Find Your Inner Glamper at Santa Barbara’s El Capitan Canyon

glamping el capitan canyon santa barbara california

A great road trip is made up of many important parts – blaring tunes, silly games, delirious laughter, frequent stops for decadent roadside treats, and the grand feeling that you are as free as a bird, to follow your fancy wherever the winding road may lead. In this case, the road was U.S. Route 101 and it was leading us right to the water’s edge of Santa Barbara’s stunning Pacific coastline and our very first glamping adventure at the sumptuous El Capitan Canyon campground.

Mapping this route from Los Angeles to El Capitan Canyon puts the drive at 115 miles, an easy hour and a half drive north on the 101. But, when you add in a stop at Jinky’s in Sherman Oaks for breakfast, a hike at Malibu Creek State Park, and a pop into McConnell’s in Santa Barbara for some of the finest ice cream you’ll ever drool over, drive times look more like 6 hours. But who’s counting, right?

glamping el capitan canyon santa barbara california

Turning into the driveway of the campground, it appeared as most, a small check-in kiosk with a helpful attendant eager to welcome you, 360 degrees of green leaves and chirping birds. But, as we made our way across a quaint tree-covered bridge and further down the road blanketed on both sides by bright yellow wild mustard plants, we realized quickly this seemingly unassuming hamlet had only given us but a glimpse into its hidden treasures.

One step into adventure yurt revealed amenities one would expect at a hotel; exceptionally comfortable queen and twin trundle beds, fragrant, organic shampoos and soaps, a mini fridge, accent lighting, and even a space heater for those chilly beach nights. Outside we had a large picnic table, a firepit with a removable barbecue grill and an unobstructed view of the lush forest.

glamping el capitan canyon santa barbara california

We spent our first night getting to know the lay of the land. Just 50 yards from our campsite was a bathhouse, restrooms, heated swimming pool, playground, and a large open grassy field where our daughter played soccer with the other camp kids until twilight passed and they could no longer see the ball. Then our Austrian neighbors and their kids cozied around our campfire as we shared stories of our lives and our travels, and our passion for roasting the perfect marshmallow until late in the night.

We awoke early the next morning ready for some adventure and as luck would have it, we had our pick of two trailheads, both a brisk 5-minute walk from our campsite. We took the advice of the staff and headed up the Llama trail in search of some stunning ocean views and a tiny farm that we were told recently welcomed a dozen new baby goats.

glamping el capitan canyon santa barbara california

This short hike is perfect for kids and grandparents alike, with only a moderate quarter-mile incline at the start, the rest of this trail is wide, well-maintained and virtually flat. There was nothing between us and the mighty pacific save for the cleansing ocean breeze, the warm sun, and yes, many, many adorable farm animals.

At the tail end of our hike, we decided, as you do when you’re glamping, to swing by the El Capitan Canyon Store to check out the unique handmade gifts, convenient barbecue dinner kits (yes, you don’t have to bring your own food, they have everything you need packaged in neat kits with utensils, plates, and eats like marinated tri-tip, salmon, and even s’mores kits ready to throw on the grill), then we indulged in a delicious double espresso. The rest of our second day was spent catching bugs, climbing rocks, roasting corn, more soccer, and more great conversation over wine with our new Austrian friends.

glamping el capitan canyon santa barbara california

Two nights was not enough to truly explore all this campground had to offer, so we decided to pack up the car and stay put in search of something spectacular we had heard whispers of from a friend in LA, the superbloom. A rare occurrence in California, a superbloom only happens when evenly-spaced gentle rain storms and low winds combine to germinate dormant wildflower seeds deep in the soil. The result is a sea of vividly-colored petals blanketing the vast valleys and soft rolling hills.

glamping el capitan canyon santa barbara california

Approaching the Bill Wallace trailhead just at the north end of the campground, we entered a veritable artist’s palette splattered with every hue of green, purple, red, and orange, juxtaposed against a clear blue sky. If it wasn’t for the rather indignant feelings of a five year old, we would have spent half the day on this trail, but our two mile loop was just enough to turn meltdowns into smiles for the long drive back home.

