The Spot & Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve – Carpinteria
Visited: February 2022
Very early on a recent Saturday morning, Tracy informed me she was in the mood for a hamburger … but not just any hamburger. She wanted us to drive 90 minutes up the coast to a burger joint called The Spot that’s been around for 64 years in the beach community of Carpinteria, located just south of Santa Barbara.
I had never heard of The Spot, so Tracy, Remi (she’s a sucker for French Fries) and I set out on a magnificent sunny morning to try this renowned burger, which was supposedly famed chef Julia Child’s favorite hamburger (or was it?). Since Child is a Pasadena native (as am I), it only made sense for us to make the trek to check out the burger and the story.
When you think of quintessential hamburger stands, The Spot is your spot, sitting on the corner of Linden Avenue and Dorrance Way, just up the block from the Carpinteria waterfront. You want no frills? Well, this is The Spot.
It sits across the street from a park where dogs were playing frisbee, however Remi was more interested in what we were ordering than frolicking in the grass. Remi and I ordered at the front window. I had read that The Spot’s Cheeseburger was its claim to fame, so I ordered one for me and a hamburger for Tracy. But what to have with it?
For a side, I asked which were better, the French fries or onion rings? Without missing a beat, the girl taking our order told me they had a bag that contained both French fries AND onion rings. I was already liking The Spot, which, by the way, only takes cash.
We waited at the nearby picnic tables for our order to be called. We had come early (10:20 a.m.) because we heard The Spot becomes quite the spot as lunch-time approaches.
Our name was called, and it was time to try out the burgers. Was Julia right about The Spot? To paraphrase Axl Rose, “Sweet Julia Child of mine, this is a fantastic cheeseburger!” It was perfectly cooked, with just enough pink in the meat to add extra flavor to the burger.
I’m not the biggest fan of sesame seed buns, but this one was so fresh and squishy that I just loved it. After coming home, I read an older article in the Santa Barbara Inquirer by Nick Welsh. It said, “Jesse Bustillo, who bought the place in 1999, told me, ‘The Spot still steams their buns, still uses leaf lettuce, as opposed to the sliced and shredded variant that is favored by most burger emporiums’.”
Yes, this burger (along with Tracy’s) hit the proverbial spot, including a delectable “secret sauce.” According to that same article, The Spot “still makes its own secret sauce. According to the Carpinteria Valley Historical Society, the original secret sauce was invented by Garnet Hendrickson, who also came up with the name itself.”
Oh, and how about that fries/onion rings combo? A stroke of genius! The bag that contained them was a clown car of crispy fries and delicious golden onion rings. It seemed to be a bottomless pit of what Tracy called “fried yumminess,” as we just kept eating. Spectacular! We were already contemplating blowing off food for the rest of the day.
But what about Julia Child? Did she really eat at The Spot? According to a 2020 article in CoastalView by Jim Campos, “In regard to the oft-quoted story that renowned chef, and Montecito resident, Julia Child had praised The Spot’s burger as the best in California, Barajas set the record straight. He said that it was Cecil Smith, the L. A. Times TV critic, who wrote that The Spot burgers were the best. Child was a friend of Smith’s and had passed on The Spot’s high reputation to him, but Barajas doubted that Mrs. Child had ever actually eaten a Spot burger.” The romantic in me wanted to believe she must have stopped here for a burger, however we will never really know for sure.
What we did know was that Tracy and I had devoured two great burgers along with copious amount of fries and onion rings. We thought about going to the park across the street from The Spot to walk off those calories, but instead headed a few miles south to the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve to check out a scenic hike to a seal colony lookout. Remi can hike about one mile before she poops (often literally) out. That was perfect, because the round-trip walk to the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary was one mile. Taking the Ballard Street offramp, soon we found ourselves at the carpark (free). The bluffs here encompass about 50 acres, and the hike to the seal sanctuary is an easy one, for which Remi was quite appreciative. Bird watchers come here for the vast variety of flying friends you can observe.
As we headed to the trail that runs adjacent to the railroad tracks, the Channel Islands could be seen in the distance.
With little mounds of gravel on each side, we carefully crossed the tracks, attentively listening for a horn sound that could signify our impending doom. Remi was oblivious to the danger, instead hoping we were nearing our appointed destination.
The day warmed up quite a bit, and Remi was still smiling from those French fries that had magically dropped into her mouth at The Spot.
We walked for a bit, and in the distance we could spy the seals and their bird friends hanging out on the beach. Nearby was the Chevron Oil Pier. Beauty and the beast indeed.
We soon came to a sign that indicated the Carpinteria Seal Sanctuary overlook. It stated in no uncertain terms for everyone to remain quiet when looking down on the seals et al. That meant Remi would have to wait with one us (she’s been known to bark, albeit not like a seal), while the other walked to go to the viewing area.
As the bob of seals slid (or were they bob, bob, bobbin’ along?) up the sand to get a suntan, they were joined by a squadron of brown pelicans and some feathered friends.
The months between December and May are prime viewing months here because this is when baby seals are born.
I told Tracy we should return in April, which I thought would be a good time to see the Easter seals. By Tracy’s look, I knew it was time to head back much to Remi’s relief. The trail does extend if you want a longer hike.
Reversing course, once again we safely negotiated the railroad tracks, but a few moments later a horn blared. I broke into song … “I Hear The Train A-Comin’; It’s Rollin’ ‘Round The Bend.”
Within a matter of seconds, it had moved a little further down the line.
… we were witness to what the winds that whipped through Ventura County in recent days could do something like this (we’d been looking out to the ocean and missed the downed trees on our walk to the seal sanctuary). At least I believed that was the root cause.
The walk we took among many Eucalyptus trees suddenly seemed a little more hazardous than we knew. Signs said, in effect, to watch out for falling trees, and they weren’t kidding.
Wildflowers added a whimsical touch as we continued the hike to the parking lot.
Tracy then shushed me (something I’m accustomed to after 25+ years of marriage) and said, “Look at the egrets, or maybe they are herons.” I couldn’t help resist singing, “Egrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.” I didn’t have a heron song.
We took one last look at the gorgeous Pacific and the Channel Islands (another place we’d like to explore), and then it was back on Highway 101 heading south to Julia Child’s original home town.
After that tasty burger at The Spot and the short hike at the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, Tracy asked me what I thought of our day trip destinations. I replied, in no unequivocal terms, that both places should receive our Seals of Approval.
The Spot (cash only)
389 Linden Avenue
Carpinteria, CA 93013
Monday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Tuesday – Thursday & Sunday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve
5905 Carpinteria Avenue
Carpinteria, CA 93013
Sunday – Friday: Open 24 hours
Saturday 5:45 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Parking: Free at lot just off Ballard Road exit on 101
Additional parking is located 1000-feet east of the main parking lot