(This arti­cle may or may not con­tain affil­i­ate links. What does that mean?)


El Cap­i­tan State Beach isn’t just anoth­er pret­ty beach. It’s also an inex­pen­sive coastal vaca­tion where a fam­i­ly can enjoy the sound of crash­ing waves as they drift off to sleep inside their tent or recre­ation­al vehi­cle, RV. There, nature can untan­gle the busy mess between their ears block­ing a fam­i­ly from con­nect­ing. Life is sim­pli­fied when pos­ses­sions are reduced to the capac­i­ty avail­able in a tent or motorhome. Call it a min­i­mal­ist spir­i­tu­al makeover. 

When a fam­i­ly trip is to El Cap­i­tan State Beach, a 2,600-acre Cal­i­for­nia State Park with a large camp­ground and hik­ing trails, locat­ed about 20 miles north of San­ta Bar­bara and 115 miles north of down­town Los Ange­les, a fam­i­ly’s biggest deci­sion will be what time they should head down to the water. 

Hav­ing camped here many times over the years, here is all your fam­i­ly needs to know to have a great camp­ing trip with kids at El Cap­i­tan State Beach. 






The best things to do camping at El Capitan State Beach camping with kids, friends and family. The best activities to find at El Capitan State Beach if you're camping or glamping and everything you need to know to go!



The Video


But first! A video of our last trip to El Cap­i­tan State Beach where we dry camped. Watch for a great break­fast camp­ing hack and ideas of fun activ­i­ties when you go:





I inter­viewed two camp­ground park rangers, Tony Annia and Rick Humphrey from “El Cap” as locals refer to it, for an arti­cle I wrote for L.A. Par­ent and they gave us ideas on how to make the most of your fam­i­ly camp­ing trip to El Cap­i­tan.  Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, that was the last time we camped at El Cap­i­tan State Beach and we also camped with the same fam­i­ly as that last time, so I could recre­ate this cute photo:



camping at el capitan with kids

Before and after…five years © Rina Nehdar



Bring a Surfboard or Boogie Board


In the fall and win­ter, locals keep watch for a West swell that calls forth a set of waves cov­et­ed by surfers in the know. Unless you’re a sea­soned surfer, don’t both­er attend­ing this beach par­ty. How­ev­er, most of the time the waves are calm, and my boys love to ride what­ev­er swells hap­pen to catch their boards long enough to take them to shore.



camping with kids at el capitan - boogie boarding

Ocean Bliss © Rina Nehdar



Visit the Elephant Seals


There is an ele­phant seal rook­ery eas­i­ly acces­si­ble to vis­i­tors just off the beach. The ele­phant seals come through­out the year to mate and breed and dur­ing the fall, the juve­niles come on land to grow new fur and skin. 


From the beach, walk south from life­guard tow­er #1 and to the left. You will spot the rook­ery. Keep a safe dis­tance – and keep dogs on leash – while check­ing them out.



camping with kids at el capitan - elephant seals

Chill­in’ © Rina Nehdar





Low tides expose an under­wa­ter world, reveal­ing sea snails, starfish and sun­burst anemone in tide­pools where kids can spend many hours of dis­cov­ery until the tide cov­ers them. Check the tide report to plan the per­fect time to go.



camping with kids at el capitan - tidepools

Is it.…alive? © Rina Nehdar



Walk the Nature Trails


This is where you would have got­ten mar­ried if you knew it exist­ed. A wood­en bridge takes you through groves of Sycamore and through trees that must be home to fairies and sprites when the moon ris­es to shine on their flight path through crooked branch­es. It’s a short hike, only .35 miles long so you’ll be able to con­vince the kids to go and see if they can spot any of the small forest’s enchant­ed inhab­i­tants. The trails ends at the beach, along­side El Cap­i­tan Creek, which gives you the choice to climb over a rock path placed across the creek or fol­low the trails that starts up again, if you walk to your right, to loop back up again.



Camping at El Capitan with kids - nature trail

Lots of trees to climb © Rina Nehdar



See the Butterflies


Monarch but­ter­flies migrate from up north from ear­ly Sep­tem­ber through mid-Decem­ber. “I’ve seen them from the Chica­go area and up from Cana­da as well,” Humphrey says. “They come dur­ing Indi­an sum­mers for food, weath­er and to breed.”

El Cap is a pop­u­lar view­ing spot for the pre­cious pol­li­na­tors due to an abun­dance of Euca­lyp­tus trees.

