Beach and Campground
The main visitor area in Gaviota State Park is at the south end of Gaviota Canyon (Canada de la Gaviota
), reached by a half mile side road that forks off just after US 101 veers abruptly to the north. A relatively high fee of $10 is charged for parking, avoidable if leaving vehicles around the junction and continuing on foot. The road passes the campground and ends at the parking lot, extending to the foundations of the hundred year-old trestle bridge, beyond which lies the main beach - about 500 feet across, bordered by a pier on the west side and the shallow waters of Gaviota Creek to the east. Past here, a narrower beach extends for many miles. The campground is not especially scenic, and the sites are rather close to each other but this is the only place for overnight stays hereabouts; all the land surrounding the park is privately owned so there are no places for free primitive camping; the nearest location for this is in Los Padres National Forest, about 30 miles northeast.
Coastline to the West
The coast is more interesting further west, though a protruding headland prevents walking at water level, except at the lowest tides. Instead, this area can be reached by climbing to the top of the bluffs - either along Hollister Ranch Road
which branches off just before the campground, or via an unofficial trail at the edge of the beach, up to and across the railway - then by walking west a little way and following a faint path back down. The railway is in regular use, though trains are infrequent. This next section of the coast is characterized by steeply sloping cliffs formed of thin-layered, sedimentary strata, eroded terraces at sea level, plus a few small offshore rocks. The side road has a few parking areas and one trailhead but it soon enters private land, at the start of a long, inaccessible stretch of the California coastline, most part of Vandenberg Air Force Base.
After following close to the Pacific coast for most of the 120 miles from Los Angeles, US 101 turns inland at the state park, climbing through Gaviota Canyon, where the two carriageways divide for one mile, the northbound lane enclosed in a short tunnel at Gaviota Pass
. Two rest areas allow for an appreciation of the scenery, and not far beyond are two other parking areas, for trails into the park backcountry. Both are close to the Hwy 1 intersection; the main one is on the east side, trailhead for the hike to Gaviota Peak
and Las Cruces Hot Spring. The lesser used trailhead is to the west of US 101, where several paths climb to summits overlooking Gaviota Canyon, and one leads all the way back to the beach.
Map of Gaviota State Park