Leadbetter Beach Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara’s crescent-shaped gem, Leadbetter Beach, usually wins the popularity contest among local oceanfront destinations: White sand, a consistent surf break, rock pools, golden cliffs and a picnic area are just a few reasons why this beach is a hot spot. What’s less expected is how easy it is to lose the crowds by heading west and slipping up the coast to a beach that’s just as beautiful—and lesser known. Time your visit for low tide and set your sights on the bold, orange rocky point jutting into the surf on Leadbetter’s west end. From a distance you won’t see anything beyond this point, but hike to it when the tide is out and make your way to the other side where you’ll be treated to miles of deserted waterfront perfect for strolling. The narrow beach, bordered by steep bluffs and mercurial waves, meanders past rocky sand rivulets that create tidepools. Flat stones specking the beach make smooth rock skippers. Stroll for 2 miles until reaching Arroyo Burro Beach. Here the crowds pick up again, which is your cue to flip it and head back the way you came. Beach-hopping bliss.

BONUS: Next to Leadbetter Beach’s parking area, Shoreline Café is a place to keep your feet in the sand while enjoying a Corona and some fish tacos.

Take Shoreline Dr. to the intersection with Loma Alta Dr. and turn south into the park by Shoreline Café (map). There is limited free 90-minute parking in front of the cafe. For more parking, turn right into the Leadbetter Lot ($2 per hour, $12 per day) or turn left into the Harbor West Parking Lot ($3 for three hours, $7 per day). Walk west up the coast to pass around the rocky point. Even if you don’t go at low tide, you’re likely just to get your feet wet, but it's best not to risk a rogue wave. After a of couple miles, you will hit Arroyo Burro Beach where the crowd resumes. This is a good place to turn back. There are picnic tables and BBQ grills near the parking area where dogs are allowed. Dogs are not allowed on the beach or in the cafe.