El Capitan State Beach - Surfing

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The break at El Capitán State Beach is the stuff of local legends. When this right-hand point break goes off, it goes big, but when and if that might be can be difficult to pin down. When the right swell hits, you better be on that dawn patrol.

Written by

Kara Kieffer


0.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

18.8 miles


5 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

1 days


All Seasons

Winter is when the biggest storms roll into California, producing the most epic waves.

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El Capitan State Beach



When Santa Barbara’s surfing locals talk about the best waves they’ve ever caught, they’re probably talking about El Capitán. It’s that good. But as is the way with so many great things, this break requires specific conditions.

What Makes It Great

In short, the right weather system moving in from off shore. The wave at El Capitán is likely the best right point break in the Santa Barbara area, and some would argue it’s one of the best right point breaks anywhere. Period. But like all good things, this break only comes to those who wait. Requiring a big western swell, ideally with periods under 14 seconds, this wave only goes off a handful of times each year. However, on the instances where it is going off, it’s going to blow your mind.

To start, the wave rushes out of deep water onto the shallow shores surrounding the beach, creating a fast-moving tube that can last for hundreds of yards. Some locals have claimed to get the longest rides of their lives on a good day at El Cap. As the wave rises up it creates a beautiful barrel, which is made all the more majestic in the clear blue California water. Yet, this wave is not for the newbie rider. The size of the wave, combined with the shallow waters, and often busy line-up require those who want to sample the riches of El Cap to be on their a-game.

Who is Going to Love It

This wave is best suited to skilled riders. You won’t find any mushy white water here, it’s either head high or bigger barrels or it’s completely flat. That being said, if you can get here on the right day, and don’t might sharing the line-up, then you’ll likely be treated to rides that you’ll be dreamily reminiscing on for the rest of your days.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From downtown Santa Barbara head north on the 101 and take exit 117 to El Capitán State Beach, turning left towards the ocean. You can find parking and public restrooms near the El Capitán Beach store. Suit up in the parking lot, and walk less that 150 yards down the path to the beach.

If you’d like to spend more than the day, the campground at El Capitán State Beach can be reserved through ReserveAmerica.com, with basic tent sites starting at $45/night. Be aware that this campground is very popular and reservations fill up months in advance.

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El Capitan Beach

34.459263, -120.025835

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