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Carpinteria: A Beachy Hidden Gem
August, 2012 - Issue #94
For many years Carpinteria was where we stopped for gas or lunch on the way to somewhere else.

We rarely ventured far from the freeway and certainly never made this charming beach town between Ventura and Santa Barbara a destination in its own right. Last summer we finally realized what we were missing.

"I lounged in my beach chair, letting the sun, sand and breeze ERASE the rest of my nagging concerns."

Whenever friends mentioned going to the beach they always seemed to be discussing Carpinteria. Ventura is closer, so why would they choose to keep driving to Carpinteria, I wondered?

We decided to find out for ourselves one Sunday afternoon. The answer was obvious as soon as we arrived. Sandyland Cove Beach is a hidden gem.

Situated at the end of Ash Avenue, it's more like a neighborhood park than a traditional SoCal beach. Modest beachfront homes line the edge of the sand. The surrounding residential streets offer convenient free parking. It's busy on a weekend, but not overrun. And it's clean, with well-kept restrooms and handy showers to rinse off the sand.

I was struck by the Santa Ynez Mountains rising behind us. They frame the scenery like a green screen, creating a sense of separation between you and the mundane worries you visit the beach to escape. The afternoon floated by, varying between leisure and activity. We built sand castles with the kids. Jumped waves with them. Swam out to the swim platforms anchored offshore. In between, I lounged in my beach chair, letting the sun, sand and breeze erase the rest of my nagging concerns.

The sun dropped towards the horizon, casting the beach with an early evening glow and reminding us it was time to think about leaving. It was well into the dinner hour and everyone was hungry. We headed for the car, and made a familiar stop before hitting the McDonald's.

That one visit to Sandyland Cove Beach quickly developed into a semi-regular weekend ritual. It's one that we plan to continue this summer. But with different food.

We've branched out beyond the drive-thru to find some new favorites in town - and noted other eateries that warrant exploration.

Padaro Beach Grill 805-566-9800 www.padarobeachgrill.com
If we can't spend the day at the beach, we'll get our fix at lunch by visiting this seaside gathering spot. The main dining room is an expansive lawn with a sandbox and play area for the kids and plenty of umbrella-shaded tables.

Cabo's Baja Grill & Cantina
805-684-5507
Nothing fancy here, just great Mexican food, cold beer and a casual vibe on the lively patio where sandy feet and damp swimsuits aren't out of place.

Siam Elephant 805-684-2391
We save this one for visits without the kids. The shady patio is the perfect place to linger over a long lunch of Thai favorites punctuated by friendly service.

Crushcakes & Cafe
805-684-4300 www.crushcakes.com
I was headed to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for iced coffees when I stumbled across this funky little gem. They serve Intelligentsia Coffee and bake some amazing-looking cupcakes. I've only had the coffee, but I'll be back to try a taste of their menu and baked goodies.

The Spot 805-684-6311
This classic-looking beach burger shack always has a line at the window when we drive by. We haven't visited - yet. The same friends who turned us on to Sandyland Beach can't get enough of the shakes and chili burgers.

It's something to look forward to this summer - and one more reason why Carpinteria is our weekend beach destination of choice.
Eric Harnish resides in Castaic when he's not building sand castles in Carpinteria.
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