Los Prietos Campground is a pleasant place to rough it

Los Prietos Campground, about 19 miles from Santa Barbara, is a great getaway that's not that far away

Los Prietos Campground, nestled among the massive old oaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains, feels worlds away from city life. It's about 19 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, off California Highway 154 along Paradise Road in Los Padres National Forest, one of a few campgrounds near the Santa Ynez River. The tab: A three-night stay in April at one of its 36 available campsites was a bargain at $69. A generous lunch for two at Cold Spring Tavern before roughing it — including two glasses of wine and dessert — was $50. A final meal out on the large outdoor patio at the Paradise Store & Grill was $32.

The bed

Los Prietos is a family-friendly campground suited for tent and RV camping. The campsites are along a paved road, and each has a table, grill and campfire ring; flush toilets and running water are within walking distance of each campsite. It pays to do some online research (www.lat.ms/1FgA8HI) before committing to a campsite because several are close together, and you will want to avoid camping near the restrooms and trash areas. Large oaks offer a decent amount of shade at most of the sites. There are nature trails and hiking opportunities, with river access across the main road. The river was very low thanks to the drought and we had no luck fishing. For the avid fisherman, Cachuma Lake is several miles to the west, with recent good fishing reports for trout and carp. Freshwater fishing licenses are required: A yearly license will cost $47; one- and two-day sportfishing licenses are $15 to $24.

The meal

Cold Spring Tavern (5995 Stagecoach Road, Santa Barbara; [805] 967-0066, http://www.coldspringtavern.com) began as a stagecoach stop in the 1800s and has been operating continuously as a restaurant/tavern since 1941. We arrived on a quiet Thursday and sat down to a late lunch in the tavern.

We each enjoyed a sandwich — I tried the tri-tip special while my partner ordered the French dip — along with a glass of local Chardonnay. Both sandwiches were piled high with the roasted tri-tip, the dip served with creamy apple horseradish and au jus, and the special served with little bowls of the horseradish, salsa and barbecue sauce.

On our way back to town, we stopped by the Paradise Store & Grill (1 Paradise Road, Santa Barbara; [805] 967-3254, http://www.paradisestoresb.com), which has live music on the weekends, with a stage and outdoor seating. We enjoyed two massive cheeseburgers, piled high with fixings, a large side of thick-cut fries and a cold beer on the patio overlooking the Santa Ynez Valley.

The find

On our way down the mountain at the end of the trip, we decided to take a detour to check out Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park.

The artwork, which anthropologists estimate is at least 400 years old, is near the entrance to the small sandstone cave. Although access is barred by heavy iron grillwork, it's easy to peer inside to view and photograph the work.

The site is about two miles off Highway 154 on Painted Cave Road, a steep and narrow mountain road with hairpin turns. Parking is limited to one or two cars along the shoulder; a short, steep path fitted with a metal handrail will take you to the cave.

The lesson learned

Poison oak. I didn't realize how prevalent poison oak was in the area until we got to the campsite — it's everywhere. Do some research to know what the plant looks like and be prepared, particularly if you plan to bring kids or do any hiking in the area. Long pants are a plus.


Twitter: @noellecarter


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