Accommodation Details:

Situated on 300 acres of towering sycamores and California coastal oaks, each one of El Capitan Canyon’s 139 individual sites offers guests a relaxed, communal experience whether you’re in a tent, a yurt or a cozy cabin. Originally a Chumash tribal celebration site, the canyon is blanketed by flavorful elderberries, wildly fragrant sage and the constant crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Our favorite El Capitan Canyon amenities and activities:

Family Room 5+
Kitchenettes
Laundry Service
Onsite Dining
Onsite Market
Refrigerator
Heated Outdoor Pool
Playground
Fire Pits
Room Service
Maid Service
Complimentary Beach Cruiser Bikes
Hiking
Yoga Classes
Massage Therapy

Trail Information:

Bill Wallace Trail
Distance: 12 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
Open to: Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding
Difficulty: Moderate

Llama Trail
Distance: 1.25 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Open to: Hiking only
Difficulty: Easy

To schedule a docent led hike on either the Bill Wallace Trail or the Llama Trail, please email wallacetrail@elcapitancanyon.com

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World-Class Waterfront Family Adventure Awaits in Oceanside

Surfers Oceanside Pier

“The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul.” – Wyland

In the middle of what was one of the hottest Southern California summers on record, our dehydrated bodies craved cool breezes and our minds sought sanctuary. We yearned for the steady sounds of the Pacific’s thunderous waves to lull us to sleep and the joy-filled sounds of giggling children frolicking on the shore to ignite our imagination, so we loaded up the car and headed south to Oceanside, California for a quick weekend tryst.

An easy two hour and 30 minute drive from Los Angeles deposits bare toes on powder-white sandy beaches lined with quaint, family friendly spots for refueling, rental shops stocked with any type of water toy you could wish for, and an infectious beachy attitude. At first glance, Oceanside appears to be a sleepy coastal community, but with a population hovering around 170,000 and a California Welcome Center that sees more than 80,000 tourists annually, San Diego County’s 3rd largest city provides family adventure travelers a wide variety of activities and amenities.

We pulled into the SpringHill Suites’ entrance and were immediately greeted with the smell of salt air and an inviting, modern lobby teeming with friendly and knowledgeable Marriott staff. Just steps from the beach, this gorgeous property offers families a whole host of amenities including a rooftop pool, a game room, free breakfast, and panoramic views from your balcony, overlooking the scenic Oceanside Pier.

springhill-suites-oceanside
Photo Courtesy Kerem Hanci

Each one of this LEED-certified property’s rooms features a microwave, refrigerator, laptop safe, and separate areas for working and relaxing, which came in handy for those few brief moments when mom had to work. And the thoughtful, kid-friendly touches to the room, like a bathroom sink step stool and welcoming stuffed animals did not go unnoticed by these frequent travelers.

SpringHill Suites Oceanside
Photo Courtesy Kerem Hanci

Although we could have happily hung out in our comfy room for the rest of the afternoon, the beach was beckoning, so we slid on our flip flops and headed downstairs for some much-needed sun therapy. In exactly 3 minutes our trio of toes were emerged in the salty Pacific, watching surfers skillfully sway and spin the whitewater, while young hands patted down tilting towers of sand to create cafe au lait colored palaces.

After an hour or so of quiet observation, our inner-explorer took over and we made our way over to Wheel Fun Rentals to put our muscles and our minds to work.The Strand beach straddles the pier and its main leisure artery, The Strand is the perfect three-mile bike path for families looking to get a front seat view of Oceanside’s sparking topaz waters, and is just short enough to ensure short legs don’t have monumental meltdowns.

biking-oceanside-1
Photo Courtesy Kerem Hanci

A day of driving with a kid, mixed with sand, sun and cycling fun finally began to wind down our clocks, so we headed across the street to Hello Betty Fish House, serving up an energetic, casual vibe that is as enticing as their signature Ring of Fire margarita. The sun set on our table crowded with mouth-watering cuisine that affectionately reflected the eclectic personality of this cozy corner of the west coast, and being right next door to our hotel made it convenient to roll our over-stuffed bellies to bed.

hello-bettys-fish-house-oceanside
Photos Courtesy Kerem Hanci

Day two of our beach weekend getaway was reserved for one thing, and one thing only – to get on a boat – so we donned our best captain-of-the-ship attire and zipped over to the Oceanside Harbor. Whether you’re looking to rent watercraft for a low-key family kayaking or high-octane power boats, family-owned Boat Rentals of America has got you covered, and Oceanside Harbor Village‘s collection of waterside restaurants and shops makes for the perfect refueling pit stop and unwinding oasis.

boating-oceanside-harbor-1
Photo Courtesy Kerem Hanci

As our electric boat glided out of its slip and our daughter’s new best friend Ariel had taken her seat next to the captain of the ship, we immediately felt our bodies melt into relaxed-mode and with it melted away all of the hustle and bustle of LA life. We gazed with admiration as regal California pelicans dove for heaping helpings of halibut, laughed until our eyes watered at the raucous performance of a herd of zany harbor seals and it was then, in those moments that we reconnected with each other and with the wondrous world around us.


