Refugio to El Capitan


This is an out-and-back trail from Refugio Beach State Park to El Capitan Beach State Park. This beach area lies between the towns of Goleta and Gaviota, CA, about 30 minutes west of Santa Barbara (north on the 101 freeway).

It's an easy flat walk of 3.7 miles each way (from a parking spot outside of the state park) for a total of 7.4 miles round trip, and takes about 4 hours.

The walk is on the Aniso Trail which connects these two state beach parks. It is a paved trail that stretches atop the bluffs overlooking the beaches and Pacific Ocean. It has really beautiful ocean views.

As a walking activity or day hike, the main attraction here is lack of crowds and a more rustic and remote feeling you get here, as opposed to Santa Barbara beaches. While these campgrounds are very popular in the summer, the beaches are nowhere near as crowded as they are in Santa Barbara.

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The main attraction of the state parks is their campground facilities overlooking this beautiful area. The Aniso Trail starts from the eastern-most parking lot of Refugio and ends along the southern boundary of the western-most parking facilities at El Capitan.

Because the Aniso Trail is paved, its best use is really for a beautiful bicycle ride or running path in this area. It would also be great for walking or running with a child in a stroller, or for the elderly.


While many of you may prefer, as I do, to walk along the beach rather than along a paved trail above it, the tide patterns here often prevent you from going the whole way along the beach. At the time we took this walk, as shown in the slideshow, there were two spots along the ocean that made a straight-through beach walk impossible. You would have to get very wet or swim around rocks to make it. However, when the tide is low, you can make it the whole way.

Please run slideshow below to see the walk taken on a partly cloudy day in April:

PicasaWeb Slideshow


There are a few places along the way where you can go up to the trail and back down to the beach, but there are not enough of these points to make for a satisfying mostly beach walk from point to point. Because there are so few of these points you have to do a lot of retracing of your steps along the beach to get back up to the trail to eventually get you to the other state park. If you have plenty of time and want to explore around, you may not mind this.

For me, I wouldn't do this walk again unless I just happened to be in the area. Except, if I knew there were low tides and I would be able to do the beach walk straight through, I would definitely return to this awesome place.

Note: There is, of course, no real reason to start the walk from Refugio. You can start from El Capitan just as easily and do your roundtrip walk from the other direction. If you don't think you will make the entire walk, I would recommend starting from El Capitan because the trail winds around a very lovely part of the campground with lots of trees and greenery, which the Refugio side does not have.

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Map and Directions:

Take the 101 freeway north from Santa Barbara. Decide which state park you want to start from and take that exit, they are both clearly marked on the freeway signs. There is a fee to park in the state park facilities, but you can park along the roads outside the state parks for free if you wish. Both state park campgrounds are very well equipped and have full restroom, camping and picnic facilities.

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