There are so many beautiful places to camp near Santa Barbara, and it's not as hard to pull it off as you might think. I didn't camp for years after having Isla, thinking it would be too difficult without Ryan, who was busy working and building our business. Now that the girls are 4 and 2, I've taken them twice, without the hardworking hubby, and both trips were surprisingly easy.
Our most recent trip was to Big Sur, which was an easy 3 hour car trip away (ok, maybe 3.5 hours since we had to stop 4 times to go potty!) We stayed at Plaskett Creek, on the Southern side of Big Sur.
It was a great spot, with lots of room for the kids to run and climb:
...and a very short walk to the bluffs and beach:
Because we were only staying one night, and setting up/taking down a tent seemed like a lot of work to me, we camped in the Prius!
We didn't bring a stove, (which we will be sure to bring next time!) so I just brought a cooler and a big basket of easy food like fruit, yogurt, nut butter, rice cakes, corn cakes, gluten-free pizza, prepared gluten-free pasta, prepared oatmeal and agave, prepared rice and beans, cold chai for me, coconut water, salami and turkey for my carnivorous children, avocados, lots of veggies like carrots and zucchini, etc. I will admit, we met some of our dear mamatoto friends there, and Emma made us a gourmet dinner that night, but we arguably would have survived without it...
We left home at 6am, arrived by 9:30, played all day, ate Emma's homemade gluten-free s'mores around a campfire, slept in the car, packed up, and headed home around 11. Both girls were happily exhausted and slept the whole way home, so we made it back by 2. An entire vacation in 31 hours. Success!