Biking on vacation has become a trademark activity for California travelers. Locals and tourists of California consider cycling to be a healthy alternative to touring the coastal cities by car. Among the many beach towns in California, no town attracts as many cyclists as the biking paradise in Santa Barbara.
“In 2019 non-profit organization Places for Bikes ranked Santa Barbara the best place for bicycling in California.”
The quaint Spanish town sits two hours north of Los Angeles and draws in bike riders of all levels. Situated in between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara’s terrain welcomes a plethora of biking options.
A Terrific Terrain for Biking
The spoils of having both the ocean and the mountains allow for biking in Santa Barbara year-round. The weather in Santa Barbara rests in the low 70s and the ocean breeze helps keep you refreshed when riding. Santa Barbara winters can be the perfect time of year to plan your bike trip. Cycling in the winter means less vehicle traffic and the weather is still sunny in the mid-60s. The kind of weather most folks long for out of their hometown Spring and Autumn seasons. To pair with the temperate weather, Santa Barbara’s 4,000-foot tall mountains attract thrill-seeking road bike and mountain bike fanatics.
For bike enthusiasts hungry for a challenge, the Santa Ynez Mountains serve up demanding hill climbs and rapid downhills. If road biking or mountain biking in Santa Barbara is not your cup of tea, the town is home to a scenic oceanfront bike path and a newly constructed promenade on State Street. The Cabrillo Bike Path and State Street offer a 10-mile cruise, popular among families looking for an all-inclusive ride. Regardless of your cycling experience, Santa Barbara has a bike route for you. We’ll unpack the need to know neighborhoods, trails, and highlights essential to planning your bike trip to Santa Barbara.
Biking on a Beach Cruiser / A Guide for the Leisurely Rider
Most locals biking in Santa Barbara saddle up on an iconic beach cruiser or an electric bike. Whether you prefer to bike pedal-powered or pedal-assisted, Santa Barbara can be tackled easily with either type of bike. If you have more than one hour and are in good cycling shape you can see everything on a cruiser. The 5-mile Cabrillo Bike Path is all flat with a meager 40 feet of uphill. When you’re ready to see downtown, State Street is the slightest uphill with only 90 feet of climbing.
Where to rent a beach cruiser
If you’re traveling without your bike and need to pick up a quality yet affordable beach cruiser bike rental, look no further than the team at Santa Barbara Bikes To Go. Their rental-focused bike shop is just 4 blocks away from the Cabrillo Bike Path that stretches across the city’s beaches. Unlike other rental options in town that rent out basic cruisers, SB Bikes To Go offers a reliable 7-speed cruiser. Their rates are $10 an hour or $35 for an overnight 24-hour rental. On top of that, each bike comes with a cute basket, helmet, and bike lock – all complimentary. The bike they rent is the Townie 7D beach cruiser from bike manufacturing giant Electra. If you’re planning to go biking in Santa Barbara be sure to stop by Santa Barbara Bikes To Go. You can always expect excellent bikes, great service, and friendly recommendations.
Biking on an Electric Bike / A Guide for the Adventurous Rider
We live in an age where touring a city on two wheels doesn’t require pushing through a workout on vacation. Almost every city in the world now have the option for travelers to rent electric bikes. This new phenomenon allows tourists to see more in less time and with less effort. Santa Barbara is no exception to the electric bike craze, especially considering it boasts breathtaking views only accessible via steep mountain roads and ocean mesa streets. Regardless of your fitness level, e-biking in Santa Barbara will open up new possibilities. Biking with a pedal-assisted motor in between your feet means you’ll likely see more than the average tourist. When planning your bike trip be sure to look into the Obern Trail, Mountain Drive, and the Pacific Coast Bike Route. Biking these gems is sure to make your day feel more like an epic cycling experience.
Riding an e-bike will also help you keep your travel schedule intact and stress-free. If you’re short on time an ebike will help you see everything without missing your dinner reservation. Keep in mind that an electric bike is not necessary for exploring the waterfront and downtown district. However, it will pay dividends if you plan on riding the hilly neighborhoods of the Mesa, Hope Ranch, and Riviera. While these neighborhoods don’t boast wide bike lanes the drivers are familiar with sharing the road with cyclists.
Where to rent an electric bike
As it is with renting beach cruisers, Santa Barbara Bikes To Go’s electric bike rentals come very highly recommended by travelers. They carry a variety of high-end e-bikes for only $20 an hour or $75 for the overnight 24-hour rental. Their ebike brands include the Electra TownieGo, Specialized Como 3.0, and the Rad Power RadRover Fat Tire. Don’t forget to ask them for recommendations! Their friendly staff is all avid riders and they offer visitors free maps!
Biking on a Mountain Bike / A Guide for the Thrill-Seeking Rider
Mountain biking in Santa Barbara is the best way to escape the crowds and discover the city’s natural beauty. The diversity of trails make it easy for both beginners and advanced riders to enjoy the city’s mountain biking scene. For beginner mountain bikers wishing to avoid the vehicle traffic, mountain biking the ocean bluffs in Santa Barbara is a great place to start.
Beginner Mountain Biking
There are two main areas well known for their expansive ocean views and family-friendly flat singletrack trails (say that fast 10 times). The first is Ellwood Mesa just past the University of Santa Barbara in a town called Goleta. The oceanside mesa is also home to a tranquil eucalyptus tree forest and butterfly grove. The trails that zig-zag around the ocean bluff are primarily flat and simple. Whereas, the trails winding through the eucalyptus trees offer the occasional dip and swerve fun for all ages. The other beginner trail is known simply as More Mesa and it’s considered the little brother to Ellwood Mesa. It’s smaller than Ellwood but closer to Santa Barbara, a great option if you’re short on time.
