I’ve been going to Butterfly Beach for over 30 years and it never gets old. It is away from all the hubbub of Cabrillo Boulevard and feels like a hidden gem, though it’s only 1.5 miles from the RV park.
It’s easy to walk or bike there along Old Coast Highway to Channel Drive and past the Santa Barbara Cemetery. A portion of the pathway is for bikers and pedestrians only and the views are to die for.
Butterfly is a lovely, quiet little stretch of beach girded by a stone sea wall just below the Biltmore Hotel and the Coral Casino. It’s a narrow sandy beach that has a good shallow entrance for kids. There is a fair amount of seaweed in the water, and that’s pretty typical for most beaches in this area. You can often see a pod of dolphins playing around and sometimes in the spring and fall, you can spot whales, but don’t go looking for butterflies! I’ve heard lots of tales about why this beach is named Butterfly, but none that are official, so you can make up any story you want!
Butterfly Beach has no facilities, so you need to plan accordingly! I either pack my lunch the night before or grab a sandwich from Village Cheese & Wine in upper Montecito Village that day, although that does involve driving or riding my bike instead of walking. If you drive, there is usually plenty of unrestricted street parking if you arrive before noon.
I usually head out midmorning with my lunch and towel and a sweatshirt (just in case) and spend the rest of the day there. This is a place that mostly locals and a few students hang out at, and now and then, you might see someone you recognize! This is also a dog beach! Lots and lots of wonderful canines, and people are super, super careful to clean up after them.
If the tide is out you can walk west from Butterfly towards East Beach and the Cabrillo Bath House, passing the famous Clark Estate, once owned by the heiress Huguette Clark. Again, if the tide is out you can head east to Hammond’s Point to watch the surfers and explore the tide pools. You can actually walk pretty far east, even to Summerland, where you can enjoy great expanses of quiet beach. But be sure to check to tide tables before you go so you don’t get caught!
One of the nicest things about Butterfly is that you can snuggle in beside some large rocks, which will shield you from any wind that might kick up. The air in Santa Barbara can be really warm from the sun, but a breeze will carry that slight bit of ocean moisture which can be cool. Nestled among the rocks, soaking up the rays, I feel like a lazy lizard!
Butterfly is also one of the best beaches for sunsets as it is a south facing beach, so you can come early, stay all day, then toast the sunset with a glass of wine. Salud!