Whether you are a novice hiker or a more experienced one, you’ll love the 1.7 mile hike through the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail. Try the hiking trail directly above the coastline, or the biking trail that cuts a more direct path to the state beach. Either way, you won’t be sorry that you gave this out-of-the-way spot a chance.
Carpinteria is approximately 12 miles southeast of Santa Barbara, and about an 80 minute drive from Los Angeles (depending on traffic, of course). The Bluffs trailhead is easy to access off the 101 freeway by exiting at Bailard Avenue. Turn towards the ocean, and you’ll see the Bluffs parking lot directly across the bridge. Parking is free. Though the lot is somewhat small, weekday visitors will have no trouble finding parking.
You’ll begin your journey from the footpath that begins directly from the lot. Most of the hiking trail is flat, particularly in the beginning. You’ll follow the trail down toward the water and along the train tracks. When the fenced path ends, cross the train tracks to gain access to the path along the coastline (cross with care as trains are still actively running). At this point, you are well on your way to the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary (which is approximately a ½ mile from the parking area).
Though harbor seals spend most of their lives at sea, they have used the Carpinteria beaches as a haul out for decades. The area is now a protected sanctuary, and from December 1st through May 31st the area surrounding the seals is closely regulated to allow for undisturbed birthing. Visitors will note that even during non-birthing times, there are signs asking that there are no dogs, no bikes, no rapid movement and no loud noises near the sanctuary as they might scare the seals. As a side note, you’ll also notice that the working pier is quite close to the sanctuary. Security assures that the seals are not bothered by the long-standing working pier, even during the birthing season.
From the sanctuary, you can follow the coastline hiking path through the Tar Pits Park and down onto the beginnings of the Carpinteria State Beach. This descent is not particularly difficult, even for novices, but some care should be given when descending the rocks onto the beach below. After the view, the first thing you are likely to notice is the tar flowing from the rocks above. It’s quite a visual, but it will get on your shoes or feet, so keep that in mind.
Once you have arrived at Carpinteria State Beach, you have a number of options. If you want to continue your adventure, you can walk the length of the beach into town. The additional .2 miles will land you on Linden Avenue, a main street full of shops, historical landmarks and fantastic restaurants.
If you would rather stick to nature, you might want to try taking the biking trail back to the Bluffs parking area. Rather than taking you along the coastline the entire way, the biking path runs through Tar Pits Park, which will give you a glimpse of native trees and plants. It’s worth noting that the tar pits located in the park are second in size and older than the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. It also offers a nice picnic area should you want to stop and just enjoy the view.
This is an easy trip for hikers, runners, bikers and people who just like to meander and enjoy nature. Cell service is spotty at times, but largely available. The area is well-visited, even during the weekdays, so solo travelers will not feel too isolated on the trails.