While the rest of the country takes their steps into fall, covered in woolen jackets, thick socks and boots, Central Coast folks head to the beach. The winds are light or nil, the weather warm, and the crowds have joined the rest of the country raking leaves. And early fall is the best time to explore the slightly off the beaten path road to Jalama Beach, a Santa Barbara County Park south of Lompoc. It is the only public beach between Gaviota State Park and Surf Beach, near Lompoc. If you’ve traveled on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, the park, near the Lompoc-Surf train stop, probably caught your eye.

The options range from day use, tent camping, RV hookups and cabins to rent. For husband and I—as we desperately cling to those moments of our once upon a time college days of free camping and a VW van that burned the highways from zero to 60 mph in about a half hour—we recently purchased a used Eurovan for long and short adventures. Tent packed in the Eurovan, we set out with our two grandchildren for a two-day getaway at Jalama Beach.

It was a perfect fit. Parked in campsite 18 (near the restrooms and showers), the grandkids, ages 8 and 10, dashed like deer over the dunes and onto the beach. The tide was low and opened the beach for running, exploring, and eventually a calming sunset walk. Tide pooling couldn’t be better at Jalama Beach. The purple sea star stole the tide pool show and fascinated both the grandchildren.Jalama Beach also offers a look into California history. The Jalama Creek estuary, as noted by one of the signs posted, was once a Chumash Village. Both grandchildren actually found that interesting, especially when they learned that the chert we found on the beach was collected by the Chumash and fashioned into arrowheads and blades. That led to a hunt for what my grandson thought would make a perfect carving stone. He found one, but decided to leave it on the beach. But in full disclosure, for the kids, it was the playground that kept them busy for hours.

While I readied to grill hot dogs, the overwhelming cry from the other three in our group was “We want a Jalama Burger!” And Jalama Burger it was—standing up to the “world famous” banner for the burger served at the grill at the Jalama Beach Store and Grill. The store stocks groceries, beer, local wines, and souvenirs. This somewhat remote beach offers fishing, surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, hiking, whale watching, birdwatching, and do-nothing but sit on the beach and stare at the surf. There are showers, water spigots, restrooms (all flushers!!!), and a dump station. Campfire rings and picnic tables are at all camping sites. The playground for kids is wonderful. It abuts a grassy area for lawn-time. There are also two horseshoe courts.

Day use is $10. Camping starts at $30 a night. Cabin rentals start at $190 a night. Visit https://www.countyofsb.org/parks/jalama.sbc for more information and to make reservations. Experience taught me that spring/early summer adventures to Jalama Beach are for those who love wind—winds that can gust up to 50 mph. So, be advised because there is no refund for leaving because of wind.

From Lompoc, the park is 19.8 miles with a drive time of about 35 minutes. Head south on North H Street toward West Ocean Ave. Turn left onto east Ocean Ave. At State Route 1/San Jul-ian Road, turn right. In 4.3 miles, turn right onto Jalama Road. Jalama Road is a quaint country road that ends at the county park in 14.5 miles.