Intermediate / Advanced Mountain Biking
When it’s time to level up and get the blood pumping Santa Barbara locals can’t stop talking about the intermediate trails at Elings Park. The park is primarily for intermediate singletrack riders but it’s doable for beginners and still a blast for experts. The park is a maze of tight switchbacks, downhill berms, jumps, and oh yea, views of the ocean from one side and views of the city and mountains from the other. If you’re not sure which trail to ride, Elings Park is the safest bet in Santa Barbara. For the mountain bike junkies, Santa Barbara’s mountains are home to some of the nation’s most challenging and thrilling downhills. If you’re familiar with black diamond mountain bike trails check out Jesusita and Romero. These are the most common advanced rides in the area. Both offer incredible views and a diversity of technical challenges as you romp down the mountain’s canyons and creeks.
Where to rent a mountain bike
In order for your body to enjoy Santa Barabra’s rocky terrain the locals highly recommend renting a full-suspension mountain bike. If you value knowledgeable service and high-quality rental equipment then Cal Coast Adventures is the perfect place for your mountain bike rental needs. The shop specializes in high-end carbon and aluminum full-suspension mountain bikes from the reputable likes of Specialized, Santa Cruz, and Ibis. When you arrive be sure to ask the staff for trail advice and they’ll point you in the right direction. If you prefer to be led on the trail and given mountain biking advice along the way they also offer private tours!
Biking on a Road Bike / A Guide for the Fitness-Focused Rider
Of all the ways to go biking in Santa Barbara road biking will certainly be the most rewarding. Engineered for speed and climbing; a road bike will allow your exploration to reach new heights and see more of the city’s Mediterranean landscape. Santa Barbara road bike culture has boomed over the years in large part due to the refreshing ocean breezes and quiet neighborhood roads that greet riders year-round. If you choose to explore the city on a road bike you’ll want to locate the least trafficked routes, great hill climbs, and rewarding views. In order to check off all of those boxes, you’ll want to make sure your ride includes some of the following bike-friendly roads off the beaten path.
- Las Palmas Drive in Hope Ranch
- Sea Ranch and Estrella Drive in Hope Ranch
- Mission Ridge Road in The Riviera
- Mountain Drive in The Riviera and Montecito
- Bella Vista Drive in Montecito
- Gibraltar Road and Camino Cielo in the Los Padres National Forest
- Old San Marcos Road and Painted Cave Road in Goleta
Road biking in Santa Barbara is not for the faint of heart, if you plan to tackle the mountain, prepare for a workout that will push the limits of your cycling ability. Of all these roads Gibraltar Road is the world-famous climb that stands out among the rest. Home to several professional races and beloved by every local cyclist, this 8-mile climb requires 3,300 feet of climbing before reaching La Cumbre Peak at the top of the ridgeline. If you prefer to keep the uphills to a minimum for a cool-down then the following flatter roads are where you’ll find fellow riders along your route.
- Cabrillo Blvd in Downtown
- The Obern Trail in Goleta
- Hollister Avenue in Goleta
- Via Real in Summerland and Carpinteria
- The Pacific Coast Bike Route in Ventura (epic bike path along the ocean)
Where to rent a road bike
If you cannot travel with your bike, no problem, the guys at Cal Coast Adventures will save you from the hassle of packing and transporting your bike. With dozens of premium carbon road bikes to choose from, Cal Coast Adventures is the ideal stop for a road bike rental. Their fleet consists of Trek and Specialized road bikes that don’t skimp on the components. When selecting your bike you can expect to choose between bikes equipped with Ultegra groupsets, electronic shifting, and hydraulic disc brakes. They also provide you with your choice of clipless pedals, water bottles, bike pumps, and a flat fix kit all free of charge.
Final Tips Before Biking in Santa Barbara
Now that you’ve been given the keys to planning your Santa Barbara cycling vacation, here are some final tips before you saddle up and ride. The oceanfront bike path downtown is also open to pedestrians and walkers so be prepared for slower speeds as the heavy foot traffic congests the path on weekends and hot summer days. If you prefer fast and uninterrupted riding stick to Cabrillo Blvd which connects the entire waterfront. Although the oceanfront bike path appears to end at the end of the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, don’t fret, there’s more bike path in Montecito if you turn onto the wide bike lane on Channel Drive adjacent to the cemetery. The oceanfront bike path does end at Shoreline Park but don’t let that stop you! There’s a beautifully scenic bike lane along Shoreline Drive all the way up through the Mesa neighborhood.
If you’re biking in the hills of Montecito be sure to account for the indefinite closure at the end of San Ysidro Lane and E Mountain Drive which was demolished from the 2018 mudslide. Lastly, avoid the 192 (also known as Foothill, Stanwood, and East Valley) as much as possible. In order to make certain rides work you’ll need to be on the 192 for a short while, but do your best to limit the time you spend on it. The road is very popular among fast-moving cars and the bike lane/shoulder fluctuates from paper-thin to nonexistent at certain stretches. Most importantly, prepare for a ride to remember as you tour the cycling haven of Santa Barbara. The city is small enough for you to explore every notable route and big enough for you to find a flurry of neighborly bike riders along the way.