Walking the Santa Barbara Coast
El Capitan to Haskell’s Beach
Monday, February 10, 2014
I have always loved walking our local beaches. Perhaps it is because I grew up so close to them, never living much more than a mile from the ocean, that they have become a part of me. I love the mountains, the sound of the water cascading over the rocks, the canyon wren whistling in the distance, the smell of the sage washing over me, but when I feel like a quiet walk or a bit of solitude I never seem to tire of our stretch of the Pacific Coast.
A few Februarys ago we headed out to El Capitan State Beach on a beautiful sunny afternoon, not unlike today. It was a minus tide on the Sunday afternoon we headed up to El Capitan State Beach for the walk. There were just four of us—Gerry, Barry, Yvonne and I—a perfect number for what were about to do, which is to walk the coastline from the park down to Haskell’s Beach.
This is one of Santa Barbara’s very best beach walks. Though the highway is never more than a half mile away, the tall cliffs swallow the sound of the traffic. and the feeling once you round the first corner is of being in a very far away place. Along the way there are long stretches of hard packed sand, boulder fields where you can stop and explore for all sorts of things, and tide pools filled with sea stars and huge, purple slugs feeding on the kelp — and lots of barnacles and sea urchins too.
It is a walk that can only be done at a lower tide, and minus tides are perfect since there is so much more to see. We started on a falling tide, a bit earlier dropping off one car at Haskell’s Beach and leaving a second car in the El Cap parking lot.
By Ray Ford
The first half-mile leads along a beautiful stretch of sandy beach, an easy walk at low tide. Fifteen minutes later we are around the first point and the state park disappears behind us. We see a few fishermen and a couple who have lugged a small cooler down the beach; otherwise it is deserted. What a treat.
As we continue on down the coast there are more treasures to be found. The beaches are wide, a hundred yards of sand, rocky outcroppings and scattered pools uncovered by the extremely low tide. We spy a few dolphins moving downcoast with us. I am reminded of another time at Rincon Point. The surf was up but somewhat erratic, the sets coming in every so often, but with long periods between them.
There were four or five surfers sitting on their boards, patiently awaiting the next set when a school of dolphins swam through. I’d never seen anything quite like this. The first several of the dolphins swam right through the group of surfers, then one of them leaped out of the water, barely missing a surfer. Then another and another. In the open water the dolphins don’t look that large, but hurtling over the front edge of one of the boards, with the wide-eyed surfer leaning back in startled surprise, it looked huge. What if one of them were to hit one of the surfers. Well, none of them did but I will always remember that moment when I see a dolphin cruising by.
The remaining few hours of the walk were just as pleasant. Plenty of time to let the psyche wind down, to readjust the soul to more pleasing rhythms, and to re-awaken acquaintanceships with old friends. This is the essence of Santa Barbara’s many beach walks: places where you can walk for long distances, often in complete solitude, where there is almost always a surprise awaiting you.
Over the past years I’ve made it a personal goal to walk the balance of the coastline from Gaviota to Rincon, a distance of just over 48 miles. The challenge isn’t so much the distance as it is matching your free time to the times when the tides are low enough to let you by. Walking the Gaviota Coast can be particularly tricky because the long stretches of steep cliff offer few opportunities to escape if you get caught between points. On the other hand, it’s an absolutely amazing stretch, the cliffs also providing the perfect buffer from the nearby highway, railroad tracks and other distractions.