Don Eittreim, 79, owner of the Jalama Beach Store & Grill.
Peter Vandenbelt

At the end of the long and curvy Jalama Road, where sharp gusts and cold breakers chip away at the corner of California, exists a world-famous hamburger stacked with lean beef, fresh-cut veggies, and pickle chips and slathered with secret sauce. This March marks the 35th anniversary of the Jalama Burger™, a simple comfort so coveted its creator trademarked it.

“Yeah, that’s my wife, Kathy’s, invention,” says Don Eittreim, 79, owner of the Jalama Beach Store & Grill. Kathy Eittreim passed away early last year, leaving her husband of 58 years and one of their five children (plus various grandkids, of which they have nine) to run the small beachfront café and camping-supply store. “She talked me into buying this place back in 1978,” remembers Don. “She knew we could create something special out here.”

Exposed to open ocean and all the weather that comes with it, Eittreim’s outpost is located at Jalama Beach County Park, roughly 20 miles from Lompoc and 60 from downtown Santa Barbara. For decades, Jalama has been a destination for surfers, windsurfers, beachcombers, fans of wildlife, and families who like adventuresome camping without severing all ties to civilization.

Some days, Jalama’s bitter cold and blowing 50 knots with stinging rain. Others, it’s tranquil and azure with a view to the edge of the planet. Every day — except for Thanksgiving and Christmas — the grill is open, offering a sizable menu of breakfast, lunch, and early dinner. The burgers are its best sellers.

Says Vaughn Montgomery, 36, whose family has been making weeklong holiday camping trips to Jalama every year since before he was born: “For a wave-beaten, sun-blinded, wind-blasted soul — still high from surfing and the long walk back to camp — to sit there on that still patio and sink into a Jalama Burger, especially with a can of cold beer, is enough to make the saltwater run out of your nose onto the lettuce and onion!”

While a lengthy campout could very well turn an American standard into a transcendent meal, foodies on a mission need not commit to picturesque visions of nasal drainage to taste the Jalama Burger experience. There might be a secret to what’s inside, but this burger’s got day trip written all over it.


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