Located along the Pacific Ocean, twenty miles west of Santa Barbara, Refugio State Beach has 66 standard sites and one group site that can be reserved in advance for an ocean view camping experience. Palm trees line the beachfront campground, which is split down the middle by the leisurely flowing Refugio Creek. The meeting of the Refugio Creek and the Pacific Ocean makes the campground a haven for birds. For those seeking relaxing beach camping and the opportunity to fall asleep to the sound of the waves, Refugio State Beach Campground is the place.
The campground is open year round. Individual sites may be reserved for $45 per night and accommodate groups of up to eight people. Sites at Refugio State Beach can facilitate RVs up to 35 feet in length and tents. Reserve a campsite online and expect Refugio State Beach Campground to be full every weekend.
Campground amenities include picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, pay showers, potable water, and a general store. The big draw of course is the beach where you can swim, play in the sand, and walk along the shore. A bike path on the inland side of the campground serves as a starting point for a ride along the coast. You can easily bike to the 132-site campground at El Capitán State Beach, a couple miles to the east.
For those who are not camping, there is a day use parking area with picnic tables and charcoal grill near the beach. A $10 fee to enter the state park (price as of 2017) is charged for each vehicle using the day use area. This is also the fee to add an additional vehicle to a campsite.
Refugio State Beach has an intriguing past, as a park sign explains:
In the early 1800s, this land supported a successful cattle rancho, but it concealed an even more profitable activity – smuggling. The land had been granted to an early California explorer, Jose Francisco Ortega, after his retirement in 1795. When he died in 1798 his son, Jose Maria, took charge of the rancho, called Nuestra Señora de Refugio. The smuggling business soon began. Spain had forbidden her colonies to trade with foreign countries, but Spanish supply ships were often unreliable. It became very convenient for Californians to trade with the well-stocked foreign ships that visited their coast.
As the Ortega smuggling wealth grew, so did the stories about it. In Monterey, a pirate named Hippolyte de Bouchard heard these reports and decided to “visit” Refugio in 1816. Warned of his coming, the residents of Refugio hid themselves and their valuables inland. Bouchard burned the ranch house and the smuggling station, but departed with no booty.
Today, the only thing you’ll smuggle from Refugio State Beach are memories from a campground with ocean views and a picturesque beach.
To get to the campground: From Highway 101 west of Santa Barbara, take exit 120 for Refugio Road. Drive a short distance down the road toward the ocean and turn right into Refugio State Beach.
Campground address: 10 Refugio Beach Road, Refugio State Beach, Goleta, CA 93117
Campground coordinates: 34.464586, -120.067361 (34° 27′ 52.50″N 120° 04′ 02.49″W)
Use the map below to view the campground and get directions:
|Nature Trail in El Capitán State Beach|
This 0.35-mile hike loops through a lush sycamore grove bordering El Capitán Creek to approach the rocky shore at the end of El Capitán Point.
|Gaviota Wind Caves|
This 2.5-mile hike just off Highway 101 visits wind-carved caves in Gaviota State Park with great ocean views.
This 6.5-mile loop mounts a 2,458-foot summit two miles from the Pacific and then descends Trespass Trail to explore the wilds of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
|Gaviota Hot Springs|
This short hike visits a warm hot springs along the trail to Gaviota Peak in Gaviota State Park.
|Tunnel View and Trespass Trails Loop|
This 2.6-mile loop steals a view over Highway 101 and the Gaviota Tunnel.
|Gaviota Pass Overlook Loop|
This 6.5-mile loop tours scenic ridges in Gaviota State Park to arrive at a soaring overlook above the Gaviota Tunnel.
This short 0.65-mile hike visits an 80-foot tall fern-lined waterfall.
|More Central Coast Hikes|
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey.
|Gaviota State Park Campground|
With 39 sites situated right next to the beach and proximity to many hiking trails, this coastal campground has a lot of appeal.
|El Capitán State Beach Campground|
This 132-site campground offers oceanfront camping along the coast west of Santa Barbara, just three miles from Refugio State Beach.
|Wheeler Gorge Campground|
This 70-site campground in the Los Padres National Forest outside Ojai is complimented by a 1-mile nature trail.
|Emma Wood State Beach Campground|
This 90-site campground in Ventura is only for RVs, offers ocean views but few amenities, and does not allow tents.
|Sycamore Canyon Campground|
This 58-site campground in Point Mugu State Park sits at the mouth of a beachfront canyon and has access to trails through the west end of the Santa Monica Mountains.