Santa Barbara’s El Capitan Canyon is the Rolls-Royce of camping

Observer courtesy photo
Luxury cabins await ‘campers’ at El Capitan Canyon Resort near Santa Barbara, Calif. For those who seek a more traditional camping experience, but with some of the creature comforts of home, there are 26 classic safari tents.

By Jim Farber

Creators News Service

Camping. For years it meant one of two things: either packing everything in the car, finding a camp site and pitching a tent or packing up the RV and sharing your camp site/parking lot with a herd of other travelers.

Now imagine a campground featuring luxury cabins, a full-service spa (hot stone massage, anyone?) and weekend wine-tastings hosted by nearby vineyards (try the petite syrah). That’s what you’ll find – and a lot more (including a llama herd) — at El Capitan Canyon, 20 miles north of Santa Barbara off Pacific Coast Highway 101.

Oh, did I mention they’re also equipped to completely cater and organize a romantic wedding overlooking the Pacific Ocean or provide one of five yurts for that group yoga retreat? You can also reserve the $795-a-night multiroom, multideck, full-kitchen Safari Cabin in the sky complete with its own private access road. And on top of it all, they’re “green,” with any number of sustainability and recycling programs in place.

But if you long for those good old-fashioned camping classics, El Capitan Canyon also offers campfires with s’mores, stargazing, hiking trails, a large swimming pool and volleyball.

Observer photo courtesy of Jim Farber
If it’s Saturday, there’s wine-tasting at El Capitan Canyon Resort near Santa
Barbara, Calif.

Following its long history as a cattle ranch, El Capitan Canyon Resort opened as a private campground in 1970 on a 300-acre site directly across from El Capitan State Beach. In 2000, the new local owners, Chuck Blitz and Roger Himovitz, completely transformed El Capitan Canyon into what they like to call “a refined rural retreat.”

Reopened in May 2001, the current cabin hotel allows guests to choose from cedar cabins featuring French doors that open onto a creek, beds with down comforters, sleeping lofts, private baths with showers, refrigerators, coffeemakers, heaters and wood-burning stoves ideal for California winters. The alternative accommodations are deluxe canvas tents complete with a wood floor, bedding, towels, table and chairs.

For all its amenities, El Capitan Canyon is still camping. Most notable is the lack of any stoves (except a microwave), so many visitors come equipped with their own camp stoves. There are fire pits, but they’re really more suitable for personal campfires and roasting s’mores than cooking a delectable meal. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I tried and failed miserably. You can also dine at the camp store, which offers a wide variety of food and drink, including cappuccinos in the morning and a remarkable wine selection for evening sipping. You can also order barbeque packages.

Talk about location, location, location. El Capitan Canyon is within easy walking distance of scenic El Capitan State Beach, a half-hour drive from Santa Barbara and all the delights that coastal city has to offer, and about a 45-minute drive from the Santa Inez Valley — the Napa Valley of Southern California.

What’s not to love?