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The Carpinteria Bluffs are a piece of land that has been preserved from development by popular demand. Like the Wilcox (now called Douglas Family Preserve), local folks did not want to see the place developed so they raised money to preserve it.
You can see lots of birds of prey, including kites, hawks and vultures. Small mammals like rabbits and foxes live on the bluffs, too. From the cliffs you can see a seal rookery and porpoises, otters and sea lions in the water.
This beach hike is an easy walk along cliffs and along the beach. On much of the walk, the path is improved. It's pretty easy to make a mostly level 3 mile hike, but it's difficult to specify an absolute path to follow. People pretty much just walk along as they wish.
Carpinteria Bluffs Directions
From the Mission, corner of Laguna and Los Olivos Street in Santa Barbara...
Get on US 101 going southbound by taking Laguna St. to Mission St. (toward the ocean).
Turn right on Mission St.
Follow Mission St. to the freeway and take US 101 south.
Follow 101 southbound for about 13 miles to Ballard Avenue exit in Carpinteria.
After exiting the freeway, turn right. The first street you intersect, after less than a block, is Carpinteria Ave. You can see at the intersection a parking area straight ahead. Park here.
The hike begins here. There is a bronze relief plaque of the ocean here, and some baseball fields.
Carpinteria Bluffs Description
It's pretty clear where to begin the walk. At the end of the parking lot there is an obvious path leading toward the railroad tracks and a wood fence (that actually is not wood at all.) Check out the bronze relief map of the ocean and islands.
Aim toward the ocean. At the "wood" fence the path is a nice improved, sandy path. Follow this. The path goes in two directions, I'll describe what you'll see if you go right.
The path parallels the train tracks. Be careful when crossing the tracks. We've recently had new rails installed in our area. Where once they were short and made the train go "clack-clack", they are now as much as 2 tenths of a mile long, and if the engine is in the back of the train, the train will be virtually silent. So stay alert.
About a quarter mile along the path it ends. There are some flower fields and an unimproved path begins here on the other side of the tracks. Cross the tracks to the path.
In about 50 feet there is beach access to the left. The day I did this hike, there was a sign saying the beach was closed nearby because of the seals. Please obey the sign. It's a pretty view right here and a couple of people were doing water color paintings.
Take the unimproved trail towards the right and in about another 50 feet you will come to the seal rookery viewing spot. There are some ropes and there might be some chairs and even a docent urging you to be quiet and calm. They don't want you to scare the seals.
The seals are hard to see at first, but then you'll notice a bunch of big blobs laying on the beach and on the rock by the pier. The seals can be brown to silver, and some times of the year there are baby seals. The pier here services the oil platforms, by the way.
After checking out the seals you may wish to continue walking. The unimproved path leads you to a parking lot for the oil platform workers. To the right of it the improved path starts up again and parallels the parking lot.
At the end of the lot, the improved path ends again and you'll have to find your way back to the unimproved trail just past the yellow pipe fence.
You can follow the unimproved trail along the cliffs, where there are many benches and picnic tables along the way. Or if you prefer, there is access to the beach here, too.
Following the trail along the cliffs, at the 1 mile mark you reach the edge of the Carpinteria State Beach campground. There are stairs here down to the beach. Take the stairs.
As you walk the beach you will notice that there is a lot of black goo oozing from the cliffs and sitting in piles on the beach. This is a natural mineral called asphaltum. The Chumash used it to line their baskets and boats. They were able to make their baskets water-tight with this material. This is also the same material used to build roads. It is not caused by the oil rigs out in the channel. In the summer it can be soft and melted, but usually it is hard.
The rest of the hike is really up to you. If you walk all the way past all the campers you will clear the State Beach and reach the City Beach where there is a nice group picnic area. You can rest here, use the restroom, or just keep going for as far as you wish.
If you turn around here at the group picnic tables, the total round trip distance will be approximately 3 miles.