5 of Santa Barbara County's Best Coastal Campgrounds

This guide is part of KCET's California Coastal Trail project, which looks at the state's massive undertaking to build a trail over 1,000 miles in length along its whole coastline.

Santa Barbara's stunning coast was made for recreation. It has rocky coves, bluffs, coastal meadows, sandy beaches close to urban centers and far from anything, and mountains that sometimes reach nearly into the water. The highway is close to some of the campgrounds, but never to the point of being an irritant. The only flaw with this county's coast might be that the private Hollister Ranch eats up a significant chunk of it. Luckily, plentiful state and county parks let the public enjoy much of the rest.

Note: We've tried to feature only campgrounds with the best coastal sights, sounds, and smells. Many of those places are state-owned because the parks system boasts so much of California's best seaside real estate.

Not surprisingly, the beaches are among the busiest parks in the state. Reservations can be made up to seven months in advance through ReserveAmerica.com. Book as soon as possible because many sites get snagged the day they become available. Cancellations can also free up previously booked sites, so watch for that. Thanks to CampsitePhotos.com, images of just about every individual site are available online, letting you choose a spot in the shade of a sycamore with just the right view. Unless otherwise stated, sites permit both tents and RVs or trailers. Some companies deliver RVs directly to campgrounds, making it possible to enjoy a road hotel without the need to pilot one on the highway; rental information can be found on most state park websites.

Road Trip: Santa Cruz's 'Cement Ship'

On May 29th, 1919, the SS Palo Alto was launched from its construction yard in Oakland, California to serve U.S. forces in World War I. Of course, it was a bit late for the party: WWI ended in November of 1918. So, the boat went back into storage.

In 1929, the Palo Alto was purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Corporation in an effort to turn the ship into an entertainment center, featuring a dance floor, nightclub, swimming pool, cafe, and hotel. They towed the ship down towards the Santa Cruz coastal town of Aptos, lodged it into the bottom of the ocean floor, and constructed a 640-foot pier to it. The attraction opened in June of 1930 but, as this history details, luck wasn't on its side:

A series of storms cracked the hull in 1932. The investors, hoping to cut their losses, sold their beachfront property and the SS Palo Alto to the State of California in February 1936 for $1.00.

And there it still sits today, an attraction to be visited by both humans and great white sharks. In fact, as this great piece in the Mercury News points out, the ship has become a home for various marine animals. While humans can't actually walk the ship, they can stroll the pier and swim in the nearby beach to get a closer look.

The Seacliff State Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset every day.

Restoration Coming to Malibu State Parks

In Governor Jerry Brown's 2016 state budget, $20 million is allocated for "deferred maintenance" to California State Parks and Recreation Department. These funds are essentially spent on restorations and projects that the department had been hoping to fund for a while, but had been put on the back burner. Well, now they're finally on the front burner.

As the Malibu Times points out, a good portion of state money is going towards maintenance in Malibu:

$7.58 million for maintenance of the Malibu Pier, Historic Malibu Adamson House and beach access stairway at Point Dume.

The restoration on Malibu Pier will be the most expensive, costing roughly $4.6 million. This will alleviate some of the safety concerns associated with the 80-year-old pier. It's still unclear what will be done to the historic Adamson House that has been on the site since 1928. Point Dume State Park, meanwhile, will get a restored beach access stairway.

The projects start in August or September, barring any unforeseen budget disasters striking the state, but you know how that goes.

Muir Woods Will Soon Require Reservations

Public lands that have been maintained and tailored for use by humans are a strange mix of backcountry and city. When you go there, you're out in the wilderness technically. But at the same time, if you're out in the wilderness with a ton of other people, it doesn't quite feel that way.

This is a problem that Muir Woods, the National Monument in Marin County, is trying to fix.

So many folks in the surrounding area have been making the short drive to this popular destination for hikes and nature walks -- over one million visitors a year, in fact -- that it just doesn't exude the same nature-infused aura it once had. As a result, they're beginning a reservation process to limit visitors.

The reservation system is still up for logistical tinkering and debate, and won't be implemented for at least another two years. But in the meantime, the Parks Department is starting to limit the amount of car parking that's used at any one time. (More than 80% of the park's visitors arrive by car, and there are times when over 1,000 cars have been lined on the sides of the roads.)

In the meantime, just do what I do, and avoid the area on the weekends.

The Best Eastern Sierra Hot Springs

If you take the I-5 up to Bakersfield, hang a right on the 178, and shoot up north for a short stretch on the 14, you'll hit U.S. Route 395, a highway that starts at the Canadian border and culminates at the California town of Hesperia in the Mojave Desert. Head north, through Owens Valley, and you'll start to ascend the Sierra Nevada mountain range. That's when you start getting into natural hot springs country.

The area is littered with them. Here is a surely-incomplete list of five that are worth visiting.

Buckeye Hot Springs

This natural grotto of bubbling hot springs (including one tub that's been carved out of the mountain) sits near a cool river. The springs are a bit off the beaten track -- you'll need to go on a dirt road with your car, and perform a short, yet steep, hike -- but that's what keeps it relatively private.

Travertine Hot Springs

Nearby are the increasingly popular Travertine Hot Springs, which are three pools that feature interesting looking rock formations and incredible views.

Hilltop Hot Springs

In the town of Mammoth Lakes, near the Little Alkali Lake, sits this small, man-made pool that is fed by natural hot springs.

