Where to Go Camping in Southern California: Cachuma Lake

Where is the best family camping place in Southern California? Well for my money it is Cachuma Lake, located off Highway 154 near Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Wine Country.

 Plenty of fish are waiting to be caught in an amazing setting in any season. Enjoy fun outdoor activities with the kids, go wine tasting, hiking or shopping in nearby Solvang.  Nearly 500 campsites for Tents and RVs are available along with glamping options like cabins and yurts. During the summer a pool is ready for swimmers. Boat and pontoon rentals as well as lake and bald eagle tours are available. The Cachuma Lake Store carries camping supplies like  firewood, ice, drinks and fishing tackle. 

Click here to make reservations


Sites are large and level. A wide road allows for easy backing. My favorite sites are 99, 101, 117, 119 and 121. These are nice spots with shade and close access to the lake. Be warned though, the rangers have removed all the fire pits in the RV section so be sure to bring your own portable fire pit if you plan on enjoying S’mores or a fire. Water and electric only sites line the grass area to the left of the entrance.  There is also a wide spacious field good for kite flying, volleyball games or even family wiffle ball games. No worries about filling up your holding tanks as there is a dump station near the boat ramp.



To get spots nearest the water, tent sites are the way to go.  I love spots 299-313 as they are right on the lake. You can be fishing as soon as you wake up.  Hundreds of oaks provide plenty of shade for everyone. All tent sites come with a picnic table and fire pit, room to park 2 cars and set up a couple of tents. Well-placed restrooms are a convenient distance away and many have hot showers. There are several group areas that provide excellent choices for family reunions, church outings and camping clubs. Group sites have some of the best locations. An RV group area is also available. 



A yurt is a round tent based on those used in Mongolia. Scattered throughout the park at some of the most scenic points on the lake, yurts provide a great glamping choice. Warm,  dry, and protected from the wind, most yurts come with a redwood deck to enjoy an amazing Cachuma Lake sunset.   Click here to make reservations

If 4 star camping is your style, well the cabins may be for you. Boasting air conditioning, a private bathroom, stocked kitchen,  stove, microwave, refrigerator, deck, BBQ, and Blu-ray DVD player. Hot or cold you will be comfortable. Cabins sleep from 4-6 people and are spread throughout the park. Modestly priced, these cabins allow those without RVs to visit any time of year.  Click here to make reservations 


Hiking trails like Mohawk, Sweetwater and Oak Canyon can all be reached within the park. None are terribly long but are scenic, easy and provide a relaxing way to spend an hour or two alone or with the kids. Assorted wildlife can be seen ranging from birds and squirrels to the elusive deer.    

Bike riding can be done throughout the park and is a great way to explore all the park has to offer. We love to go out an hour before sunset and catch great views of the lake as evening sets in. There is a Disc Golf Course located between the ranger station and swimming pool. Bring your own discs. Swimming is available in the summer and is a great way to cool off during the hottest part of the day.



Fishing is probably the most popular activity at Lake Cachuma with many species available like Trout, Bass, Catfish, Carp and Bluegill. Fishing from shore or boat will provide hours of fun for both young and old. Maybe catch enough for fish tacos back at the camp site. The marina rents motorboats and pontoons. Get your fishing license, bait, rods, lures and refreshments there as well. They even will rent poles to those wanting to try fishing for the first time. The best spots are by the dam or off the shore near the marina.


Wine tasting. The Santa Ynez Valley is famous for its wines so plan on doing a few tastings. Bring a bottle back to enjoy at your camp site with a grilled steak. Many tour companies will pick up your group from the campground, take you to the best wineries, and bring you safely back. Both Solvang and the cute little town of Los Olivos have tasting rooms along their main streets to make your wine tasting experience even easier.

Shopping. Pop into Solvang to try some of the amazing bakeries. The aroma of the fresh pastries will make your mouth water. Be sure to try some Abelskivers, a Solvang tradition of ours. For the campers who enjoy shopping, Solvang as well as Los Olivos will keep them happy. ( If you’re coming up the 101 from L.A. you will drive by the Outlet Malls of Camarillo, as my wife reminds me to stop at each trip we go).


Sightseeing. Want to do a little exploring by car ? Try driving to Nojoqui Falls via Alisal Rd which runs past the mission. A very scenic ride to a nice little waterfall. Take Armour Ranch Road off Hwy 154 to see some amazing equestrian estates. Also Alamo Pintado Road to the town of Los Olivos. Be sure to check out the miniature horse farm. Want a great lunch with your scenic ride? Take Hwy 154 to Stagecoach Road and check out Cold Springs Tavern which was a stagecoach stop built in the late 1800’s. Want to try something really different? Feed the Ostriches at Ostrich Land.

Restaurants. There are several excellent restaurants a short drive from the lake. My two favorites are Dos Carlitos and Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez. Located off Hwy 246 opposite the casino, the spots boast amazing chefs. My favorite dish is the Cioppino at Trattoria Grappolo.  Want a little night life and dancing? W ell check out Maverick’s Bar next door to Trattoria Grappolo. They have great local craft beers and live Country Music and dancing on the weekends.

Let’s not forget the Hitching Post made famous in the movie “Sideways.” Many enjoy doing a “Sideways” tour while in this area as most of it was filmed there. Download the movie to a laptop and the adults can enjoy it in the evening as the kids play flashlight tag around the campgrounds.

Relax, don’t feel like doing anything? Well you came to the perfect place. Bring a good book, a comfy chair, a cold beverage and rest. We once spent  a 4-day weekend alone and virtually never left our site. We were just too relaxed. Of course this is easier done in the off season or weekdays as the campground will fill up during the summer.

So there you have it, quite possibly the best place to camp in Southern California. Please subscribe to ensure you never miss a review. Life is an adventure, get out and enjoy it.

Cachuma Lake Recreation Area

2225 Highway 154

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

(805) 686-5055




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