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, I headed out with three friends to El Capitan State Beach on a beautiful sunny afternoon for a minus-tide meander down the coast to Haskell’s Beach, 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, giving the feeling of being in a faraway 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, plus lots of barnacles and sea urchins.
Over the past few 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 providing the perfect buffer from all other distractions.
Here are two of my favorites:
Gaviota State Park to Arroyo Hondo Trestles: From the very start of the walk, the rocky outcroppings and sheer cliffs provide a dramatic backdrop to a beautiful and mostly secluded stretch of coastline. The total distance to Arroyo Hondo Trestles is just over 5.5 miles and about three hours walking time, but you’ll probably stop a lot, have a lunch break, watch the pelicans soar by, and end up taking four hours or more. It’s 1.3 miles from Gaviota State Park to the Gaviota Marine Terminal; 1.8 miles more to the Vista del Mar access point; 2.3 miles from there to San Onofre Beach; and 5.1 miles to the Arroyo Hondo Trestles.
El Capitan to Haskell’s: This is one of the best beach walks anywhere along the California coast, but because there are no public access points along the way, you’ll have to finish the walk once you start it. And it’s long, almost 6.7 miles, but it features several great surf spots and a seal haul-out area — one really important reason not to bring a dog! Plan on about four hours for the walk, much more if you dawdle. From El Capitan, it’s 1.5 miles to Brad Pitt’s beach house on the bluff; 2.1 miles to Edwards Point, which is on private land, but a great lunch spot; 3.64 miles to the mouth of Dos Pueblos Canyon; 5.95 miles to Eagle Canyon; and 6.7 miles to Haskell’s Beach.
• Tides: Begin your walk as the tide starts to drop (about two hours before low tide) to allow enough time. Almost all of the Gaviota Coast is accessible at a 2.0 tide or lower.
• Cell Phones: Bring one with you. You’ll have Google Maps or Google Earth at your fingertips and know exactly where you are all of the time.
• Dogs: Dogs are not allowed on any of our State Park beaches and should really stay at home. Plus it’s good for the shorebirds and the seals, should you come across any on your walk.
• Shuttles: With a shuttle, you can make your walk a one-way adventure and cover a lot more coastline than if you need to head back to your car. An added plus is the solitude and sense that increases with the distance you get from the access points.
• Park Entry Fees: Cost for a daily pass is $10 ($8 for seniors) at any of our local beach state parks. Call 968-1033 for park info