Dan and Hannah Hike the Carpinteria Bluffs (southern California)


Albert Hammond got it, at most, 60% right this drought busting February of 2017.  You know, he’s the singer of It Never Rains in Southern CaliforniaClick here to be taken back to his yearning in verse.   Yet, even when it rains, southern California delivers for the outdoor-minded.  After stretching and meditating, Hannah and I walk from our cottage out into the light rain for our morning two and a half miles in the foothills just south of Santa Barbara.  The light rain cleanses, not soaks.

The morning precip returns me to our Arizona roots when rain was such an anomaly in the desert that Hannah and I would stare out into our backyard transfixed, to watch the hydro manna fall from heaven, even for just ten minutes.


In the high fifties, this first week of February in Summerland, the warmth of the rain conjures up memories of my choice for one of our two wedding songs – Summer Rain by Johnny Rivers.  Click here to be transported back to the music of our generation to our hilltop wedding in East Penfield, New York on July 1,1972. (By the way, Hannah’s choice was Crazy Love by Helen Reddy.)

Once back after our morning in the hills, we have coffee and Hannah’s biscuits, but no Sports Center, as is my routine with breakfast at home.  Nor do we have the Weather Channel, the perfect medium for obsessing – in this case, over monster snowstorms blanketing our Maine coast.  Turns out that our cottage just has basic cable; I mean basic as in only networks and reruns of Modern Family, Big Bang Theory and MASH.


Rather than channel surfing, I read up on what’s going on in the Santa Barbara area through the local free tabloids – Montecito Journal, Santa Barbara Independent, and the Carpinteria Coastal View News.

Today, mist to light rain eliminates any thought of Friday Pickleball at the outdoor Municipal Tennis Center in Santa Barbara.  So, we opt for Plan B, born in the Carpinteria Coastal View News.


Just four miles to the south of our cottage in Summerland lies Carpinteria, a small town of 14,000.   Known for it literally having the safest beach in the world, or so they claim, Carpinteria is home to seals and sea lions nesting below the nearby Carpinteria Bluffs.

With our grandsons, Owen (4.5) and Max (nearly 3), coming with their parents, Molly and Tip, in the weeks ahead, we are scoping out places to take the boys while their parents are off hiking.


Driving a mere six miles south on The 101 highway from our cottage, we turn off the Bailard Street exit and immediately arrive at the parking lot of the Carpinteria Bluff Nature Preserve.  On this upper 50F degree Friday afternoon, few others are here.


Our non-trail sandwiched between the bluffs and the railroad

With no guiding signs, we walk with faith toward the ocean for the bluffs.  California delivers when it comes to extraordinary bluff trails: Montana De Oro State Park outside of San Luis Obispo, San Simeon State Park north of Cambria, and the Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz.  Today we are hoping to add one more pearl to our necklace of bluff hiking gems.  (Click each park name above to read the blog and see the breathtaking photography of these rock star bluff hikes.)


With no signage telling us where to go, we take a sandy path towards the bluff’s edge.  Crossing the active railroad, we look over the edge to see 6 to 8′ rounded rocks in the sandy shore, but no seals.  With no discernible trail, we are sandwiched between 70’ cliffs to the ocean below us and twenty foot bluffs above of us.  Something is just not right; this is not a trail for visitors.

Discouraged, we head back and wonder what’s the big deal about this Carpinteria rookery!  Thank goodness, we checked this out so we wouldn’t make the mistake of wasting one of Owen and Max’s days in California here.


Still, something gnaws at us that we have missed something.  Ready to drive off, we approach a young man who explains that the seals are further north, beyond where the 12’ gravelly park path ends, on towards the pier.   No signs indicate any of this, but we take it on faith that this young fella knows what the hell he is talking about.


Highly motivated to find an afternoon’s fun with Owen and Max, we hike north on a sandy trail heading to the pier.  With others walking dogs, we all come upon a sign that directs us to a bluff overlook.  Seventy feet beneath us are three harbor seals, big blobs that blend into the smooth rocky shoreline with rocks as big as they are.  I defy you to pick out the seals among the rocks, even though I use my telephoto lens on my iPhone to get as close as I can.

We have an alternative for you to consdier.  If you come to California in January or February, go 150 miles north near San Simeon on the central coast, to see hundreds upon hundreds of elephant seals at Piedras Blancas.  Click here for that blog.


Successful in discerning that this is no place to bring preschoolers, we are about to win again as we meander through the town of Carpinteria on our way back to the cottage.  There, we check out the Carpinteria Beach State Park for beach fun for Owen and Max.   Learning that admission is $10 per day to the park, we are surprised, and pleased, when the attendant tells us to drive to the exit where we will find free street-side parking on Linden Avenue.  That beach is literally the same beach as the state park.

We should go to Vegas with the winning streak we are on.


3 thoughts on “Dan and Hannah Hike the Carpinteria Bluffs (southern California)

  1. I love reading about your California adventures and can’t wait to read upcoming installments that feature Owen and Max. By the way, I’m still trying to find the seals in that picture!

  2. Dear Hannah and Dan
    I so love reading about your adventures. I just read and enjoyed very much “Wild ” by Cheryl Strayed so am thinking you may just be on some of those trails. It reminded me of hiking on the Camino.
    We are doing a lot of snow shoeing. I am leading our local snow shoe group of about 20 this Sunday on our back woods trails.

    Owen and Max are going to love that beach and seeing the seals. How great to have them coming and what a holiday for Molly and Tip to come and do some hiking too.
    You have a wonderful life and I like how you live ! Thank you for sharing.
    All my love and best wishes

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