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Beyond Legoland: Outdoor family fun in Carlsbad, California

Ask any parent and they will tell you; Carlsbad, California is synonymous with uber-kid destination, Legoland, but if that’s all you see while you’re there, then you’re missing out on a ton of awesome outdoor fun. Known as the “Village by the Sea”, Carlsbad offers 7 miles of pristine Pacific beaches, a year-round summer climate, and nearly 50 miles of well-kept hiking and biking trails.

Situated 87 miles south of Los Angeles, and 35 miles north of San Diego, Carlsbad is the perfect weekend family getaway destination offering world class golfing, inspiring cultural arts events, and inventive cuisine. So, when our family had the opportunity to visit this little gem of a seaside city, we threw our bathing suits in a bag and hit the road.

Two hours and fifteen minutes later we had arrived, the kid was itching to get out and the adults were in need of a leg stretch, so we broke out the phone in search of a large green space. Technology led us to Hosp Grove Park, a sprawling 53-acre city park that invites its guests to bike, hike, or picnic under the shade of thousands of beautiful, towering Eucalyptus trees.

Hiking Hosp Grove Park

Separated into an East Grove and a West Grove, there’s plenty to explore on any one of its five well-maintained, unpaved trails. The West Grove three-mile loop ushered us up and down kid-friendly slopes, through eucalyptus-scented groves, and rewarded us kindly with a beautiful scenic overlook of the Buena Vista Lagoon.

Piled back in the car with tired feet, we headed to our home for the next two nights, the Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach and arrived just in time to catch their happy hour at Bistro Bar and devour a delicious steak dinner at the hotel’s Carlsbad Beach Bistro Restaurant. With satisfied tummies, we walked out the hotel’s front doors, strolled across the street, and were treated with a breathtaking sunset; the perfect end to a perfect day.

Sunset at Carlsbad Beach
Photo Courtesy of Kerem Hanci

The Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach is situated 400 feet from the rugged cliffs of Carlsbad Beach offering up outrageous Pacific views and tons of family-friendly amenities. All of their 161 deluxe rooms include a microwave, refrigerator, coffee/tea maker, complimentary WiFi, outdoor heated pool and whirlpool, complimentary shuttle service within five miles, and evening ping pong tournaments in their outdoor gazebo.

Ping Pong at the Hilton Inn Carlsbad

The next morning we awoke rested and ready for another day full of outdoor adventure, but not before we zipped downstairs to fuel up on mouth-watering omelets prepared by Executive Chef Ricardo Vargas, signature waffles, pancakes, fresh fruit, and a gallon of dark roast coffee. Then, we slathered on the sunscreen, filled up the gas tank, and set out in search of more scenic Carlsbad satisfaction.

First up on our agenda was a morning tryst through the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, boasting over 50 acres of land dedicated to growing the radiantly charming Ranunculus flower, a member of the buttercup family, all of which were in full bloom. The Flower Fields Foundation provides further discovery opportunities for kids of all ages by providing hands-on sustainability, musical, and artistic educational programs for children.

Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
Photo Courtesy of Kerem Hanci

Fully inspired by the vibrant hues of mother nature’s blooms, we pointed our compasses towards the wide open waters of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. A delicate and crucial 500-acre watershed in the heart of a booming north San Diego county metropolitan area, this vulnerable coastal wetland is home to a wide array of wildlife including juvenile fish, crabs, hundreds of species of marine life and waterfowl, including an array of threatened and endangered species.

We used the Carlsbad Lagoon to outfit our family with life jackets and kayaks primarily due to its convenient central location on the lagoon, and launched our vessels westward inland. Coasting past sand dune full of native flora and hidden beaches inviting us to stop for a rest, we charged on, delighted by graceful pelicans gliding across the water’s surface ready to catch an unlucky striped mullet in mid-leap.

Kayaking the Carlsbad Lagoon

Admittedly, our family had been to Carlsbad before, to visit said aforementioned amusement park because of our only offspring’s desperation for waiting around in lines all day to ride rides that made her squeal with excitement. But, I sure am glad we were able to come back to discover a whole other side of Carlsbad; the Big Outside.