Overview of Refugio State Beach

Refugio State Beach

California Mid
USA West


Refugio is a very popular destination for beach-goers. With over 100 campsites (mostly reserved from early on in the vacation season), the beach can be very crowded. But once underwater you won't have to worry about those crowds! Just a short distance off shore you'll find kelp beds and reef, and, for the more adventurous, a rocky point to explore to the West.

Directions: Found 19 miles West of Santa Barbara, take the Refugio exit of Highway 101, and follow the signs to the beach.


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Diver Reviews:    Click here to write a Site Review, and share any new information about this site!

02/01/2014 Alec Hardy (Avg: 4.05 Review) - Dove here twice since beginning of year, the lack of rain and storms helped the visibility, we had 20-30'. Ridges of shale by the point and south of campground make great reefs. Lots of Purple urchins, so you may want gloves. Great facilities, you can camp here, kids can play on the beach, hot showers right there. $10 daily parking.

06/29/2013 Douglas Cummings (Avg: 3.18 Review) - 2nd try for me. Visibility 5 ft the first time (April), 3ft the next (June). What magic brings 10ft visibility? If you are into brown tunicates or other blobs half covered in sand wow this place has got them. I hope next time I see more; the surge and vis added up to me nearly throwing up on the surface.

07/24/2012 Shooter (Avg: 4.00 Review) - My wife and I dove the East and West sides of the beach on 22 July 2012. I prefer the West side because of the amazing reef shelf approximately 70 yards off the rock point. We viewed numerous crab, fish and sea and plant life. We followed between 70-90 degree azimuths towards the center of the cove. An overall great dive for beginners.

04/14/2012 Gus (Avg: 2.14 Review) - I got certified at this site and the at the Channel Islands. When I went I was a newbie but even like that I knew one foot of visibility was bad and the only animals I saw were 3 1-inch crabs

07/13/2011 Jason NYC (Avg: 3.80 Review) - This is one of my favorite beaches to bring my family while my wife and I dive. Very safe, friendly, and always nice beach conditions for the little ones to swim or play in the sand. Great facilities, very short trip from the car to the water, and a short surface swim. Always decent viz for beach diving in California (10-15ft)and very rarely is surf, surge, current, or tides a consideration for the most part. Two areas to dive. One on the left and one on the right with sand in between the two kelp beds/low lying reef areas. Maybe 30ft max on the outer edge of the kelp beds. This is a state park so there is an entrance fee per car. It's very slow on weekdays and pretty busy on weekends but I never feel crowded even on weekends. Camping facilities are always packed but one of these days I hope to make reservations in advance and stay over. It's about a 90 minute leisurely drive from the Valley in LA and well worth the trip, especially if you can come on a week day for the solitude.

09/12/2010 Anonymous (Avg: 3.30 Review) -

07/29/2010 Free Diver MVD (Avg: 4.44 Review) - Great beach all around. I have been camping there for 26 years every summer for a week. I have seen the vis at 1ft all the way to 50+ over the years. There are some nice dive spots north and south of Refugio. If you have the availability of a small boat, great beach launch spot there and are never any big waves. I take a hard bottom inflatable with a 25 hp. Head north most of the time. There are two large kelp beds with about 75 yards between the two. Also you can pull off the freeway and walk down to beach. There's a big tree on the beach for shade. Use Google earth and see for yourself.

06/13/2010 Anonymous (Avg: 3.98 Review) - We dove Refugio this morning. The water was calm and as usual surf was never above knee level. Swam out to the small reef in about 20ft of water in the kelp on the east end on the beach. Saw a small leopard shark, a few rays and a Bunch of crabs. Visibility was surprisingly good I would say 20-25ft. Great dive worth the 1.5 Hr drive from the LA area.

04/15/2009 Scuba Diver Girl Stephanie (Avg: 4.15 Review) - April 26, 2009 we dove in the morning. During the week it was very easy to get parking right in front of the kelp beds. The facilities at the campsite have warm showers (bring your quarters!) The visibility was about 15+ with little to no surge. We had one beginner diver with us and she had a great time. Even those of us that were seasoned divers enjoyed the kelp. We only dove the kelp and reef just south of the play ground, but it was good and easy to get to. Virtually no surface swim! Next time we will head north to the reef up a bit and check it out.

