. Free parking there is a little further from the beach than at Refugio, and paid parking is only about $3 or so.
Some people say "Re FOO Gee Oh" and others say "Re FOO He oh" and still others, and I can't figure out why on earth, say "Re FOO Fee oh." Is there a second F in there?
This beach hike is nice because it's about 4 or 5 miles long, has a way back along a bike path, has nice tide pools with fat pink starfish to look at, and great secluded and not-so secluded beaches. There is even a snack bar at both ends in case you get hungry or thirsty, plus restrooms, too.
Refugio Beach Directions
From the Mission, corner of Laguna and Los Olivos Street in Santa Barbara...
Get on US 101 going northbound by taking Laguna St. to Mission St. (toward the ocean).
Turn right on Mission St.
Follow Mission St. to the freeway and take US 101 north.
Travel about 30 miles northbound. Take the Refugio Exit.
Turn left and park under the freeway overpass. Parking here is free. You can park inside the campground, too, but it is not free.
If you wish to start at El Capitan State Beach, the exit for this is two miles sooner than Refugio.
When you exit there is parking inside the park for about $3 - $5 day use. There has been free parking along the frontage road sort of straight ahead and up the hill a bit after you exit and come to the first stop. I am not sure if that is still the case. However, if you do park here, you will need to walk all the way down under the underpass and railroad underpass and on through to the State Beach kiosk. It's pretty far.
Refugio Beach to El Cap
Begin this hike at the snack bar at the beach, or just to the left of it, to the left of the little lagoon. Sometimes you have to get your feet a little wet trying to cross the little lagoon, but you can avoid it walking through the campground.
Head East (or southbound we Santa Barbarans are very confused about direction.) Basically, head back in the direction of Santa Barbara.
There is not much to say about this hike. You're just walking along the beach. There are a couple of points that are tricky to navigate. The first one looks nearly impossible. Your choice is to either run through the surf (that's why you should always check for a low tide on these beach hikes), or to climb the rocks. The climb is pretty scary. The water is pretty wet.
The second point that looks impossible really is. It is here that you will need to head up to the bike path that parallels the beach. It's quite handy because just before you come to this impossible point the bike path dips low and there's an access up a little paved road. There is an amusing warning sign, too. I took a picture of it once, but it wasn't printed. Was it some kind of military secret or something?
Now you just follow the bike path until you reach the next obvious spot to go back to the beach. If you don't find an obvious spot, or you just like walking the bike path, you can continue along it. It ends at a group camp and parking lot at the westernmost edge of El Capitan State Beach campground. You can follow the bike path until you reach an obvious little path leading down to the day use parking and the snack shop. You can walk down to the beach here too and stop to use the facilities.
If you keep going along the beach, or along the walkway along the beach toward the rocky point, that is where the fat, pink starfish are. They are really fat and interesting. You can go as far as you like, or stop at one of the picnic tables for lunch. Eventually you will come to a creek that is a little hard to cross sometimes. You can see the un-developed beach stretching all the way to Goleta.
On your way back you can take a detour through the bushes at the picnic tables. The little trail takes you into a grove of enormous sycamore and oak trees that people have carved their names in for decades. Although I don't like graffiti, the carvings are interesting. And the trees are awesomely enormous. The little grove is very cool, shady and refreshing, too, after all that sun.
To return it is usually wise to make your way back up to the bike path at some point. By now, if you started at low tide, the tide should be starting to come back up, and many of the easier points you were able to dart around will be difficult to get by. It's best to take the first chance back to the bike path. It's actually quite nice to walk along. You can be just even with the V-shaped flocks of pelicans riding the air along the cliff. Maybe you will see the train go by, too.
When you return to Refugio campground you can either find a path back down to the beach or just follow the road. It's not too hard to find the way back to your car. The campground is pretty small.
All in all, you will have gone about 4 to 5 pleasant miles.