Just 20 miles north of Santa Barbara's luxury B&Bs, exquisitely maintained beaches, and fine restaurants – right before the oceanside 101 freeway twists into 'Sideways' wine country – is a 300-acre property that revises the town's one-note reputation. A quick hop off the highway, El Capitan Canyon is as pure as luxury camping gets. So for a stress-free retreat from society, you might opt for the 12-by-14-foot canvas safari tent that sits on a raised wooden deck, which houses a rustic tree-branch-framed bed and grilling firepit (don't forget to order in burgers and s'mores). Or step it up a notch to a fully equipped cedar cabin with similar interior design but also a porch, peaked ceiling, and kitchenette facilities, as well as less orthodox outback amenities like Wi-Fi, phones, and, in some cases, soaking tubs, fireplaces, and sleeping lofts for extra guests. (Oh, and bathrooms with running water.) For a more hippie throwback theme, there's the option of a wood-floored sleeping yurt with domed ceiling and skylight. Whatever housing you choose, you're basically sleeping in a modestly secluded creekside forest, which is the point after all.
Options for daytime activities abound, and include hikes, bike rides, and hitting the rustic, rocky beach across the street from the property's entrance. This being SoCal, there's also a rather large refreshing pool, ropes courses, beach cruisers, yoga, and even in-room massages available. On Saturday nights in the summer, El Capitan hosts barbecues with live music from local jazz and bluegrass artists.
The wine-tasting and whale-watching for which people flock to Santa Barbara are still just a short drive away. And yet for every weekend we've ever spent here we've never once touched our car, except to arrive and then, wistfully, depart again. [Safari tents from $155, cabins from $225; elcapitancanyon.com]