Just north of Santa Barbara on California’s Central Coast, El Capitan Canyon comprises 126 cabins, yurts and tents set on 300 acres. The sprawling, glamping-style property boasts easy beach access, hiking trails, a solar-heated pool and even llamas (!). No wonder it’s a favorite of SoCal families, with many of them returning year after year.
During a recent visit with extended family, we fed hay to the llamas and sheep; skipped stones at El Capitan Beach, just across from the property; and sat around a fire roasting vegan marshmallows for s’mores. Most of all, we unplugged from our otherwise hectic schedules — a big part of El Capitan’s magic and appeal.
Dating back to 2000, El Capitan’s varied structures sit among groves of oak and sycamore trees. The cedar cabins come in a variety of configurations, but typically feature a king or queen bed with a sleeping loft above for kids, as well as a private bathroom. A microwave and mini-fridge allow for quick meals or storing provisions for grilling. Each cabin has its own picnic table as well as a fire pit outside.
The property is quite well-suited for group or multigenerational visits. We were able to book cabins adjacent to ours for the grandparents and congregate outside for meals, downtime and nightly campfires.
Another option, the two-bedroom Safari Cabin suite — one of the newest cabins on the property — boasts a full kitchen as well as sweeping views from its deck. For an experience more like camping, consider the yurts and tents, which do not have indoor plumbing but lie near shared bathroom and shower facilities.
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Though it’s a year-round destination, El Capitan’s peak season is summer. The property routinely sells out on weekends through the warmer months, so book early for summertime. A three-night minimum stay is usually required during the peak period also.
Summer brings several special activities, such as concerts and family-friendly happy hours, and is prime time to make use of the pool. Bicycles for adults are available to ride around the grounds, or guests can also bring their own bikes, scooters and other ride-ons. There is a spa for parents who crave a little downtime.
Kids will especially enjoy visiting the farm animals that call the property home. Our children fed the llamas, petted sheep and even milked a goat.
A market-cum-café sits near the property entrance and offers everything from s’mores kits and deli sandwiches to pizza and wine. It’s a relatively short drive into Santa Barbara for those who want to explore its dining options.
With its coastal surroundings and proximity to town, El Capitan Canyon allows families to be as active or relaxed as they wish, which feels like the biggest luxury of all. Hike, hit the beach for water activities or just hang out together around a campfire. Ultimately, the low-key setting and flexibility to do as much or as little as you like promotes connection, which can be hard to sustain during busy work and school schedules.
Along the coast and just 2 hours’ drive or less for most SoCal families, El Capitan Canyon feels much farther and more remote than it is. We came back refreshed and reconnected, and, yes, wanting to book another visit soon.
Editor’s Note: Tanvi received a media package in order to review El Capitan Canyon for families. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Tanvi Chheda and El Capitan Canyon.
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