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Carpinteria State Beach

Carpinteria Beach Trail

From Carpinteria State Beach to Harbor Seal Preserve is 2.5 miles round trip;
to Carpinteria Bluffs is 4.5 miles round trip; to Rincon Beach County
Park is 6 miles round trip

A long campaign to save the Carpinteria Bluffs, one of the last stretches of privately held, undeveloped coastline between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, succeeded in 1998. Activists, local merchants, schoolchildren, and hundreds of Santa Barbara County citizens raised nearly $4 million to buy the bluffs from the property owner.

For more than two decades, a battle raged between development interests with plans to build huge housing and hotel projects and local conservationists who wanted to preserve the bluffs. Surfers, hikers, and birdwatchers have long enjoyed the bluffs, which rise about 100 feet above the beach and offer great views of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa islands.

Now that the bluffs are in public domain, they are likely to add to Carpinteria’s allure for coastal connoisseurs. Carpinteria residents boast they have “the safest beach in the world.” Although the surf here can be large, it breaks far out and there’s no undertow. As early as 1920, visitors reported “the Hawaiian diversion of surfboard riding.”

The Carpinteria Tar Pits once bubbled up near the state beach. Spanish explorers noted that the Chumash caulked their canoes and sealed their cookware with the asphaltum. Around 1915, crews mined the tar, which was used to pave the coast highway in Santa Barbara County. In order to dig the tar, workmen had to heat their shovels in a furnace; the smoking tar would slice like butter with the hot blade. Long ago, the tar pits trapped mastodons, saber-toothed tigers and other prehistoric animals, Unfortunately, the pits, which may have yielded amazing fossils like those of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, became a municipal dump.

On August 17, 1769, the Portolá expedition observed the native Chumash building a canoe and dubbed the location la carpinteria, the Spanish name for carpenter shop.

Carpinteria is one of the state park system’s more popular beachfront campgrounds. A broad beach, gentle waves, fishing and clamming are among the reasons for this popularity. A tiny visitor center offers displays of marine life and Chumash history, as well as a children-friendly tidepool tank.

This beach hike heads down-coast along the state beach to City Bluffs Park and the Chevron Oil Pier. A small pocket beach contains the Harbor Seal Preserve. From December through May this beach is seals-only. Humans may quietly watch the boisterous colony, sometimes numbering as many as 150 seals, from a blufftop observation area above the beach.

After seal-watching, you can then sojourn over the Carpinteria Bluffs or contiue down the beach to Rincon Point on the Santa Barbara-Ventura county line.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101 in Carpinteria, exit on Linden Avenue and head south (oceanward) 0.6 mile through town to the avenue’s end at the beach. Park along Linden Avenue (free, but time restricted) or in the Carpinteria State Beach parking lot (fee).

The hike: Follow “the world’s safest beach” down-coast. After a half mile’s travel over the wide sand strand you’ll reach state beach-bisecting Carpinteria Creek. During the summer, a sand bar creates a lagoon at the mouth of the creek. Continue over the sand bar or, if Carpinteria Creek is high, retreat inland through the campground and use the bridge over the creek.

Picnic at City Bluffs Park or keep walking a short distance farther along the bluffs past the Chevron Oil Pier to an excellent vista point above the Harbor Seal Preserve. Ambitious walkers may continue along the beach to Rincon Beach County Park, one of the area’s top surfing spots on the Santa Barbara-Ventura county line.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at