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Santa Barbara is a beautiful California destination near the beaches and the mountains and offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, arts and culture, water sports, and fine dining. Most people choose to stay at a hotel or resort when they visit Santa Barbara from out of town. But you can have a really unique trip and get out into the nature of the region more if you camp in your tent, RV, or in glamping accommodations.
Here are our favorite camping spots within an hour’s drive of Santa Barbara to keep your commutes short and your adventures long.
Cachuma Lake is just outside of San Diego and my favorite place to have a nature-themed getaway combined with a city trip. This park has views of the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains and is just off scenic Highway 154. When you camp here, you can easily take drives to Santa Barbara, Solvang, and the beaches. The Cachuma Lake Recreation Area accommodates RVs with hookups, has tent sites, and it also has yurts and cabins available for rent. Dogs are welcome at the park as long as you follow the pet rules. You’ll love being so close to the year-round marina and having rental watercrafts available right onsite too.
The Santa Barbara Sunrise RV Park is a small, family-owned campground in the city that has comfortable RV sites for travelers. It’s an urban RV park that’s in a convenient location to explore Santa Barbara – right at Highway 101 and Salinas Street. You can catch a city bus just a couple blocks away or walk to the waterfront and downtown trolley in about 20 minutes. Here you’ll find 30/50-amp electric hookups, water, sewer, free Wi-Fi, and basic cable TV at the sites. Dogs are welcome here, except for pit bulls.
You can stay at the Rancho Oso RV & Camping Resort and be close to Santa Barbara while also feeling like you’re in the heart of the Old Wild West. There are RV sites here if you bring your camper. Alternatively, you can stay in an Old West building or covered wagon beneath the stars for a unique glamping experience. Santa Barbara is just 30 minutes away by car from here, but you’ll be in a tranquil environment with opportunities for horseback riding and hiking on wooded trails. The Thousand Trails-affiliated property has a swimming pool and hot tub on its 310 acres of land. Other amenities offered include a restaurant, mini-golf, game room, playground, shower facilities, and RV storage.
There are some great national forest campgrounds around Santa Barbara, including the Los Prietos Campground in the Los Padres National Forest. You can book a site at this campground on Recreation.gov and have lots of outdoor adventures in the mountains of western California. This is a family-friendly place to camp with water recreation and hiking. Although there are no utility hookups at the campground, both RVs and tents are welcome. Sites have grills, campfire rings, and picnic tables. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara and the ocean are just 19 miles away.
Paradise Campground is another national forest campground that does not have utility hookups but is a nice spot for both RVs and tents. It’s located in California’s westernmost national forest and has over a dozen sites with grills, campfire rings, and picnic tables. There are flush toilets and drinking water available, and firewood is available for purchase from the camp host. You’ll be deep within the Santa Ynez Mountains when you stay at this developed campground that’s just 18 miles from Santa Barbara.
Ocean Mesa is a RV park and campground on the Santa Barbara coast and that’s right next to El Capitan Canyon. The RV sites here are up to 50 feet long and have full hookups, Wi-Fi, fire pits, picnic tables, and grills. There are also 20 tent camping sites here that have 20-foot circular pads, picnic tables, grills, and fire pits. This is a pet-friendly campground that has a pool and other fun activities, such as wine tastings, hiking trails, a playground, and a concert series in the summer.
Another option is to stay at a California State Park beach campground near Santa Barbara, such as Carpinteria State Beach. You can make a reservation for your campsite on the ReserveCalifornia website and bring a camper up to 35 feet long. The campground is dog-friendly, but pups are not allowed on the beach. This park is 12 miles south of Santa Barbara and is known for swimming, surf fishing, and tidepool exploring. There are also harbor seals that can be seen from the beach, and there’s a section of the beach that’s closed between December and May to protect young harbor seals.
Both RVs and tents can set up at the Fremont Campground that has scenic trails and horseback riding opportunities. You can book some campsites online, while others are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Accessible sites are also available to accommodate people with disabilities. At the camping area, you’ll find drinking water, accessible flush toilets, firewood for purchase, campfire rings, and grills. The whole area is filled with lush greenery and plenty of shade. Santa Barbara is about 18 miles away.
You can camp in the heart of Santa Barbara when you make a reservation at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. There’s an RV park here with full hookups, free Wi-Fi, showers, and an easy location right off Highway 101. Make your reservation online and expect to pay between $65 to $70 per night for an RV site. There are only back-in sites here but no pull-throughs. Children and pets are welcome here, so bring the whole family along.
Another state beach campground worth checking out is at Refugio State Beach, which is managed by California State Parks. This campground can accommodate trailers up to 27 feet and campers and motorhomes up to 30 feet long. If you don’t have your own RV, you can rent a trailer from the 101 RV Rental Concession. Dogs are allowed at the campground but not on the beach. When you camp here, it’s fun to go fishing, walk the trails, and have a picnic. There are lifeguards patrolling the beach year-round. The lifeguards can also set you up with a kayak tour during the summer months for a unique experience on the water.