Sometimes you know your little ones could use some QT in the great outdoors and camping seems like the perfect plan. However, your idea of roughing it is a hotel without room service. Escapism equilibrium is found at El Capitan Canyon, just north of Santa Barbara; a spot where you can beach camp sans bells and whistles but with enough amenities to keep you feeling like it’s still a vacation.
We’re Going Camping?
Call it camping-adjacent. So it may not shock the kids that their parent who doesn’t even like to picnic is suddenly amenable to sleeping on the ground. Because what they don’t know is that from Tom Sawyer to Fancy Nancy, they’ve got accommodations to suit every style. The idea of El Capitan Canyon is to provide just enough conveniences to allow you to experience as much nature as you can stand without cluttering the external wonders with unnecessary artificialities.
You Can Yurt If You Want To
“Roughing it” inevitably carries different definitions for different families, and the whole gamut is made possible here. No shame people, wherever you fall on the spectrum.
If questionable cell service translates into the need for a paper bag and quick short breaths, consider vacating with your crew in one of their cedar cabins. Grouped in Oak and Sycamore grove-nestled villages by the names of Stone Pine, Peace Tree, Lone Stone, and Shaded Creek (who’s breathing better now?), these lodgings come equipped with willow beds and down-style duvets. At highest end, Safari Cabin Suites are decked out with two-bedrooms, a full kitchen, a gas and stove oven, full size fridge. It’s the Four Seasons of the forest.
Think the gang can hang a bit more Tarzan? Safari tents are permanently perched on elevated wooden decks and houses beds queen or double beds. Screened windows and zip-down flaps, with bedside tables and bed linens, a little desk and a storage trunk…so maybe the Tarzan part was pushing it. Still pretty plush by camping standards.
But with The Adventure Yurt, while you’re not sleeping on the ground, it’s still a pretty stellar way to rally the family within a rotunda, comfortably accommodating four. With its lattice walls, raised roof and open domed skylight, these could very well have been Pharrell’s inspiration for that song. You’re living in nature and you didn’t have to figure out how to pitch a tent.
With this many options, one is bound to be ideal for your family. For example, for a family with bigger kids, the loft in the Creekside Queen is slumber party Shangri-La, but if you’ve got tiny tots, the ladder to the top is relaxation kryptonite for nervous parents. Scour the site or give them a buzz and find out what’s best for your brood. They’re great about helping you find the perfect sleeping arrangement for your family’s needs.
Before You Snuggle Up, Surf’s Up
You’re settled into the perfect quarters. It’s not time for s’mores yet. Must be time to hit the beach! Heads up: it’s just a five minute walk to the beach, but in toddler terms it’s a fairly adventurous one. Prepare to walk under one freeway and one train and mind the Poison Oak that grows along part of the trail (that would NOT make for a happy vacation!). Once you see the shore, you’ve arrived, and the fancy footwork proves worth it. Here’s our fair warning #2: This summer Santa Barbara beaches have been dotted with tar, so little suits may pick up a few new polka-dots. Luckily, they think of everything here and beach tar remover is available for purchase at the Canyon Market. Add a little elbow grease and everyone is good as new.
You are! Every cabin, tent or yurt comes with its own private picnic table and fire pit. Not only is nature invited to dinner, it’s staying for s’mores. Picky noshers are smart to load up the cooler beforehand (there’s a Trader Joe’s just a few miles out), but if your definition of “preparing” equates knowing the number of the the nearest take out, nothing to sweat, the on-site Canyon Market & Deli has got your number, and your back. And, paper bag down, you can even check email there.
Bikes. They provide rentals but only for grown-ups. Got scooters? Pack those too, and don’t forget the helmets. They’ve got some great gravel-road declines that make for some wild wheelin’.
Bassinets. (Ok, Pack-n-plays, but we’re going for B words!) If you need one, bring it. They provide cots as requested, but not cribs.
Bags. They’ll come and collect your trash (another camping/glamping differentiation), but it helps if you have something to put it in.
And BBQ stuff. Mini-fridges are in the cabins, so it’s nice to arrive and feel fully stocked. Plus all that fanciful foraging really builds up an appetite.
Off They Go
When you wake refreshed from not sleeping on the hard ground, you’re raring to go. So much exploring, so little time! Sure, there’s a jungle gym, swings and pool, but more exotically the land is laden with woodpeckers, wildlife and flora galore. Watching kids discovering it one hill climb at a time only validates what we already knew. We’ve missed you, Mother Nature. (As long as we sleep on sheets with a high thread count.)
Llama Lllama, Don’t Miss Them Mama
If a guided hike to the feed the llamas and goats is available during your stay, know that this will rank as one of the highlights for your kids. The hike is short and mild, and the farm animals are abundant and hungry. With ocean views and balmy breezes, nobody’s hurrying anybody down the mountain.
Other activities are available seasonally; Saturday Concert Series runs May-September, stargazing guides and much more…You can check the on-line activities calendar before you book to see what’s on tap, when. If the ropes course is happening when you go, it’s a must for little adventurers.
Surrender, City Slickers
The vast pathways and sage streaked strolls are magic for making a Magellan out of every kid—the ability to walk outside and explore is infinitely novel for city born offspring—and enables that unplug you crave.
Camping is available year round, and prices range from $145 (for a Safari Tent in the quiet season)-$795 (for a deluxe Safari Cabin in the summer) per night.
El Capitan Canyon
11560 Calle Real
Do you know of another spot that effortlessly fuses camping with lovely amenities (necessities, as some of us call them)? We’d love to get your recommendations for where you can camp without all the work!
—written and photographed by Jolie Loeb