For decades, Haskell's was a locals-only beach, a secret surf spot off the Santa Barbara tourist track and far from the city's many restaurants and hotels.
Enter the new Bacara Resort & Spa, a $222-million luxury development that's been widely advertised. As a result of this marketing campaign, the beach is fast becoming an international attraction.
When I walked Haskell's Beach (inevitably it will become known as Bacara Beach) in years past, about the only lingo I heard was surf talk. On my most recent beach hike, I overheard smatterings of French, German and Japanese.
The resort seems to be trying to exude an air of privacy and exclusivity for its guests while sharing a beach that's been public for generations. Local surfers continue to ride the waves while hotel guests surf the Web from fully wired, high-speed Internet-connected poolside cabanas.
Not all of Bacara's buildings are reserved for its guests. The resort just constructed some first-class public amenities--deluxe restrooms and outdoor showers as well as a handsome little picnic ground with tables.
However, next to all this beauty is a real beast: Venoco's Ellwood Plant, an oil-and-gas-processing facility. The plant is not visible from the beach, but it is an appallingly ugly greeting for motorists bound for the beach and Bacara, despite the resort's efforts to landscape it out of view.
A great beach hike awaits those who stride north up the coast from the resort. Beyond Bacara extends a deserted, mostly undeveloped coastline. If conservationists prevail in their efforts, this coastline will one day be placed under National Park Service protection as Gaviota National Seashore.
Bird-watching is particularly good along this beach. Squadrons of pelicans rest on the reefs and swoop low over the water. Seals haul out on the beach for a snooze.
Walking two or three miles up the coast from the Bacara is a delight--as long as you remember to consult a local tide table and walk at low tide. This beach hike is best started about two hours before low tide and best finished two hours after. At higher tides you may encounter difficult, unsafe and even downright impassable conditions. Dabs and globs of tar on the rocks and sand can be a minor nuisance to beachcombers. Offshore oil companies say "natural seepage" accounts for the tar.
Directions to trail head: From northbound U.S. 101, about 10 miles north of downtown Santa Barbara, exit on Storke Road and go left 0.4 mile to Hollister Avenue. Turn right (west) and drive two miles. Veer left toward the entrance of the Sandpiper Golf Course onto the Bacara Resort access road and proceed 0.5 mile. Several hundred yards short of the main resort complex, turn left at the public beach access sign and drive 0.2 mile to the small parking area at the beach.
The hike: Descend to the beach by the stairs at the end of the parking lot or past the picnic area.
You'll soon cross the shallow mouth of a creek. Sycamore, oak, cottonwood and willow line the banks of Tecolate Creek, which meanders down the coastal slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains. Most months it's a mellow watercourse, but the creek can rise and get a bit more frisky during the rainy season, November through April. A brackish lagoon is habitat for the endangered tidewater goby and the Southwestern pond turtle.
You'll pass under the resort, which looks a bit like a giant wedding cake from the beach, and reach the Venoco Pier. It's not difficult to envision this industrial pier transformed from loading facility into romantic promenade. Imagine a bistro at pier's end with inspiring views of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the resort, the university and the Channel Islands.
For now, however, it's very much private property and off-limits to beach hikers. Not far up-coast from the pier, the beachcomber rounds a little cove and reaches a 100-yard-long series of rock reefs. Tide pools lie hidden in what resemble long, narrow and shallow gullies. About a mile from the resort, the beach opens up, and it's easy to feel as though you're the only one around for miles--which, on a weekday, might well be the case.
Fluted cliff bottoms have some cave-like recesses where you can find shade or a picnic spot out of the wind. Trail's end for all but the most intrepid beach hikers is the creek flowing through Dos Pueblos Canyon to the ocean. For many generations the native Chumash had villages here. It's a nice place to relax.
For more of John McKinney's hiking tips and trails, visit http://www.thetrailmaster.com.