Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas: Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area

Beach at MPA
Sunset at Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area
CDFW photo by T. Heitzenrater

Have you ever wanted to fall asleep listening to the sound of ocean waves crashing along the shore, or wake up to the sound of seagulls calling in the morning? Not far from Santa Barbara, Gaviota State Park and campground sits on the edge of Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA), allowing you to camp right on the beach along a marine protected area (MPA) and enjoy ocean sounds all day long.

Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area (click to enlarge)
map by CDFW Marine Region GIS Lab

Kashtayit SMCA, established in 2012, is one of 124 MPAs found along California’s coastline managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Not only does this MPA provide recreational opportunities, it is also a Native American tribal heritage site.

As the former location of the Chumash village of Kaštayit, which means “place of willow”, this traditional cultural place is ideally suited to promote education and outreach, marine stewardship, and maritime cultural preservation and revitalization for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash. Kashtayit SMCA receives water from Gaviota Creek, which flows down from the Santa Ynez mountains through a grove of arroyo willow before meeting the ocean. The SMCA prohibits the removal of all living marine resources, except for the recreational take of finfish, giant kelp by hand harvest, and most invertebrates. Rock scallops and mussels may not be taken in the SMCA. A recreational fishing license and Ocean Enhancement Validation are required to take fish and invertebrates here.

Gaviota State Park entrance
Gaviota State Park entrance
CDFW photo by T. Heitzenrater

Kashtayit SMCA allows plenty of opportunity for recreation, and the adjacent Gaviota State Park has eight picnic sites available for day use and a popular spot for picnicking. There is also easy access to the MPA from shore for swimming, scuba diving, and surf fishing. During low tides, more of the sandy beach is exposed, opening a path to walk along the beach next to the tall shoreline bluff which has a slanted, stacked appearance like a pile of paper sliding into the sea. This naturally cemented rock resists wave erosion and has preserved natural history in the form of fossils. The complete prehistoric skeleton of a halibut-like flatfish has been found here. Unique rock formations with shades of red and grey swirls and circles also define this area’s geology.

As you look out over the ocean, remember that a diverse marine habitat lies under the waves. California halibut, surfperch, and yellowtail are common fish species found in these coastal waters.

Rubberlip seaperch in Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area

Gaviota Pier stretches from the beach into the waters of Kashtayit SMCA. A winter storm in 2014 broke off the last 100 feet of the pier, so it is closed for public safety at the time this article was published. However, you can still explore the pier pylons covered by California mussels and other small animals during low tide, in addition to watching the seagulls and pelicans resting on the pier.

At the southern end of Gaviota Beach, flowing out from a marsh behind the campground, is Gaviota Creek. Ducks, herons, and other animals inhabit the marsh area. Gaviota Creek flows into the ocean during the winter, blocking off access to the southern bluffs. However, during the summer a sand berm cuts the creek off from the sea, and the creek forms a pool under the tall Southern Pacific railroad trestle. The trestle is part of the railroad system still in use today carrying passengers and freight up and down the state. Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner train can be seen crossing the bridge throughout the day, so it is not advisable to walk across the bridge.

train trestle
Southern Pacific railroad trestle crossing Gaviota Creek.
CDFW photo by T. Heitzenrater

Next time you are visiting Santa Barbara, take the opportunity to visit Kashtayit SMCA and Gaviota State Park. Whether it’s just a day trip or an overnight camping trip where you can watch the sunset and moon rise over the ocean, visiting this stretch of coast is a treat. Come admire, enjoy, and appreciate this place like others before you! Don’t forget to check the State Parks website for possible COVID-19 conditions and restrictions on accessing beach locations.

Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area is one of 124 MPAs in California’s statewide MPA network. Please visit CDFW’s MPA website for more information and sign up to receive updates about the MPA Management Program.

MPA logopost by Tamara Heitzenrater, CDFW Associate Government Program Analyst

Learn more about MPAs by diving into the
Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas series!