Just a few miles southeast of Santa Barbara is the foggy beach town of Carpinteria. Overshadowed by its larger and better-known neighbors of Santa Barbara and Ventura, Carpinteria has more to offer the traveler than a quick pass through on the 101 would initially reveal.
Not only does it offer beach bluff camping at Carpinteria State Beach, Carpinteria is home to seal and sea lion rookery at Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, the world's largest Torrey pine, and, my favorite and arguably the coolest, one of five natural asphault lakes in the world.
On a trip south to visit friends in Ventura, we decided to check out the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve. Located just south of Tar Pit Beach and Carpinteria State Beach, the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve encompasses 51.8 acres of beach, coastal sage, and stipa grasslands. If you want to learn more about the history of the preserve and what it protects, check out the website for Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs. It's a clear demonstration of how a community can come together to protect our natural resources.
Because it's not pupping season, we were able to walk on the beach from the seal rookery area all the way to Carpinteria State Beach. If you are here between the months of November to May, you cannot access that part of the beach as the seals are protected during the birthing season.
On a sunny day (it was deliciously cool and foggy when we went), you can see out to the Channel Islands. But really, the reason to come to Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and Tar Pit Beach is to see the natural tar pits. The rocks along the cliffs bleed tar. I couldn't believe it at first. Liquid tar seeping out of the rocks. People even use it to graffiti the cliffs.
As I mentioned above, Carpinteria is home to one of five natural asphalt lakes in the world. That's pretty freaking cool! Tar Pits Park is part of Carpinteria State Beach and generate from the Carpinteria Offshore Oil Field. Current oil operations off the coast here straddle the waters between federal and state waters and practice the controversial oil extraction process of fracking, though the city of Santa Barbara is fighting that. The oil derricks are clearly visible from the beach and attached to the beach is the oil derricks supply dock. You can learn more about it here.
Carpinteria isn't limited to its beaches. Another cool place to visit is The Apiary, located in a more industrial part of town. The Apiary is a mead and cider tasting room focused on botanically-infused meads and ciders. They produce their meads and ciders in small batches, infusing them with locally sourced herbs.
The tasting room is clean, open, and full of resources on beekeeping, fermentation, and honey. Personally, I find the environment a little Sunset Magazine and prefer the gloomier, almost divey environment, of Rabbit's Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale (plus, I think their meads are better at Rabbit's Foot). Can a meadery be a dive? Important questions to ponder.
We ordered the flight, 6 glasses of mead for $22; this is a great deal. Honestly, I only liked two of the meads: the Jun and the Echinacea/Lavender, which is the Jun infused with echinacea and lavender. You wouldn't think echinacea would work in mead, but it lent a clean herbaceous note to the effervescent base of the Jun mead. The Jun mead drank like a slightly more alcoholic kombucha, which I totally dig.
If you've never had mead before or you like mead and live in the southern California area, then the Apiary is a cool place to check out.
So the next time you're in Santa Barbara or Ventura think about checking out Carpinteria. It deserves a closer look.