The Camping is Easy at Refugio

Located just a few miles north of Santa Barbara and Goleta , the beachfront campground at Refugio is a great spot for a weekend getaway, especially when you don’t have time and money to actually “get away.”

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Back in February we were fortunate enough to have a warm weekend matched with some prime diving conditions. Refugio was the spot to go.

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The campsites are literally feet away from the water. There’s a nice little creek that runs through the middle of the grounds, and most campsites come with a nice array of big, shady trees perfect for a hammock or swing.Image

The railroad tracks are just next to the campgrounds, so bring earplugs if the train may be bothersome at night. Most campsites are also equipped with a firepit, picnic table, and bathrooms and showers nearby (don’t forget quarters for the showers!) There is also a small general store on-site.

The best beachfront sites are reserved for the hike and bike campers. These are also the least expensive.

For the bikers: there’s a fun path called the Aniso Trail that goes to El Capitan and back from the campsite; the official trail closed a few years ago, but you can go around the closures and still get a great view of the bluffs!

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For the beach strollers: There’s lots to find in the washed up kelp, including shark’s “mermaid purses” if you have a keen eye! You can also climb around the rocks and see what is hiding there during low tide. We found an octopus, fish, lots of mussels, and a few crabs!

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For the actives: Relax on the swingset, play frisbee on the beach, shoot hoops in the basketball court, or volleyball on the grass field.

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For the divers: Our first dive, we headed out North towards the kelp beds in the right of the cove, but found nothing but a couple of crabs and starfish on a desolate sandy bottom (Turns out, we did not swim far enough out.) The second dive, we finned straight out from the lifeguard station pretty far before going down, and even then had to fumble our way through some green, churned up water before it cleared up to 15ft viz and awesome shelf. There was lots of color and life on this reef, and it was worth the swim.  Max depth was 25-30 ft.

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For everybody: don’t forget the s’mores, music, good company, and to watch the glorious sunsets that usually accompany a fun day at Refugio!

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A list of Catalina Musts

Recently I spent a weekend with some of the most rad people ever- Scuba Club- on Catalina Island.

I’ve already shared with you pictures from catalina island, but i’ve yet to divulge all of the secret (and not so secret) must-do activities while visiting Avalon, Catalina.

Before I do, here’s how you get to the island: pick a date and reserve a spot on the Catalina Express either out of Long Beach or San Pedro. Then mark your calendar and get REALLY excited. In between that and boarding the ferry, take a motion sickness pill- just in case.

If you’re planning on staying more than a day-trip’s worth, I recommend  hotel La Paloma Las Flores. Quaint, relatively inexpensive, and located in the heart of Avalon. Or skip the hotel and get a spot at the campgrounds!

For divers, there is a tank fill truck right at the dive park- Catalina Divers. There is also ScubaLuv in Avalon. Both charge $7 per tank fill.

So, now that you’re on the island, here’s a list you can start experiencing for yourself.

1. hike to Wrigley Memorial- $0

2. find the pet cemetery- $0

3. dive the dive park- and while you’re there, find the Jacques Cousteau and memorial plaques and the sunken glass-bottom boat – $7 tank fill

4. get Big-Olaf’s ice-cream. – $4

5. freedive/ snorkel Lover’s Cove – $0 (if you bring your own mask, snorkel and fins. Otherwise you can rent them right at Lover’s)

6. go on a night dive at the dive park and shut off your dive light for a minute at the bottom to see the bioluminescence -$ 7 tank fill

7. search for buffalo – $0

8. rent a tandem bike with a friend and cruise around town for an hour – $10

9. scuba at Descanso Beach – $7 tank fill

10. go to VONS, get some fixings and have a picnic on the beach – price depends on how hungry you are!

11. go inner-tubing at Descanso – $5/ hr.

12. rent some kind of boat, kayak, or paddleboard and ride around the harbor

13. dive the Valiant, just outside the dive park (get permission from harbormaster first!)- $ 7 tank fill

14. look in the harbor waters for Julia Roberts’ wedding ring

15. get Big Olaf’s again…seriously, do it. – $4

Sunny Days at Avila Beach

Usually I spend my beach days at Pirate’s or Olde Port (especially during bonfire season!!) but I still love a good sunny day at Avila Beach.

On the weekends, this beach is bustling with people. The beachfront town has such a summery feel, and there is lots to do besides the obvious “sand n’ surf” activities…

For starters, you can walk along or find shade under Avila Pier, visit the Avila Sea Life Center and discover what animals live in Avila’s bay, or just grab a snack and enjoy the sunshine. At the northern end of the beach are some tidepools, but there isn’t a whole lot of life to find in the rocks.


I love most though to just sit on the swings here and bury my toes in the sand.

Spooner’s Cove Montana de Oro

Having spent a good amount of time this past weekend celebrating the sunshine at Montana de Oro (and loving it!) I feel compelled to encourage fellow seashore-lovers to visit Spooner’s Cove in Montana de Oro.

Just a few miles past the entrance of the park and after driving under a canopy of eucalyptus trees, we found the parking lot of Spooner’s Cove on the right side of the road.

enjoying my "perch" above the waves

This beach is not particularly sandy, but is instead composed of small rocks and pebbles. No worries though, it’s still plenty comfortable to recline on a towel and take a relaxing nap.

