Posted by: James Wapotich | September 29, 2013

Trail Quest: Seasons of Jalama

North along the coast, past Point Conception, is a windswept beach known as Jalama. The beach, now part of Jalama Beach County Park, is the only beach open to the public between Gaviota State Park and Surf Beach, near Lompoc.

The beach has a rich history dating back to the Chumash, and has seen many changes over the years. The park came into existence in 1943 when Atlantic Richfield Oil Company donated the land to the County of Santa Barbara. The park is bordered by Vandenberg Air Force Base to the north, and private ranches to the east and south.

The park is open to both day use and camping.

Jalama Beach County Park Creek Point Conception Lompoc Hike

Jalama Creek Estuary and Beach

Last year, local author John McReynolds published his book Seasons of Jalama, which describes the history and highlights of Jalama Beach County Park. The book includes contributions from Karen Paaske of the Lompoc Historical Society and surfer Ken McAlpine. As well as photos by local photographer Glenn Dubock.

The inspiration for the book came from Mike Eittreim, who’s parents have owned and operated Jalama Beach Store since 1978.

“Mike knew that his mom, Kathleen, was not in good health, and he wanted a book that told the story of Jalama.” Mr. McReynolds told the News-Press. “Mike came up with a lot of the ideas, and his father, Don, is an encyclopedia. I mean he remembers everything about Jalama.”

Originally intended as a picture book showcasing the history and sights of Jalama, the book grew, into a blend of pictures and chapters relating the story of Jalama Beach as Mr. McReynolds got drawn into the subject. The stories feature such local characters as Penitentiary Paul the windsurfer, and include an account of a ghost sighting by one of the park rangers.

I recently visited Jalama Beach and met with Mr. McReynolds, who showed me some of the places referenced in the book.

Jalama Beach County Park is reached from State Route 1, between Gaviota and Lompoc. From Santa Barbara take Highway 101 north, past Gaviota State Beach to State Route 1. Continue north on State Route 1 as it threads its way through rolling ranch country. About 14 miles from Highway 101, look for Jalama Road on your left. The turn off for Jalama Beach is well marked. From here it’s another 14 miles to the park.

The drive along Jalama Road offers a lot of great scenery. In fact, the road, as Mr. McReynolds points out in his book, has been featured in a number of automobile and motorcycle commercials. With its idyllic setting and light traffic, the road lends itself well to filming. And the last curve of the road, above the park, before descending down to the beach, provides locations with the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop.

Several films have also made use of the road, most notably A Walk in the Clouds, with Keanu Reeves, which featured the area as a stand in for Napa Valley. And Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, which made use of the large red barn with distinctive yellow moss, seen along the road, on the left, while driving in.

Jalama Road ends at the entrance to the park. At the far end of the parking lot, along the beach, is Jalama Beach Store. From the store a short walk can be made along Jalama Creek that takes in several sights mentioned in the book.

To the west of the store is the estuary of Jalama Creek, and it’s here on the small bluff overlooking the creek that the Chumash village of Shilimaqshtush was located. The village benefitted from its coastal location and nearby formations of Monterey Chert. The chert was used for making arrowheads and blades, and was a major trade item.

Jalama itself is named for the nearby village of Xalam, which was located further inland, roughly halfway between Shilimaqshtush and Mission La Purisima.

Upstream from the village site, one can see the train trestle that crosses Jalama Creek. First built in 1899, the trestle was part of a 50-mile section of uncompleted track known as “The Gap”. Opened in 1901, the route linked Santa Barbara and San Francisco by rail along the coast. A small depot was established at Jalama to provide water for the steam engines that operated at the time. The depot was managed by the Scaroni Family and they pumped water up to tanks located next to the track, from a small dam built across the creek.

From the beach one can also make a hike towards Point Conception. The hike is nine miles roundtrip and requires planning your hike in advance in order time it with the requisite minus low tide to safely hike towards the point.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Jalama is its transformation from what might be described as a rough and tumble hangout, at the end of long county road, into a family vacation destination complete with cabins for rent.

In his book Mr. McReynolds traces the changes and events that helped put Jalama on the map. “Jalama began to be known for the surfing. That was the first incursion of people from outside the area. During the 70s and 80s the surfers took it from nothing, to a point of some interest.” Mr. McReynolds reflects.

That interest eventually captured the attention of Sunset Magazine, which included Jalama Beach in its Spring 1993 “Best of the West” edition. According to Mr. McReynolds, many people attribute Jalama’s jump in popularity as a travel destination to that article. The next year Sunset Magazine featured a full-length article on Jalama Beach and the secret was out.

Mr. McReynolds recalls seeing long lines at Jalama during the summers as visitors waited to get into the park. The park now sees close a quarter million visitors each year. And just last year, Santa Barbara County Parks introduced a reservations system for camping.

Over the years improvements were made to the park, palms were planted and the dirt parking lot was paved. And through it all, Jalama Beach Store continued to turn out its famous Jalama Burgers.

When Don and Kathleen Eittreim first starting making burgers at the store for visitors, little did they realize that Kathleen’s secret sauce would be the key their success. In the early 80s Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, visited Jalama and pronounced the Jalama Burger as one of the best burgers he’d ever eaten, and even asked Kathleen for the recipe to her sauce. Which only added to the burger’s legend.

The store’s website,, includes a webcam showing the beach and current conditions.

Mr. McReynolds first visited Jalama in the spring of 1978, after having moved to Lompoc with is his wife the year before. After working for the Lompoc Record as a sports writer, Mr. McReynolds retired in 2006 and began working on his own writing projects.

His first book, Lompoc: Padres to Pinot, was published in 2009 and traces the history of Lompoc. His second book, Vanished: Lompoc’s Japanese, came out in 2010. The book has received recognition for telling the story of the people of Japanese descent living in Lompoc, who were interned in camps in California and Arizona for the duration of the Second World War. And addresses the question of why out of 100 families interned from Lompoc only two returned to live there. Mr. McReynolds research included interviews with the Japanese families who lived through those times, and explores the underlying motivations behind the internment, a story that played out in rural areas throughout California.

Seasons of Jalama is available at Chaucer’s, and other local bookstores.

For more information about visiting and camping at Jalama Beach County Park, go to

This article originally appeared in section A of the September 9th, 2013 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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