07/03/2008 Brian Xavier (Avg: 4.33 Review) - Refugio Beach is a really nice dive site. It is far out of the way, but little beach break and nice rock and kelp formations. Kicked far out to the kelp. Dove to the left (east) side of the beach and viz was about five feet due to recent swell. Saw lots of fish and a guitarfish on the bottom. Excellent facilities and great place to take the family and stay a few days. $8.00 for daily pass and $25.00 a night for camping fee- trailers, tents, etc. Make reservations early due to people. Day parking no problem. Excellent place!

03/24/2008 Chad from Chico (Avg: 3.62 Review) - There's barely any current here, and you can see pretty well. There's plenty of plant and animal life.

09/05/2007 Jonathan Weinman (Avg: 3.27 Review) - I dove this site with 3 other friends. Easy parking and very easy shore entry. Great kelp beds on the Southern side. Very little current or surge when we were there. Busy campsite but worth the trip. Vis on this day was between 5-7 and depths about 20ft with lots of starfish and kelp fish around.

12/24/2006 K from Goleta (Avg: 2.67 Review) - This site has great visibility and the entry is the easiest one around. The site only gets about 30 feet deep which is good for beginners. It is somewhat boring for the experienced diver but it is well worth a try and definitely worth the $8/day use charge to park 100 feet from the water and gear up.

03/04/2006 Rickster (Avg: 3.77 Review) - This site is a great spot to dive. We went to the left, almost straight out and to the east of the campground. There are shelves and ledges that make up a most fantastic reef system. We saw numerous fish (bass, senoritas, skates, lingcod) crabs, an octopus, seahares, and nudis. This dive is well worth doing!

05/25/2005 Kendall Roberg (Avg: 4.01 Review) - This is a great dive for all levels. On the north side of the beach are a few nice kelp beds. Unfortunately, some of these kelps beds have been destroyed or reduced by sea urchins (they eat the bottom of the kelp and clear the forest; all the kelp forest animals leave, too). There is still plenty to see though! A surfer also told me the south side has a nice crevasse to dive in, but I have not yet confirmed this. A fun dive. Even saw a Thornback Ray. Also, saw a few dozen dolphins, right off shore, as I was gearing up!

09/09/2002 TJ (Avg: 3.40 Review) - Refugio Beach is an excellent place to dive overall. The top-side facilities far out weigh just about any place I've been too! No the diving is not always the best for photographers or advance divers seeking a thrill, but Refugio always provides a safe environment with good diving and marine life. Just be sure to get there when they open "8:00 a.m." during the summer to avoid the crowds and get good parking. This is a very easy entry, surface swim straight out from the beach "approx" 75 yards and drop down. A few lobster have been known to frequent here as well as bat rays and even 2 sea lions on one occasion. This is also an excellent place to take family, friends along and BBQ.

07/24/2002 Ben (Avg: 4.45 Review) - It's a beautiful place to dive!


Site Photos

(click photo for a larger version)

 Map     Sat
GPS: CM0901


Entrance at Refugio State Beach 

A well-groomed entrance greets you!


 Map     Sat
GPS: CM0902


Parking at Refugio State Beach 

After winding your way down to the beach, you'll find ample parking.




Overview at Refugio State Beach 

This is a huge expanse of sand, just yards from the parking area.


 Map     Sat
GPS: CM0904


Entry at Refugio State Beach 

The rocky point is in the background.

Last Verification: July, 2001  


Diver Averages for  Refugio State Beach  (1=worst, 5=best)

Average Site Condition

Ease of Shore Entry:  4.88
Bottom Conditions:  3.35
Reef Conditions:  3.29
Animal Life:  3.35
Plant Life:  3.59
Facilities:  4.41
Solitude 3.24
Roads:  4.12
*Site Average:  3.68

Average Enjoyment Level

Snorkel:  3.47
Beginner Scuba:  4.35
Intermediate Scuba:  3.59
Advanced Scuba:  3.00
Night diving Scuba:  3.53

Number of reviews for this site: 17


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