If you’re looking for an authentic California beach town experience, don’t skip out on exploring the best things to do in Carpinteria.
Set on the coast just south of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria is a low-key hidden gem in California. It’s home to the idyllic Carpinteria State Beach, unique nature reserves, and tons of fun things to do..
I spent a month in Carp exploring the sun-kissed Carpinteria beaches, trying every restaurant, doing every activity, and experiencing local life.
Carpinteria, California definitely has my vote for one of the best California beach towns.
This guide has everything you need to know including the best Carpinteria things to do and where to eat and stay.
Best Things to Do in Carpinteria, California
Carpinteria Beaches – Visit Carpinteria State Beach
For one of the best things to do in Carpinteria, Carpinteria State Beach offers a serene escape no matter the season.
Lounge on the golden sands, catch some waves for surfing, explore the enchanting tide pools, go camping, or simply enjoy the relaxed vibes of this beautiful beach.
From December to May, you can also spot seals and sea lions here. Sometimes, you might even catch a glimpse of a gray whale.
You’ll find people congregating around the tide pools to spot sea creatures like starfish, sea anemones, crabs, snails, octopi, and sea urchins. It’s one of my favorite things to do in Carpinteria and I saw an octopus once.
You can even pack a lunch and enjoy the picnic area with barbecues and tables. Visiting Carpinteria Beach at sunset is a must-have experience during your trip. The orange-hued sky is always dramatic and beautiful.
Dogs are allowed at the Carpinteria Beach camping area and day-use area (open sunrise to sunset), but they aren’t permitted on the beach. Parking is $10.
Walk Along the Beach at Low Tide to Santa Claus Beach
Padaro Beach, or its nickname Santa Claus Beach thanks to its location by Santa Claus Lane, is one of the best Carpinteria beaches to visit.
As you walk, it’s fun to check out the incredible beachfront homes.
To get there, walk north on the beach from Linden Avenue if the tide is low. Check the tide forecast here.
If the tide is not low, you can park along the road shoulder of Santa Claus Lane. Then, walk across the railroad tracks and past boulders to get to the sandy beach.
Stop for lunch at Padaro Beach Grill and enjoy a meal at the picnic tables overlooking the ocean before you head back.
Breakfast at Lucky Llama Coffee House
Kickstart your day or enjoy a coffee break at the Lucky Llama Coffee House. This local coffee shop serves up excellent drinks in a cozy atmosphere.
For breakfast or lunch, they offer Acai Bowls, yummy avocado toast, and a few other options.
With the best coffee in town, you can expect a line, but it moves quickly and there’s a nice patio to enjoy your morning.
Don’t forget to stop by Heritage Goods & Supply, where you will discover unique finds and a curated selection of local goods and souvenirs.
See the Historic Wardholme Torrey Pine in Carpinteria
While you are having coffee at Lucky Llama, you will undoubtedly notice the massive tree next door.
Starting as a seeding in 1888, Wardholme Torrey Pine has become the largest known Torrey Pine in existence.
A resident of Carpinteria, Judge Thomas Ward, planted the tree as part of a competition aiming to grow the largest Torrey pine tree.
The historic tree now stands 126 feet tall, with a 130 feet branch spread. You can find it right in the center of Carpinteria between Maple and Walnut Avenues.
Shop at the City of Carpinteria’s Linden Avenue
Linden Avenue is one of the main streets in Carpinteria. It heads straight to the beach and is brimming with shops and eateries – all nestled around towering palm trees.
Stumble upon boutiques, cafes, and art galleries. It’s the perfect spot to find unique souvenirs or simply enjoy the local SoCal vibe.
Kids and people with a sweet tooth will love a visit to Robitaille’s Fine Candies. Home to Santa Barbara County’s largest candy store, this family-run business has been crafting handmade candies and chocolates for over 40 years.
Also, stop by Rincon Designs to find surf equipment, beach day essentials, and Carp hats. If you’re in the market for a surfboard, shaper Matt Moore is a local legend.
Enjoy Native Wildlife at Salt Marsh Nature Park
There is so much nature to take in when planning Carpinteria things to do. So, why not head to the 230-acre estuary that is Salt Marsh Nature Park?
Various native bird species call the park home, providing a safe space for coastal birds in an area where much of the California coast has undergone development.
Hiking around the marsh is easy and there is plenty of wildlife and scenic vistas to take in along the way.
Greet Farm Animals at Canzelle Alpaca Farm
From alpacas and llamas to sheep and horses, Canzelle Alpaca Farm is a great place to visit in Carpinteria for families and animal lovers alike.
The alpacas are such a funny cast of characters. When I was there there were a handful of 3 month old little guys. The crew of peacocks and peahens was fun to watch too.
The one-hour farm tour is $30 for adults and $25 for kids and seniors. and is available Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They also have a shop with scarves, blankets, and other farm-friendly souvenirs.
You must have a pre-booked tour reservation to enter. Pets are not allowed as they create a safety risk for the animals on the farm.
