Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and Tar Pits Park are beautiful beachside green spaces that are located in the small town of Carpinteria along the Central Coast.
There is an easy 2 mile-long out and back trail that leads between these two parks and connects them so you can easily visit and hike Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and Tar Pits Park on the same day.
Location & Parking
To hike the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail, you can either start at Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve or on the other end at Tar Pits Park.
I suggest parking at the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve because it’s free. There is a designated dirt parking lot for hikers marked as Carpinteria Bluffs Trailhead on Google Maps. From this parking lot, you can walk straight towards the beach and it will connect with the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail that follows along the coast.
If this parking lot is full, there is a second free parking lot next to a baseball field called Viola Fields. This parking lot also connects with the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail.
You can also start the hike on the other end at Tar Pits Park that’s about a mile down the road. But Tar Pits Park is part of the California State Beach system so it costs $10 to park there. This is where I originally drove to but even the ranger at the entrance suggested that I exit and go park at the free Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve parking lot.
Carpinteria Bluffs Trailhead: 6145 Carpinteria Ave, Carpinteria, CA 93013
About Carpinteria Bluffs
Carpinteria Bluffs is one of the last undeveloped strips of land in Carpinteria that goes along the ocean and offers outdoor recreational activities like hiking, walking, trail running, biking, and more.
Carpinteria Bluffs is also a popular viewing area for Pacific Harbor seals that often lounge on the beach. Occasionally visitors can even spot migrating grey whales and dolphins.
Certain sections of the beach here often get blocked off from human access to serve as a Harbor seal sanctuary. If you see any seals on the beach please keep in mind that they are a protected species and it’s against the law to approach, feed, or disturb them in any way.
Carpinteria’s name translates to mean the “Carpenter Shop”. It earned its name as Carpinteria after Spanish explorers observed local Chumash Native American people use tar and scavenged goods to create boats for trading trips along the coast and to the nearby islands.
Carpinteria Bluffs now consists of over 50 acres of coastal land and rugged ocean cliffs. Over the last few decades many projects have been initiated to turn this land into various development projects but thanks to conservation efforts and petitions by residents this land was kept as an open space for public enjoyment.
Eventually, in 1998 the area that we know as Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve was acquired for preservation based on local fundraising. Now people can come and enjoy a piece of natural beauty that’s easily accessible from cities like Carpinteria, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and the general Southern California region.
Whether you’re a Carpinteria local or a visitor, Bluffs Nature Preserve and Tar Pits Park are great places to come enjoy nature and go for a relaxing walk.
The main trail that runs along the coast between Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve and Tar Pits Park is called the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail. It is around 2 miles long round trip, mostly flat and can be rated as easy.
Dogs can also use this trail but must be leashed. Dogs are not allowed anywhere down on the beach.
Hiking Carpinteria Bluffs Trail
If it’s your first time visiting Carpinteria, it might be a bit confusing figuring out where to start this 2 mile hike.
I was following directions from the AllTrails hiking map and it led me to start at the Tar Pits Park. But as I mentioned before, it costs $10 to park at the Tar Pits Park so I left and started at the Carpinteria Bluffs Trailhead a mile up the road.
After parking I spotted a dirt path and a trailhead sign.
I started heading towards the beach and reached a wide path that’s the official Carpinteria Bluffs Trail. I made a right to continue on this path.
Unfortunately, a few minutes into my hike the Carpinteria Bluffs Trail was blocked off for tree maintenance. However, I was able to backtrack and found a second path that passes through a fence and goes along the Amtrak railroad tracks.
I can’t say that it was my favorite experience hiking along the railroad tracks. I was expecting a train to go by any minute and for my dog to have a major freak out moment. But thankfully no trains went by and we just enjoyed an easy stroll along the path.
After about a quarter-mile in, the trail finally diverted away from the train tracks and ventured down to a beautiful viewpoint of the Carpinteria Bluffs.
There was a small side trail that lead down to a secluded beach but it was pretty steep.
I kept going along the main trail and the views just kept getting better. The next section of the trail follows along the bluffs and offers beautiful views of the ocean and rugged cliffs.
Along this path, there is one designated viewpoint with benches for seal watching however during my visit I didn’t see any seals on the beach.
The best time to see Harbor seals is between December and May when they come to the beach to give birth to new seal pups.
Then I followed trail signs that go away from the ocean through a path that connects Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve with the Tar Pits Park. This path is overgrown on both sides and doesn’t offer any views but it’s not very long.
Once you reach Tar Pits Park you can head back towards the beach and walk along the ocean cliffs again. This section of the park has really beautiful trees with charming benches for resting and enjoying the views.
There are a few access points at the Tar Pits Park that lead down to the beach but do note that dogs are not allowed on this beach.
If you head down to the beach make sure to watch out for seeping tar. Here tar naturally oozes out of the ground but once it gets on your feet, shoes, or clothes, it’s almost impossible to remove.
After reaching the end of the Tar Pits Park I turned around and started heading back the same way I came. There are public restrooms and water fountains at the end of Tar Pits Park if you need to fill up on water.
All together I hiked around 2.5 miles with many little side detours. After venturing back to Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve I walked over to Viola Fields. Viola Fields is a large open park and a baseball field where locals take their dogs to run around. There are also restrooms and additional free parking spaces.