Unplug and Unwind at El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara

Safari Cabin
Safari Cabin

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.

El Capitan Canyon Santa Barbara
Canyon Loft cabin, with a private king bedroom and a loft with three twin beds

Review and Highlights of El Capitan Canyon for Families


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.

El Capitan Canyon Santa Barbara
The new Safari Cabin comes with beautiful views of the nearby mountains

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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El Capitan Canyon Santa Barbara
Private hiking trails crisscross the property

Amenities and Activities

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.

El Capitan Canyon Santa Barbara
Kids will love feeding and interacting with the farm animals onsite

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.

El Capitan Canyon Santa Barbara
A beautiful day at El Capitan Beach

Nearby Attractions

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.

  •  El Capitan Beach. Just across the way, El Capitan Beach makes for a great and easy outing off-property. Explore the tidepools, swim and surf. Or, as it was in our case, throw down a blanket, play cards and skip stones as the sun dips down.
  • Santa Barbara Zoo and MOXI Museum. If you’re spending a few days at El Capitan and looking for a bigger excursion, both the Santa Barbara Zoo and MOXI Museum are great options within a short drive. As Angelenos, we have visited the Santa Barbara Zoo a few times and very much appreciate and love its smaller scale, ideal for younger kids. Feed a giraffe while you’re there. Just a few years old, the MOXI is Santa Barbara’s equivalent of a children’s museum and features numerous science and engineering exhibits for all ages, from a race car test track to a life-size Lite Brite.
  • Solvang. The fun, quirky Danish-style village of Solvang is within a 20-minute drive of the property. Stroll Main Street, ride the trolley and sample Danish pastries.
El Capitan Canyon Santa Barbara
Family time around the fire pit

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.

Relevant Links:

Browse all family-friendly accommodations and activities on California’s Central Coast at Ciao Bambino

A sun-drenched stay on California’s Central Coast at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara

Must-see stops on a California Central Coast road trip

A grand California family road trip

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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