Glamping Reviews: El Capitan, Santa Barbara, CA

When I’m in the mood to escape on a California getaway, a glitzy resort on a bluff overlooking the beach is not what comes to mind. Instead I look for a setting where nature provides most of the entertainment and all of the relaxation. No, I don’t mean camping.  My solution is a glamping experience at El Capitan Canyon resort near Santa Barbara.

I visited the eco-friendly property on a sunny October weekend when the weather was perfect for hiking the canyon, biking on one of El Capitan’s complimentary beach cruiser bikes or joining an adventure company’s Pacific Ocean kayaking excursion. Children were back in school, which meant I had the peaceful spot 20 miles north of Santa Barbara all to myself—except for a couple of other smart boomer travelers who know that traveling in the shoulder season is the way to escape the crowds.

Boomer travel tip: If you don’t mind the crowds, grooving to one of the Saturday summer concerts (free for overnight guests) is a fun way to rock out in nature. Of course you’d want to start the evening at the Canyon BBQ (extra fee).


Glamping options at El Capitan Canyon include cabins, luxury tents and yurts. For this visit, I chose one of the cedar cabins that sit in a meadow that’s fringed with oak and sycamore trees. At night, I slept with the windows cracked open dreaming to the accompaniment of croaking frogs and the gurgling waters of Capitan Creek. Equipped with a front porch for relaxing, a wood burning stove for warming up the October chill (should have closed those windows) and a kitchenette with an all-important coffee maker, the cabin had everything that I needed for a relaxing getaway.

In the mornings, I sat on the front porch with a hot cup of coffee watching the wildlife walk by. At night, I returned to the same comfy spot to gaze at the stars. In between, a world of adventures waited for me to say yes. I couldn’t resist the lure of a first-time ocean kayaking experience at Refugio State Park with Santa Barbara Adventure Company. The experience included a guide, instructions, waterproof gear and kayaks. All I had to provide was the courage to try something new.


After paddling in the Pacific for an hour or so, lunch on the deck at El Capitan’s Canyon Market and Deli seemed extra tasty. I fueled up on a BBQ chicken salad with organic greens from the canyon’s garden, before heading to my favorite chair on the cabin’s porch for reading and, yes, I admit it, a nap. Doesn’t fun in nature make you sleepy?

It wouldn’t be a California getaway without wine tasting. On a drive through the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County—about an hour from El Capitan—I admired the rolling, grassy hills and vineyards where row after row of grapevines seemed to disappear into the horizon. Sanford Winery lured me into the tasting room with its particularly stunning location, vineyard tours and flights of wine tasting.


After a sophisticating afternoon, I returned to El Capitan to cook dinner over the open firepit in front of my cabin.  Canyon Market and Deli’s “Cabin Service” provided food delivery as well as everything else that I needed for a campfire dinner, including the s’mores.

Later, I sat on the porch, glass of pinot noir from Sanford Winery in hand, listening to the frogs croak as the wind whispered through the canyon. Those folks at the ritzy resort on the bluff don’t know what they’re missing. I’ll choose glamping at El Capitan Canyon every time.


First Night and Second Day at the Ranch at Rock Creek

The dinner the first night at the Ranch at Rock Creek started with a grilled romaine salad and lovely and smooth chestnut soup with Spanish sherry. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted chestnuts in any other way than from a street vendor in New York City so it wasThe entree was a ribeye from the Great Northern Cattle Company served with wilted spinach and russet potato fries. These courses were served with wine pairings. I was unbelievably full but felt the need to try the dessert– drinkable dark chocolate served with vanilla shortbread cookies, hazelnuts and whipped cream.


After a good night’s sleep in Cattail Cabin, when we all woke up the next morning everyone agreed to skip breakfast since we were still so full from last night’s dinner! My friend, Zan, did grab us some coffee from the morning coffee service in the bar. She picked it up after taking her dog, Sally, for her morning walk.


The spring morning was very lovely with very pleasant weather. While Montana’s winter can sometimes last late in the year,  Zan did yoga in our cabin (the staff brought her a yoga mat from the gym) and we had a nice relaxing morning reading, working, and enjoying the views.


Jeff from the front office took us on a property tour at noon and showed us some of the different types of guest accommodations. The cabins all have different layouts and setups, and the Ranch at Rock Creek is happy to work with guests if a cabin needs to be re-configured for guests (such as swapping out a king sized bed for two twin beds). I particularly liked Sara Jane’s Cottage, which can house 6 people (with a maxium of 10) and features bunk bed. A family with kids would love this cabin, and Sara Jane’s is the where actress Kate Bosworth’s glam squad stayed when she got married here at the Ranch last year). One of the most unique options is The Loft, which is part of a renovated historic 19th Century barn. The Loft has an exceptionally glamorous bathtub which feels particularly whimsical in a barn.


The Ranch at Rock Creek has two year round under canvas options: Trapper, which is a hybrid of sorts with a walled kitchen and tented bedroom. It’s secluded and the top pick for honeymooners and is decorated with fur pelts and vintage traps. We saw an eagle fly over the creek and quickly grabbed Sally. We’ve all seen too many YouTube videos of birds of prey snacking on dogs! Trapper also has a soaking tub on the deck and it’s located right along the creek. Sweet Grass is another hybrid tent/walled structure along the creek but features two master bedrooms and a killer deck, complete with a cedar soaking tub. Sweet Grass would be perfect for two couples glamping together.


We stopped at the Rod & Gun club to discuss our afternoon plans of shooting sporting clays, and admired the various types of fly fishing rods and lures for sale in the shop.