The first day I came here, it was later in the afternoon and the beach was practically empty. The tide was rapidly rolling in, but we still played on the giant rock structure in the middle of the cove and searched the edge of the water for unusual rocks and shells.

The following day we decided to come prepared with swimsuits and towels.

We started by laying out our towels, kicking off our sandals, and splashing in the creek

The creek on the right side of Spooner's Cove

that runs along the right side of the cove.  It empties out right next to a fun little cave that makes for good exploring during low tide.

the cave

Walking a little more to the left, the tide was low enough so that we could (carefully!) walk out onto the rocky platform and admire the tide pools. I saw a crab or two, some anemones, and lots of algae.

The seagulls are very bold on this beach, and I literally had to chase one for my keys, phone and textbook (yes, I even got some studying in!) before we climbed onto our towels and basked in the mid-afternoon sunshine. Among us were scattered groups of families, other students, and couples also enjoying the pleasantries of Spooner’s Cove.

Word on the street is that Spooner’s is also home to some fantastic diving when conditions are good. I guess I’ll have to grab my gear and find out for myself. But that will be for another day!

Enjoy Spooner’s Cove!

Pirate’s Cove: a little more booty than you’d expect, but still a coastal gem

I’ve been to Pirate’s Cove a few times, and it’s always been a treat.

Pirate's Cove

Parking is free, and there’s a few different fun spots you can go to from the trails. There is a cave overlooking the water and tide-pools to explore (both found by heading right on the trail and following the signs), but most recently I’ve gone down to the beach area.

Once you make your way down the steep little trail leading to the beach (be careful climbing down–I’ve watched someone fall and have to get carried up firefighters), you’ll find yourself on a skinny stretch of sand sandwiched between the cliffs and the waves.

beach photo credit: R. Seidman

It’s very pretty there, and when I went in the mid- afternoon on a weekend day it was not crowded at all. There is plenty of room to stretch out a big blanket and relax on your own or with friends. Don’t be alarmed when a less-than clothed body walks by- this beach is also a nude beach, though the boldly undressed tend to stay at the far end of the beach.

Of course, the water is icy cold, so try going for a walk along the sand, enjoying the view of the ocean. Occasionally you will catch a sea lion playing near the rocks or a sailboat drifting by the cove.

a beautiful afternoon with the parking lot in the background overlooking Pirate's Cove

About halfway down the beach are some rocks that are fun to climb on and explore. There is not much life to see here, though, so for the real tide-pools walk all the way to the rocks down the beach or head back up the trail towards the cave.

google satellite view of Pirate's Cove

There’s only one thing about Pirate’s Cove that I don’t like, and it has nothing to do with the natural cove itself. It’s the trash. People leave behind things like food wrappers, bottles, cans, shoes, boxes, plastic bags and I’ve even seen a display of undergarments adorning the brush along the trail. All the trash takes away from the beauty of the cove, and quite frankly, it’s just gross. So, I encourage visitors of this little central coast gem to leave behind only footprints on the beach, instead of trash.

When I went last weekend, my friends and I just threw down a couple towels and lounged around in the sun for a few hours. It was much quieter than Avila Beach or Shell Beach on a weekend. Pirate’s Cove is a wonderful escape, and a laid-back, secluded beach perfect for a lazy afternoon– whether you’re clothed or baring it all!

 

a fine afternoon at Olde Port Beach…

Yesterday’s weather was a perfect balmy 80 degrees or so outside. I opened my door and decided right then that it was absolutely necessary to get to the beach.

So I grabbed the necessities– my swimsuit, a towel, sunscreen, a few friends, a frisbee and a camera–and headed straight to Avila.

We parked along the road across from Olde Port Beach in Avila, where we walked down a boat loading ramp to get to the warm sand. A Sunday afternoon with friends, sun, sand, and surf– could you ask for anything more?

beautiful day for the beach!

We soaked up the sun and relaxed on our towels  with our toes in the sand for a little while before sprinting to the water’s edge. Each of us dipped a toe in to “test” the water before going in. I always find that funny when people touch the water to see how cold it is. It’s like we’re all just making sure that we didn’t suddenly end up in the warm water Bahamas. We live on the central coast. The water is always cold. No problem for us though; we stayed warm by throwing a frisbee around in the water.

playing frisbee at avila beach

I like Olde Port Beach a lot because it is never as crowded as Avila Beach and has fire pits so that you can have barbeque dinners or late-night bonfires.

It is also a spot frequented by kayakers and swimmers. By swimmers I mean both people and dogs. Yep, this beach is dog-friendly, so don’t be surprised if a black lab jumps into the waves alongside you.

If you want to check out something cool, drive past Olde Port Beach until you reach Port San Luis Pier, or Hartford Pier, and a parking lot with dry dock boats and Fat Cats Restaurant. If you park and walk all the way to the edge, past the boats, you will find yourself in a geologists’ paradise amongst a wall of pillow lava. Go at low tide to get an amazing glimpse of this geological masterpiece.

Take advantage of a sunny day and go to the sandy shores of Olde Port !

Happy sun- soaking !