As a city wo-
man whose family is unaccustomed to “roughing it,” I planned our
family vacation to involve a lot of nature but not a lot of
sleeping on hard ground. That’s what made El Capitan Canyon in
Santa Barbara, Calif., the perfect place for us: it’s
pseudo-camping for yuppies. A two-hour drive north of Los Angeles,
El Capitan Canyon is a former private campground that was
transformed into a plush nature resort. It allows guests to savor a
rustic environment, but with down duvets and gourmet coffee.
There are several different styles of cabins, ranging from those
with king-size beds and Jacuzzis to others with bunk beds and a
sleeping loft. All cabins have bathrooms with showers. For a group
of seven, we booked two cabins.
There are also canvas safari tents on raised wooden decks, with
screened windows and zip-down flaps. Bathroom facilities and
showers for the tents are located in nearby buildings. Though our
boys were at first disappointed at the absence of TVs, the beauty
and calm of the campground environment assuaged them.
Visitors can be as relaxed or as busy as they want. Our family
borrowed complimentary bikes from the front office and rode along
El Capitan and Refugio beaches, just five minutes from the
campsite. Water-lovers can kayak or surf, though rentals are not
available directly on the premises. My husband and I hiked along
the paths in the canyon while our kids preferred to swim at the
pool or play catch on the large grassy area adjacent to the cabins.
Our favorite time was after dinner, when nearly everyone dined at
picnic tables outside their cabins or tents. We met our neighbors,
our kids met other kids, and we had fun roasting s’mores in our
We also had great fun picking apples from one of the many
orchards in nearby San Luis Obispo and visiting Ostrich Land in
Buellton. The campground management can help guests arrange for
other tours including a Santa Barbara trip or whale watching.
Recently, the campground management expanded its group activities
to include a Ropes Challenge Course, wagon and carriage rides,
guided hikes and equestrian events, such as guided trail rides.
Throughout the summer, El Capitan Canyon features weekend live
After a busy day, the campground offers spa services, including
massage, facials, mud treatments and reflexology. If you didn’t
bring your own food, the deli offers breakfast, lunch and dinner,
including pizzas, soups, salads and sandwiches.
“I love introducing people from the city to El Capitan Canyon,”
said manager Terri Bowman. “People are completely different when
they arrive here. Because there’s no TV, parents are outside
playing catch with their kids, or riding bikes through the canyon.
I appreciate being part of an operation that can offer that to
Other activities are available such as a winery tour or visitors
can drive another hour north to Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Reservations are required in advance.
Cars are not allowed in the canyon, a shuttle brings guests from
their cabin or tent to the entrance of the facility, where the El
Capitan Canyon store and deli are located. We preferred walking the
half-mile or so from our cabin to the store.
El Capitan Canyon
Reservations: 866-352-2729, fax: 805-968-6772
For group information,
contact Paul Miller
Commission: 10 percent