Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is the northernmost gate of the Southern California Kingdom. Blessed with a year-round, Mediterranean climate and topography that allows for surf sessions and mountainside hot spring soaks in the same day, the greater Santa Barbara region is a certifiable Garden of Eden for folks who love to get their kicks in the great outdoors.
Bordering the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is home to one of the world’s most vibrant surf communities. Waveriding legends like Tom Curren, Kelly Slater, and Shaun Tompson all keep homes in the area for its proximity to cobblestone point breaks that dot the coastline. The same stretch of sea is also home to the Channel Islands, considered by many to be the Northern Hemisphere’s answer to the Galapagos Islands. Despite this—and the fact that most of the islands boast jaw-droppingly beautiful campgrounds—the Channel Islands remain America’s least visited national park, thanks to the quick, yet often bumpy, boat ride required to get there. But the lack of crowds is a blessing for the savvy souls in the know about this paradise.
But if the ocean goes flat (which it typically does every summer season when the swells start clocking around out of the south), plenty of other options abound for outdoor adventure. The surrounding hills, canyons, and mountains offer some of Southern California’s best-kept secrets when it comes to mountain biking, hiking (including magnificent options for waterfall hunting), rock climbing, horseback riding, and trail running. The lesser-travelled, winding roads that meander throughout the robust wine region in Santa Barbara’s backyard are the stuff dreams are made of for road cyclists. Even snowboarding can trace its roots to the typically snowless realities of the region, as locals like Chuck Barfoot and Tom Sims helped pioneer the sport in the 1970s while living in the hills above town and chasing fleeting snowstorms around the Los Padres National Forest.
This bounty of outdoor opportunities, coupled with a culture that prioritizes working to live rather than living to work, has helped turn Santa Barbara into a year-round outdoor playground both day and night.