Take a Scenic Hike at Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve
Whether you want scenic overlooks or to catch a beautiful sunset, the trails at Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve have plenty to offer.
You can take a walk along coastal fields of sage and wildflowers, see views of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa Islands, and have a chance to see local seals along the coast.
The Bluffs are open sunrise to sundown and parking is free.
Explore Tar Pits Park & Coastal Views
The Carpinteria Tar Pits date back 2.6 million years to the Pleistocene Age. There have been ancient animals discovered here.
Mined by the Chumash tribe long ago, the tar pits were also mined during the 20th century to pave roads in the area.
You can still see places where asphalt seeps onto the beach. It’s a fascinating glimpse into Carpinteria’s geological evolution.
While you might not see pools of tar, there is a high probability that you will get tar on your feet at some point. These wipes are a good thing to pack for your trip.
The Carpinteria tar pits are at the southeast end of Carpinteria State Beach. Beach parking is $10, but you can also find free parking within the nearby residential area – Carpinteria has a lot of free parking.
Stop by the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Sanctuary and Rookery
Looking for family-friendly Carpinteria things to do? Witness the adorable seals sunbathing along the shores at the Harbor Seal Sanctuary. It’s an experience that offers a chance to see seals in their natural habitat.
To get there from Linden Avenue, walk or cycle on the Coastal Vista Trail toward Tar Pits Park. There are plenty of signs that will point you in the right direction. The total distance is only a mile.
There is a marked overlook where you can get the best view. I only had my cell phone to snap a photo but you should bring binoculars or a telephoto lens to see them up close since you are not supposed to approach them on the beach.
I saw them at 8:30 AM and went back a few more times in the afternoon and they weren’t there.
Bike the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail
Rent a bike and pedal along the coastal bluffs, bursting with breathtaking ocean vistas. It’s a fantastic way to soak up the natural beauty and get some exercise while on your trip to Carpinteria.
The trailhead is at Bailard Avenue and Carpinteria Avenue. The trail is a mile long and flat, perfect for a picturesque ride in one of the coolest places in California. You can make it longer by going down to the beach or looping around.
Check out Gonzo Cycles or Bikesmiths for bike rentals in Carpinteria, CA.
Hike the Franklin Trail in the Foothills of Carpinteria
Leading up toward the hills, trek the Franklin Trail for panoramic views of the ocean and surrounding landscape.
It’s rated hard on AllTrails and is 16 miles round trip, but you can do smaller sections if you’re not interested in an all-day hike. You can access the hike from the west side of Carpinteria High School along Highway 192.
The hike offers great exercise and views to match. I opted to do the Carpinteria Bluffs Hike instead, which is just a nice flat beach trail.
Explore the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History
Fascinated by this charming Carpinteria town? Learn more about the area’s rich history and heritage through the various exhibits and artifacts at the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History.
What makes this place to visit in Carpinteria unique is that it also hosts a Museum Marketplace. While they’re not selling artifacts from the museum, you can find antiques, artisan crafts, and collectibles, vintages, and more.
The Museum Marketplace is open only one Saturday a month, typically the last Saturday of each month unless otherwise noted.
Indulge in Happy Hour at Teddy’s By The Sea
Carpinteria has some great spots for happy hour! The following places are popular for their happy hour offerings:
- Teddy’s By The Sea: Great patio seating with handcrafted cocktails, beer & wine, fish tacos, oysters, and crab cakes, makes this one of the most popular happy hour spots from 3 – 6 PM, Monday through Friday.
- Little Dom’s: Open from 3 to 5 PM, brings a charming Italian flair to happy hour, featuring delectable small plates and classic aperitivos, ensuring a flavorful experience.
- Corktree Cellars Wine Bar & Bistro: They often have a fantastic selection of wines on special during happy hour, along with tasty appetizers.
Before heading out, it might be a good idea to check their current offerings or any changes in their happy hour schedule, as things could have changed since my last update.
Do a Pub Crawl in Carpinteria, California
Beer enthusiasts will feel right at home in Carpinteria. Indulge in craft beers and explore the brewing scene as you stop by one of the local breweries.
Kickstart the adventure at Island Brewing Company, a family-run microbrewery with beers ranging from ales, lagers, and IPAs to seasonal releases, each sip embodies the essence of Carpinteria’s relaxed ambiance with a view of the train.
Rincon Brewery stands as another must-visit, offering a diverse array of craft beers on tap in addition to a selection of wine. There’s a full menu of burgers, salads, tacos, wings and more. Happy hour is Monday – Thursday from 2-5 PM.
As the crawl continues, a stop at the Sunburst Wine Bar to try some wines as well as beer on tap. They also have tasty smash burgers from Dang Burger.
If you want to visit cool places in California, the beer scene in Carpinteria showcases an unforgettable pub crawl experience that embodies the town’s laid-back yet vibrant spirit.
Catch the View at Rincon Beach Park
Located on the border of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, Rincon Beach Park is a stunning sight.
