There are lots of fancy places to stay in Santa Barbara, but we prefer to head out of town to the more rustic El Capitan Canyon – a nature reserve that was once home to the Chumash Indians – with simple cedar log cabins and traditional tents, all beautifully appointed and set in a quiet, picturesque valley beside a running creek surrounded by oaks and sycamores. Local activities range from biking, hiking, kayaking, walking along the beach, whale watching, wine tasting, yoga, story-telling in the yurt, and massages, to open-air concerts. A great site for searching out local hiking trails is the Santa Barbara Trail Guide.
El Capitan also runs a first-rate horse ranch next door at El Capitan Ranch where guests can go horseback riding through the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains or discover their inner cowboy on one of the Chuck Wagon Dinners, which includes live mountain music, cowboy poetry, horse shoe pits, cowboy roping, and even souvenir wood branding. If you’d rather be a spectator, you can always drop by the Santa Barbara Polo Club to watch a game and see how the other half live.
If that all sounds too much, just take a nap. The best cabins are at the top of the valley where the afternoon sunlight filters in. All the cabins and tents are the same, and very comfortable, but cabins 266, 263 and 264 have the best aspect. You can cook your own simple meals on the cabin-side fire pits, as long as you bring all your own utensils. We barbecued delicious steaks and baked potatoes with a fresh green salad from the local farmers market followed by several of El Capitan’s delicious ‘smores’. Smores kits and other tasty victuals can be purchased at the utterly charming Canyon Market & Kitchen. And if you’re really nice (i.e. give food), Skunkface, the resident cat will sleepover and keep your toes nice and toasty too.