AKA Jalama Beach offers the longest wait for a burger ever (and, yes, it was good).
The long Presidents’ Day weekend seemed to take us by surprise. Our schedules have been a bit crazy, and are about to take us away again, so we decided that a smaller trip would make sense. Andy, still intrigued by the private ranches just north of Santa Barbara that he discovered on the way back from one of our trips to Carmel, wanted to explore the area further. And so our adventure to Jalama Beach County Park began.
We thought we were headed into undiscovered country. There’s only one small, winding road (for about 14.5 miles) into the area, and the land around it is either private, or belongs to a military base. Neither of us had heard of it before, and we somewhat naively thought that it would prove to be another fairly quiet spot (much like Avila Beach had been the year before). And it might be fairly quiet in December on a weekday – not so much on Valentine’s Day that falls on a long weekend that is enjoying an 80-degree hot spell. Lesson learned!
Jalama Beach County Park is actually a combination campground and beach. You can come in for the day to enjoy the waters, get a limited free parking pass to visit the store (which is also the grill), or park your RV (or tent). There is a fee to park if you are coming in for the day (when we went it would have been $10). While they do a great job of directing people into the various parking areas, people, vehicles and kites were spilling out from the moment we got to the ranger station. Luckily, everyone seemed to be in a good, and patient, mood, so the atmosphere remained SoCal festive.
The beach area is a combination of sand and rocks. Winds were rocking the waves, and kicking up sand periodically, but the day was warm, and it wasn’t a huge problem for visitors. However, we didn’t see a lot of people trying to tackle the waves, and even those with the kitesurfing gear weren’t eager to battle the winds. The beach is pet friendly, although dogs do need to be on a leash. There were loads of kids enjoying the beach and the playground area that sits by the start of the campground – something to definitely keep in mind as you pull into parking. There are a limited number of picnic tables and benches along the sandier spots on the beach, and those are almost as coveted as a low number in the food line.
That Famous Burger
If you have heard of Jalama Beach, you have heard of Jalama Beach Store’s famous burger – and not just because the signage calls it the “World Famous Jalama Burger®.” While everything about the place was news to us, given the line, it was not something new to anyone else. And there sits part of the problem. We did see a couple of notes on Yelp about the wait for food, which we pretty much ignored because we weren’t in a hurry, it was a beautiful day, and you never really know a reviewer’s threshold for food service. As we approached the door, we saw a sign warning us that on the weekends, the wait could be more than an hour for food. When we actually got in line, we were told that the wait was more like 80 minutes (because, of course, weekend + extra day off + Valentine’s Day), and this was at 2:00pm. At this point, I was less sold, but Andy was still game, and since it was Valentine’s Day, it seemed like a good day to just go with the flow. When the couple in front of us expressed some dismay, the lovely (no really, she was great) woman taking orders gestured around and said that the crowds were evidence that the food was so good, it was clearly worth the wait. We ordered, and then walked out to the beach in search of a quiet piece of sand for about an hour before heading back to the store to await the arrival of the food.
What followed was actually hilarious. You see, an odd act of bonding occurs with people who are all waiting for the same thing. It can either get ugly, or ridiculously funny – luckily, when you have a park full of people enjoying sun, fun and, judging from the people standing on the front patio, a lot of alcohol, the jokes begin to flow. After ordering, every person was given a ticket with a magical number on it – think Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, only potentially more coveted. We began wondering exactly what the secondary market would be for lower number tickets. I mean, the order that was called when we first got there was 18 and our number was 56, and there were a lot of people after us. Could we sell our ticket? How much could we get? I’m largely joking, but I’m betting on certain summer weekends, if you get in early, you might be able to do some business. It was fascinating watching the reactions as the numbers got called. It was like winning the food lottery. Cheers went up, and as people sat down with their hard-won meals, you could see the naked envy of the people around them and the nods of respect – like somehow they were getting props for making it out the other side.
How was the burger? It was really good, and I didn’t get fancy with it. It was so good, that I only have a picture of the wrapper (also, after that wait, Andy and I were not going to hold off eating just to take pictures of it). If I’m there again, I will order again. If I lived in Santa Barbara, and I had the time, I’d probably visit (and we met people who did that while we were waiting). Was it 90-minute wait good? I think that’s up to each individual to assess. But keep in mind that you are at least 40 minutes from any other food, unless you packed your own, so… Is the wait always that bad? No. We heard from people who visit during the week, off-season who said 25 minutes was more the norm. Just be prepared and plan accordingly.
The campground at Jalama Beach County Park is one of the few that has 100% ocean views and has some parking areas right up against the sand. That’s right – no roads to cross (unless you count the parking lot that must be crossed for the slots that are up the hill. The area offers 109 campsites, including 31 with electrical hook-ups. They have two group camping areas and 16 walk-in sites. Tents sites appear to be plentiful, if this weekend was any indication, and seem popular among the surfers/wind-surfer crowd. Many of the RV units without hook-ups are feet from the sand, and while there isn’t much in the way of shade, they do have picnic tables and bbq pits. The entire area is well-serviced by bathrooms and at least one set of showers in the middle of the campus.
While all of this was nice (and sold out, according to the sign when we pulled in), the cabins drew our attention. There are seven of them, and they sit up on the hill overlooking the ocean. They are also a bit removed from the fray happening down below, and that is bound to add a bit of quiet to the whole adventure. The first six cabins sleep six people (if you include the futon), and have their own bathrooms (bonus points in my world). There is also one ADA-compliant cabin that sleeps up to four. Dogs are allowed, but there is a small additional fee. You must bring your own linens, but the kitchen is stocked with the basic tools. Andy and I are often contemplate the viability of the places we visit for “working weeks.” In other words, is this a place that, during the off-season, we could hide and just work? Alas, we’d have to make that plan pretty far in advance, as it appears that every day for the next six months (that’s the farthest out you can book), is already booked in terms of cabin space (though if you are RVing or raising a tent, you have a lot of off-season options). Perhaps if we plotted a November/December escape six months in advance, we might have a shot.