If you are making your way up or down the California coast, Carpenteria is a great little beachside community worth stopping for an overnight. It’s only an hour and a half West of Los Angeles, yet Carp has a totally different, relaxed atmosphere about it.
The Spanish name of Carpenteria, which was bestowed upon the area by Spanish explorers, is a reference to the Natives who built boats here utilizing the naturally-occurring asphalt (it oozes from the ground in a handful of places).
Modern-day Carpenteria has a quaint downtown featuring a wonderful collection of cafes, unique shops, restaurants, and a brewery. Just a few blocks to the south, City and State beaches line the coast, all the way from Carpenteria Salt Marsh Park to Rincon Point. And if you need provisions that you can’t find in town, Santa Barbara is just a short drive West on Highway 101.
Lazy suft town vibes.
Where to Stay in Carpenteria
The most affordable and easiest place to stay in Carpenteria is in one of the campground loops at Carpenteria State Beach. As part of the California State Park system, Carpenteria State Beach can accommodate tents, campervans, RVs, and trailers. The park is in a great location too, just 100 yards from the beach and walking distance (a few blocks) to downtown Carp.
Facilities at the park were well-maintained in my experience, with coin-operated hot showers, private bathrooms, outdoor sinks and wash stations, picnic tables, fire rings, and potable water. If you are a dog owner or like to spread out a picnic blanket and relax in the sunshine, there is a large grass field adjacent to the Anacapa camping loop.
One of my favorites features of Carpenteria State Park is the boardwalk that traverses the sand dunes above the beach. It’s an excellent place to go for a sunset walk.
Looking down on the boardwalk at Carpenteria State Beach.
Availability of campsites varies by season, and if you want to guarantee yourself a spot, it’s best to make reservations in advance at reservecalifornia.com.
Note that there is a first-come-first-served overnight vehicle camping option for self-contained travelers who need a parking spot for a single night. The cost is $48 but space is not guaranteed.
What to Do in Carpenteria
While Carpenteria makes a great stop-over to break up long drives along the California Coast, there are lots of great activities that make it a destination unto itself.
Outdoor Activities: For the wildlife aficionados among us, Carpenteria Salt Marsh Nature Park is a 110-acre sanctuary that is home to a wide variety of rare and endangered birds and plants. You can also visit the Carpenteria Seal Sanctuary where you’ll find Harbor Seals sprawled across the beach.
If you enjoy hiking, Carpenteria Bluffs Nature Preserve is a great place to find some trails. This 51.8-acre preserve was saved from development in 1998 through a partnership with the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.
Finally, Rincon Point is a world-class surfing destination and a State Beach at the eastern end of Carpenteria.
If you enjoy nature and outdoorsy stuff, see if you can find this tree while you’re in Carp.
In Town: Downtown Carpenteria is adorable and has a variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes. During my visit, we often found ourselves starting our day at the Lucky Llama Coffee House. As a discerning coffee drinker, I found their espresso drinks to be flavorful and well-balanced.
Next door to Lucky Llama is a unique shop called Heritage Goods Supply. They’re like a gear shop meets farmers market meets feed store. They offer an eclectic mix of outdoor gear, home goods, and locally-made provisions.
Down the block, Rincon Brewery serves up beer, hard seltzer, and kombucha on-tap. They have plenty of dog-friendly outdoor seating and are the perfect place to finish your day. Also, their freshly-made salt and vinegar potato chips are the perfect complement to their libations.
For those of you needing to resupply your food stocks while in town, there is a grocery store. But when in need of fruit and produce, we often found ourselves gravitating to the Farm Cart Organics mobile farm cart.
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