Posted by: James Wapotich | December 2, 2012

Trail Quest: Point Conception

If you’re looking for a long beach walk in an out of the way place, then the hike to Point Conception from Jalama Beach may be the answer. Jalama Beach County Park is the only public beach between Gaviota State Park and Surf Beach near Lompoc.

"Point Conception" "Jalama Beach" Chumash "Santa Barbara" day hike

Point Conception

The hike along the coast offers a chance to explore this remote part of Santa Barbara County. The hike to the point and back is roughly 9 miles, and does require checking the tides and coordinating your trip accordingly for the full hike.

For many people in Santa Barbara it takes some getting used to, to accept that the beaches along our coast are all south facing, and that the coast here runs east to west. However if you continue west from Santa Barbara along the coast, that changes at Point Conception. At Point Conception the coast starts to trend northward, and geographically is a noticeable corner on the coast. Point Conception also marks the western end of the Santa Barbara Channel.

To get to Jalama Beach County Park from Santa Barbara take Highway 101 north, past Gaviota State Park to State Route 1. Continue on State Route 1 towards Lompoc. The route leads through ranch country and follows El Jaro Creek much of the way. About three-quarters of the way to Lompoc, or about 14 miles from Highway 101 look for Jalama Road on your left. The turn off is well marked with a sign for Jalama Beach County Park. From here it’s another 14 miles to Jalama Beach.

The road ends at Jalama Beach County Park. Parking for day use is $10 per vehicle. The park includes picnic tables and restrooms; and has sites for camping, as well as cabins for rent. Also located within the park is Jalama Beach Store & Grill. Click here for more about the park.

Shilimaqshtush Xalam Chumash "Jalama Beach" County Park "Point Conception" "Santa Barbara" day hike

Trail Trestle crosses Jalama Creek near the Chumash village site of Shilimaqshtush

Jalama County Beach Park is a 23.5 acre park that was donated in 1943 to the County of Santa Barbara by the Atlantic Richfield Oil Company. The park is surrounded to the north by Vandenberg Air Force Base and private ranches to the south.

The park is located where Jalama Creek meets the Pacific Ocean, and it’s here that the Chumash village of Shilimaqshtush was once located. The village was benefited not only by its coastal location, but by the nearby deposits of Monterey chert that were used to make stone tools and knives, which were then traded with other villages.

Jalama itself, is said to take its name from the Chumash village of Xalam which was located further inland and along El Jaro Creek. The village was roughly midway between the coast and other villages in the interior, and is said to have served as a stopover point. The word Xalam translate as “bundle” and is a reference to people bundling up their belongings on their way from one village to the next.

"Jalama Beach" County Park "Santa Barbara" Day Hike "Point Conception"

Jalama Beach

Because of its historical significance the estuary at Jalama Creek can make for a nice starting point. From the estuary continue south along the beach to Point Conception. One can also hike north for about a mile along the beach before reaching the beginning of Vandenberg Air Force Base property.

For the hike to Point Conception you will want to consult a tide chart, the best time to go is when there is a minus tide, not just a low tide, as this will afford you the greatest window of time for your hike. The hike is roughly 9 miles round trip, so it’s also best to plan your day so that you’re catching the lowest point of the tide at Point Conception – midway through your hike. Jalama Beach can also be windy so plan accordingly.

From Jalama Beach County Park, continue south along the coast, at about the quarter mile mark you’ll arrive at a small point. As you round this first point, Point Conception will come into view. From here there are two more small points to be rounded and then a long curve of the coast to follow before one arrives at Point Conception.

The point itself is not accessible, but the highlight of the hike is the solitude that one is likely to find; and depending on your good fortune you may even see some deer or seals along the beach.

"Point Conception" "Jalama Beach" "Santa Barbara" Hike

Quiet Stretch of Beach Near Point Conception

And although the lighthouse at Point Conception is not visible from the hike, nor is it accessible because it’s surrounded by private property, it is still one of the elements associated with Point Conception. The lighthouse was built in 1856 on the top of the bluffs, and was later moved to its current location on the small mesa below the bluff overlooking the ocean in 1881. In 1973 the light station was automated by the US Coast Guard. Earlier this year the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum became the recipient of the original lens from the lighthouse.

Point Conception is also said to be the “western gate” in Chumash lore, the place where the the souls of the deceased pass and depart from on their journey to Shimilaqsha, the land of the dead. The original reference to Point Conception in this context is attributed to Maria Solares in her collaboration with John P. Harrington in documenting the traditions and culture of the Chumash people. And while there has been some discussion as to whether Point Conception was the singular location, or one of several such places that the souls of the deceased departed from, Point Conception remains the one that most people have heard of.

"Jalama Beach" "Santa Barbara" Hike Trail "Point Conception"

Jalama Beach

Either way, Point Conception is still a powerful reminder, written onto the landscape, of the rich legacy that the Chumash people and their culture carries. Their connection to the land and the natural world around them is something for us to learn from.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Chumash people lived here for more than 10,000 years in equilibrium with their environment. This alone is a major cultural achievement considering how much of our everyday lives are dependent on resources that we import from somewhere else, including much of our food.

The hike to Point Conception is just one of the many places within the tri-counties area that are associated with the world of the Chumash that we can visit, and provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the contributions of the native people of California.

This article originally appeared in section A of the December 2nd, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. […] Santa Rosa is outside the protective lee of Point Conception the island can be windier than Santa Cruz or Anacapa, and so each campground in additional to a […]

  2. […] across San Miguel Passage can be the most challenging. San Miguel Island is almost due south of Point Conception and as such does not enjoy the protective lee of the mainland that’s afforded Santa Cruz and […]

  3. […] San Miguel Island does not enjoy the protective lee of Point Conception it is generally windy and often foggy, and so it’s best to bring a low profile tent, warm clothes […]

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