Having worked up an appetite, we headed to the dining room for lunch. The lunch menu was the same as yesterday, but probably my favorite meal of the day. We tried the Soup and Sandwich (local organic tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich made with Jarlsberg cheese and housemade apple butter) and loved it. My husband ordered the Superfood Burger made with quinoa, brown rice, lentils, tofu and spinach. We all appreciated the healthy salad options at lunch but I’m not going to lie– they serve wildly delicious french fries too.


For our afternoon’s entertainment, Theodore the sporting clays instructor picked us up and took us to the sporting clays range, which was a bit of a drive and located far away from any tented to protect from weather. Theodore was a great instructor and gave us a good safety lecture and then got us suited up in protective eyewear and ear protection. Theodore insisted the key to the game of sporting clays is to relax. I was first up and realized that the proper stance and a relaxed attitude increased the number of clays I hit. Next up was Zan, who had no experience with sporting clays. Theodore’s instruction and tips had her hitting pigeons in no time. While I enjoyed my time at the sporting clays range, I’m not all that comfortable around firearms, and was happy to stop once I felt I had gotten the hang of it. My husband, Jeff, spend the most time shooting. The wind picked up a bit which made it a bit tricky, but overall he did great and shot with 3 different types of rifles. Theodore drove us back to Cattail Cabin where we opened another bottle of the Ranch at Rock Creek Syrah.


After catching up on email and chilling out for a bit, we headed to the bar where there was a very nice hors d’oeuvre spread with bread, hummus, olives and a variety of salumi (including buffalo summer sausage). It was all very tasty and filling… and we considered skipping dinner, but after reading the menu, felt we needed to try it. First up was an organic red leaf lettuce salad with a tangy cabernet vinaigrette, pine nuts, and dry jack crouton. The second course was a George’s Bank Sea Scallop served with avocado mousse, tomatoes, potatoes and a red onion maple and bacon relish. Since I had informed the ranch about my allergy to scallops when I sent in my preferences card, they had prepared a shellfish-free version of this dish with salmon substituted. The entree was a braised bison chuck roast, similar in texture to a pot roast, served with puttanesca sauce, crispy eggplant, marjoram and parmigiano reggiano. I was surprised by how tender the the bison was, but the crispy eggplant chunks were the standout of the meal for me. Dessert was a lemon tar with blueberries and whipped cream.


I’m not sure if I’ll have an appetite by breakfast tomorrow!

First Day at the Ranch at Rock Creek

My connecting flight from Seattle landed at 12:30 at the Missoula airport, and Justin from the Ranch at Rock Creek met me and my group (in this case my husband, Jeff, my BFF, Zan, and her dog, Sally) at the baggage claim to drive us to the RCC. I was surprised by how pleasantly warm the spring weather was in Missoula. During the 90 minute drive to Philipsburg, we gained altitude as we headed toward the Pintler mountains and remnants of snow became more frequent. But Justin told us that it’s been warm recently, and tomorrow it’s supposed to get up to the 50s so we made plans to go on a horse ride.


Once we arrived at the Ranch, we were famished. We checked in  at the Granite Lodge and went to the dining room for lunch. The menu wasn’t large but everything on it sounded great. Chef Josh Drage is in charge of the menus The Ranch at Rock Creek is an all-inclusive so all meals are included (not including cocktails). My friend, Zan, went for the red quinoa and kale salad. I wanted to try the Pintler Range steak salad. My husband ordered the organic cheeseburger with meat sourced locally (from nearby 4H students). I ordered a margarita and my husband tried the Moscow Mule (a house specialty). All our food was tasty and portions were filling but not oversized.


Once we were pleasantly full, Mandy gave us the property tour. She showed us the bar– which had fresh baked cookies on it. I took one for the team and taste tested them and they were deliciously light and crispy, the mercantile, the spa, and the saloon (complete with pool tables, a screening room and a bowling alley). Then we were shown to Catttail, our cabin. The Ranch at Rock Creek is open year round because it has both cabins and rooms at the Granite Lodge. In the summer there is a row of glamping tents that I hope to see up close during tomorrow’s property tour.


Cattail is a 2 bedroom Cabin with a kitchen, fireplace and all the creature comforts. Both bedrooms are masters with similar floor plans, so it would be easy for couples to share this cabin and no one would feel that they were related to the “kids room.”  Both masters feature king size beds as well as a day bed (and could easily sleep a third person). Each has a fabulous bathroom, complete with a claw foot bath tub with a chandelier hanging over it, separate shower, toilet area, and side by side sinks. We have mountain bikes should we wish to ride to the hotel’s gym facilities (which are about eight minutes on foot).


Cattail also features a living room with a fireplace, a small kitchen (with everything you need for making coffee and tea) a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine, four Moose Drool beers and plenty of water and soda in the fridge. Sally the dog made herself right at home as Mandy got a fire started in our fireplace. We got comfy and opened the red wine– a Syrah– and unpacked.


Cell phone service only works if you’re on Verizon but fortunately there is a strong wifi on the property (there is guest network at the Granite Lodge in the communal areas, and we have our own wifi out here at the Cattail Cabin.

So far everyone has been very friendly and helpful and the service has been great. Since I faxed the Ranch our preferences prior to arrival, check in was short and painless. All our food preferences and allergies had been noted.


Between the wine and the change in altitude, I’m feeling a bit drowsy and am hoping to sneak in a siesta before heading back to the Saloon for Happy Hour and maybe a round of bowling. Then I have to try out that bath tub.