Relax on unspoiled beaches, hike in hidden canyons, and stay close to nature in Santa Barbara County, California

Matthew Jaffe

The sandstone bluffs sparkle like bars of gold at Gaviota StatePark, while the great mass of Santa Cruz Island looms in thedistance. But it's the ocean's hue that most dazzles the eye, ashimmering cerulean surface broken only by beds of kelp and thegentle rise of low swells that move without urgency toward shore. Full story»

GETTING THERE

The Gaviota Coast runs about 25 miles up the coast from SantaBarbara along U.S. 101, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles and300 miles south of San Francisco.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

Though lodging is limited to two resorts, the Gaviota Coastoffers some of California's premier coastal camping (for info see "Beaches"). Diningoptions are limited on the coast but abundant in the nearby SantaYnez Valley and Santa Barbara.

Bacara Resort & Spa Super-posh, it brings a Spanish colonial setting to anoceanfront location in Goleta. Its three restaurants ― The Bistro ($$$$),Miró ($$$$),and Spa Café ($$$)― all use fresh produce from the resort's 1,000-acre ranch.INFO: 360 rooms from $475; 877/422-4245.

El Capitan Canyon Resort North of Santa Barbara, choices range from the new tent and RVsites at Ocean Mesa (866/410-5783) tocedar cabins with whirlpool tubs. Activities include a summerconcert series, yoga, and horseback riding. Pick up sandwiches andsalads at the resort's Canyon Market ($).INFO: 134 units from $145; 866/352-2729.

WHAT TO DO

Arroyo Hondo Preserve Open for hiking and guided walks by reservation only. INFO:10-4 the first and third Sat-Sun monthly; 805/567-1115.

Beaches Refugio and El Capitan State Beaches and Gaviota State Parkall have excellent campsites ― so excellent that they must bebooked months in advance for summer (from $25 a night). But beprepared for noise; freight trains pass just yards from thecampgrounds in the middle of the night. For more information, visitwww.parks.ca.gov or call805/968-1033.

Gaviota State Park Outstanding hiking trails into the backcountry include the6-mile round-trip to and from the commanding views on 2,458-footGaviota Peak. From U.S. 101, take the State 1/Lompoc exit, turnright and follow the frontage road to parking ($2 per vehicle); forthe fishing pier, from U.S. 101, take the Gaviota State Beachturnoff ($8 per vehicle); 805/968-1033.

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