Little Hot Creek

Also in the town of Mammoth Lakes is this decent-size, man-made concrete pool that's fed by natural hot springs. The site also contains benches nearby to lounge when you're cooling back down.

Crab Cooker

Thirty-five miles north of the town of Bishop sits this concrete pool, the natural hot spring water piped in about 50 feet downhill from the source. Camping nearby is also available in pull-outs from the entry road.

Daredevil Troupe Dances High Above Yosemite

There's an old storytelling strategy -- utilized often in horror movie franchises -- that's used to inject some new excitement into the tale: Set the story in space. "Critters 4," "Jason X," "Leprauchan 4," all of these movies were set in space. (They were all also, not surprisingly, terrible.) In the realm of live dance, that's not really an option. But Bandaloop, a dance troupe from Oakland, may have discovered the next best thing: Setting a routine on a Yosemite mountain.

The troupe of six dancers and nine support crew members spent ten days hiking through the Yosemite wilderness before suspending themselves from cables 3,000 feet above the ground, off the granite cliff-sides of Mount Watkins (pictured above). There, they performed a choreographed dance routine. But it wasn't for a large audience of people.

As he Daily Mail puts it, they performed:

In front of an audience of birds, bugs, squirrels, and perhaps a bear or two.

And, luckily for us, a few folks with cameras. To check out the entire set of photos, click here.

The Radioactive-ish Island in The Bay

Halfway between San Francisco and Oakland, smack dab in the middle of the bay, acting as a midway point for the dual spans of the Bay Bridge, sits Treasure Island. While usually bypassed by those driving from one city to the next, the area is actually full of plenty of treasures, some of them grand, some of them cursed.

Built in 1937 in time to host the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition (that is to say, the 1939 World's Fair), the island is chock-full of old buildings listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, was until recently the home to a 40-foot tall sculpture from Burning Man, and offers perhaps the best view you're going to get of gorgeous San Francisco. But also, as this KQED story points out, there are worries of other sorts lingering on the island:

After Treasure Island was constructed in 1939 for the World's Fair, the U.S. Navy used the site to clean ships that were used to test atomic bombs. Many buildings on the island are still marked as radioactive, which concerns several of the families who live there.

Which isn't to say passersby are in danger of radiation poisoning from a simple stop-over; none of the homes on the island have been listed as "unsafe" by the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, soon the island will be accessible to bikers from the East Bay, once the bike path on the Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge is complete. So, next time you're driving across, don't ignore the exit ramp that takes you to this treasure hidden in plain sight.

Joshua Tree Possibly Adding 32,000 Acres

Drive through one of Joshua Tree National Park's main stretches of road, and it seems as though the desert stretches on forever and ever. That, after all, is one of the big draws of heading out there in the first place. But a new plan may add upwards of 32,000 acres to the park.

The area in question is located in the Eagle Mountain area, just past the eastern section of the park. Currently, park officials are going through the logistics of how adding the land to the National Park will affect, well, all sorts of things. Here's a brief history of that area:

Originally part of Joshua Tree National Monument when designated in 1936, the study area was later removed for mineral extraction activities in 1950. Major mining activities in the study area ceased in 1983. In 1989, the area was proposed for a landfill. After decades of challenges and litigation, the landfill proposal was withdrawn in 2013.

Seeing as this is a big addition, the park is holding a series of public meetings to allow for comments and questions. The schedule is as follows:

- July 29, 1:30 p.m. - 3 p.m., Online Meeting
- August 4, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Lake Tamarisk Community Center
- August 5, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Joshua Tree Community Center
- August 6, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., University of California, Riverside - Palm Desert Center

So, if you have thoughts about this new plan, or just live nearby and want to see how your National Park border sausage gets made, head on over to one of the meetings.

Half Dome Altered By Nature

There's a certain illusion of safety that comes when you step into a National Park with the size and reputation of Yosemite. "Here is an area of the wilderness that's been carved out and tailored to the needs of us city slickers," we believe. "There are clear and distinct paths that are maintained consistently, and as long as we stay on them, we'll be fine. It's safe."

And, for 99 percent of the time, that's exactly the case. But every now and then, it's good to have a reminder that when you're out in nature, you're out in nature.

Case in point, earlier this month, a pretty huge chunk of rock fell from the iconic Half Dome formation and landed right on the well-traveled pathway. According to a report on the fall:

The rockfall has affected pitches 11 and 12 and while it is unclear when precisely it occurred, the sizable slabs are believed to have peeled off at the start of July during some very heavy thunderstorms. This would explain why no one witnessed the rockfall and, importantly, no one was injured during what is usually a very busy period. Climbers are warned to steer clear of the area as further rockfall may occur.

While no climbers were hurt, they certainly could have been. Rock falls like this don't only happen during thunderstorms. So, keep it safe out there everyone.

5 of Ventura County's Best Coastal Hikes

This guide is part of KCET's California Coastal Trail project, which looks at the state's massive undertaking to build a trail over 1,000 miles in length along its whole coastline.

Better known for its coastline and agricultural lands, Ventura County also lays claim to a chunk of the northern Santa Monica Mountains, a rugged zone replete with trails for hikers and mountain bikers. Challenging and dramatic trails can be found here, and easier strolls along the beaches await, too.

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