This is a beautiful place for a picnic date. You can use their covered tables for a lovely beachfront setting as you watch the ocean and any local surfers taking on the waves.
It’s 3 miles east of Carpinteria, and you’ll go like you’re heading from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara. From Highway 10, take the Bates Road turn-off south to find the park entrance.
Wander Through the Carpinteria Farmers Market
Explore the lively Carpinteria Farmers Market, a beloved Thursday tradition featuring fresh produce and local delights.
The market is open every Thursday from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm. You’ll find vendors selling everything from fruits and vegetables to artisanal cheese, pies, and honey.
Plus, purchasing some local cheese or honey makes for excellent edible souvenirs.
Attend Carpinteria’s Famous California Avocado Festival
If you’re visiting in October, don’t miss one of the best Carpinteria events – the California Avocado Festival. It’s a celebration of all things avocado with food, music, and fun-filled activities for everyone to enjoy.
They host numerous bands, arts and crafts, and vendors to help bring the festival to life. You can buy cute avocado t-shirts.
As for why, Santa Barbara County is the third largest avocado producer in North America, and Carpinteria is a major contributor. So, to celebrate, the city hosts a huge festival every year for three days in October.
If you love all things avocado, put it on your calendar in advance. I missed it by a week and was just able to start seeing the set up.
Take the Amtrak from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara for a Day Trip
One of the best things to do while visiting Carpinteria is a day trip to Santa Barbara. If you have a car, it’s just a quick 15-minute trip.
But an Amtrak journey from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara is one of the best ways to enjoy the picturesque coastline, with breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged beauty of the Santa Ynez Mountains.
The short yet scenic ride is followed by Santa Barbara’s Spanish-inspired architecture, palm-lined boulevards, a stroll along Stearns Wharf, and beautiful beaches.
Stop by a wine war or one of the Funk Zone’s eclectic eateries, then head to State Street for a little shopping.
If you are staying in Santa Barbara, the Amtrak is also great for a day trip from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria.
Best Time to Visit Carpinteria, California
The best time to visit Carpinteria depends on personal preferences and desired experiences. Generally, the period between late spring and early fall, from May to September, is ideal for travelers seeking a typical beach experience.
- Summer is the most popular time to visit. The warmer temperatures and sunny skies are perfect for exploring Carpinteria’s beautiful beaches and indulging in outdoor activities like surfing, biking, and hiking. The weather during these months is pleasantly warm, creating perfect conditions for enjoying the stunning coastal scenery, partaking in various local events, and enjoying outdoor meals.
- Spring & Fall: Some visitors might prefer the quieter ambiance and milder weather of the shoulder seasons when the crowds thin out, allowing for a more tranquil experience amidst the natural beauty of Carpinteria. The weather is still very temperate with chilly nights, so bring a jacket. Spring can also be foggy with grey mornings.
- Winter: If you don’t mind rainy days interspersed with sunny ones, winter in Carp can be wonderful.
- Holidays: With a number of campgrounds, Carpinteria gets busy at all the holidays, even Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Ultimately, the best time to visit Carpinteria hinges on the individual’s interests, whether it’s embracing the lively summer atmosphere or relishing a peaceful retreat during the quieter months.
Best Restaurants in Carpinteria
- Little Dom’s Seafood – the best Italian food in Carp from the owners of Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. Make a reservation.
- Teddy’s By the Sea – sit on the patio to enjoy their consistently yummy salads, burgers, tacos, and drinks.
- Padaro Beach Grill – Shown in the photo above, this is such a fun place to grab a meal with a view.
- The Good Plow – a perfect place for a healthy lunch or dinner with gluten-free options. They also have a cute shop.
- Siam Restaurant Thai Restaurant – delicious Thai food for lunch and dinner with a cool vibe.
- The Spot – a long-standing Carp restaurant with great burgers and breakfast burritos. A must-visit!
Where to Stay in Carpinteria
Carpinteria Hotels & Vacation Rentals
- Carpinteria Beach House – This is where we stayed. It was beautiful, comfy, and walking distance to the beach and town.
- Best Western Plus Carpinteria Inn (7.8) – The most popular chain hotel one mile from the beach.
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Carpinteria (8.3) – a pet-friendly hotel conveniently located in town.
- Inn On SummerHill (8.6) – This is the nicest hotel near Carpinteria, located one town north, in Summerland.
- Summer Lille – Super cute oceanview, one-bedroom condo in Summerland.
Carpinteria Beach Camping
Carpinteria State Beach: This beachside campground offers a beautiful setting right by the ocean. It has 190 campsites for both tents and RVs. There are four campgrounds – Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. Spots need to be reserved six months in advance for summer and holidays on ReserveCalifornia.
Final Thoughts About Carpinteria Things to Do
There are so many unique things to do in Carpinteria, California. And while it might not be as famous as nearby Santa Barbara or Malibu, that’s what helps keep Carpinteria the hidden gem that it is.