From El Cap­i­tan State Beach Camp­ground, fol­low the path from the ranger shack to the park entrance to find a grove of 15 small euca­lyp­tus trees. Bring a cam­era to catch the beau­ties rest­ing, repro­duc­ing and enjoy­ing the Cal­i­for­nia sunshine.


camping with kids at el capitan - butterfly migration

Monarch Beau­ty © Rina Nehdar





And now, the details. There are 132 camp­sites at El Cap­i­tan State Beach, 128 sin­gle sites and five group-sized sites. Vis­i­tors can choose to set up a tent in any of them or stay in an RV. You can make reser­va­tions through Reserve Amer­i­ca 




Each of the sin­gle sites can accom­mo­date up to three vehi­cles (they say but I don’t hon­est­ly know where you’d put them….there are a few park­ing spots, though, on the periph­ery of the main camp­ground clus­ters and in the day-use area). How­ev­er, the pay­ment for your reser­va­tion only cov­ers one car or truck and one RV (or tent). They will allow up to 8 peo­ple to sleep at the camp­site and that includes children. 

Three of the group camp­ing sites over­look the ocean (Orte­ga, Cabril­lo and Drake). They can accom­mo­date between 40–100 peo­ple (tent camping). 

All camp­sites include pic­nic tables and fire pits. The camp­ground bath­rooms are clean. *Bring quar­ters for show­ers* if you plan to use them. The water pres­sure is sol­id and hot. Although we’ve nev­er tent camped here, there are plen­ty of peo­ple who choose this option and the tem­per­a­tures at El Cap­i­tan State Beach are mod­er­ate. Just in case, check a weath­er app before you go. 



camping at el capitan with kids - campsite info

Home Sweet Home © Rina Nehdar



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Beach wheel­chairs are avail­able for use by the pub­lic with no cost. With this spe­cial­ly designed chair, wheel­chair users may access the beach at sev­er­al loca­tions. Con­tact a ranger or life­guard for addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion. (805) 968‑1033







Bring ’em! But you got­ta leash ’em! How­ev­er, they have a no dogs on the beach pol­i­cy which IMO sucks. Why not let them come if they’re on a leash?



RV Sites


Fam­i­lies and friends can bring their motorhome or trail­er to any of the camp­sites but some are paved mak­ing it eas­i­er to get your unit lev­el. A few of the sites accom­mo­date RVs that are larg­er than 40 feet. The max­i­mum allow­able length is 45 feet.





There aren’t any. 

I know. That sucks, but it should­n’t be the rea­son you don’t camp here. How­ev­er, you prob­a­bly don’t want to spend more than a few days here because of that. Unless you’re real­ly good at rationing the water that flows into the grey water tank, you’ll spend some of your time using the pub­lic bath­room and show­er  (This is why I know the show­er pres­sure in the bath­rooms is good). If you do opt to use the bath­room, know they were clean the last time we went. 

Anoth­er way to make longer use of your grey­wa­ter stor­age is to get what we bought, a portable waste­water tank and attach it to the back of your RV. It’s super handy for longer stays and allows you to dump your grey water tank then wheel it to a nice thirsty tree.

El Cap­i­tan State Beach was our third camp­ground We got spoiled after tak­ing our trav­el trail­er on a three-week tour up the Cal­i­for­nia Coast and enjoy­ing full hook-ups and resort-style ameni­ties at Pis­mo Coast Vil­lage RV Resort and San­ta Cruz Red­woods RV Resort camp­grounds. Full hook-ups meant we could freely use the water in the sink and show­er and not wor­ry about over­flow­ing the tanks and also pee with aban­don. We got to plug our trail­er into their elec­tri­cal grid so were able to use the things that make our RV feel like home, our blender, air con­di­tion­er and phone charg­ers. Yes. You could buy a small invert­er to con­vert a bit of juice to do this.


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Filling Up and Dumping Your RV


When first you arrive, the ranger at the guard shack will show you where to fill up the fresh water tank in your RV with city water. The hose is toward the top of the camp­ground. When you leave, you can use the State Park park­ing pass they give you when you first arrive as a pass to dump your gray and black water tanks at the hookup sta­tion locat­ed at any State Park camp­ground. The clos­est one head­ing back to Los Ange­les is Carpin­te­ria State Beach, anoth­er glo­ri­ous beach campground.



The Market


There is none so make sure you have every­thing you need before you get here oth­er­wise you’re dri­ving 15 min­utes to Gole­ta to the clos­est super­mar­ket (we went to Sprouts).


For those who love nature but also the con­ve­nience of room ser­vice, there is El Cap­i­tan Canyon, across the road, where you will find cab­ins, yurts and heavy can­vas tents.




The best things to do camping at El Capitan State Beach camping with kids, friends and family. The best activities to find at El Capitan State Beach if you're camping or glamping and everything you need to know to go!