Santa Barbara is a beautiful place best seen by bike, and touring the area on two wheels is an activity well loved by everyone from experienced cyclists to casual beach cruisers. Not only is the Mediterranean climate ideal for cycling year round, but the stunning coastline, rolling hills, and health-conscious culture of this central California city make this a perfect place for biking. Here just some of the reasons why cycling has become so popular in this coastal gem.
1. Easy Bike Routes
The city itself is incredibly bike-friendly. Resources like Santa Barbara Car Free promote how cycling is good for the environment as well as the health and fitness of individuals, and the county has worked to make cycling safe and fun for visitors. You can download the Santa Barbara County Bike Map as a free iPhone app and Android app. A $2.95 printed map is also available at county bike shops and the Downtown Santa Barbara Visitor Center. Drivers are used to seeing lots of bicycles out and about, so in general they are courteous and respectful.
2. Incredible Scenery
The city is located in one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the country. Santa Barbara County features more than 78 miles of Pacific coastline, the Los Padres National Forest, and mountain ranges that top out at over 6,800 feet above sea level.
Family-friendly and casual commuter routes are located throughout the city, but some of the most ideal are located along the oceanfront. The Cabrillo Beach Boulevard is probably the most popular place to ride a bike in town. It’s an easy 4.5 miles along the beach from Stearns Wharf to East Beach, then back to the Santa Barbara Harbor. There’s bathrooms, wine tasting, and shopping along the way.
Other popular and slightly more vigorous routes that start at Stearns Wharf include cycling to Montecito Village, which is a hilly 8 miles roundtrip, to Montecito Route via Route 192, a strenuous 14 miles, and to Carpinteria, which is longer at 26 miles roundtrip but relatively mellow.
3. Intense Climbs
Serious and well-conditioned athletes will relish the intense climbs through the countryside around Santa Barbara. A great way for newcomers to the area—or those looking to get more into serious cycling—is to join a team or club. Echelon Santa Barbara is an organization that hosts open group rides for their members and provides a supportive but competitive team dynamic for all ages. The most iconic (and toughest) route in the area is up Gibraltar Road. You’ll gain approximately 5,000 feet in elevation over the course of 22 miles. It’s a demanding, uninterrupted 9-mile climb to the first summit then a brief 2-mile winding descent before hitting another 2-mile climb to the top. There you’ll enjoy epic views and an unmatched feeling of accomplishment.
Many competitive cycling teams and individuals train in the area, especially in the early season because temperatures usually stay between 50 and 80 degrees when the rest of the country drops down into freezing digits. Many pros who compete all over the world choose Santa Barbara as their home base.
4. Bike Touring
Bike touring has become a popular way to get around and explore an area. If you’re biking around Santa Barbara County, consider taking the Lompoc Route, which runs northeast to southwest and puts a friendly tailwind at your back, which can be helpful as you’ll have to push through 2,900 feet of total climbing.
There are quite a few bike friendly campgrounds, hostels, inns, and other accommodations if you like to spend days or weeks out on the road and leave the car behind. There are four state parks, two county parks, one city park, and three privately owned campgrounds that are used to campers who arrive by bike in Santa Barbara County. Most of these have reduced fees for bike-in travelers. If you are craving a roof over your head after pounding the pavement, establishments like the Cheshire Cat Inn and the White Jasmine Inn offer free bike storage for guests in the city. If you aren’t traveling with a bike, some of the coastal hotels (like the Hotel Milo) offer free use of beach cruisers for guests.
5. Local Racing
One of the most popular races for cyclists and spectators alike is the Santa Barbara 100. It takes place each year in October and racers have four options that they can choose to compete in. The 100-mile race includes 9,000 feet of climbing, while the less strenuous but still impressive courses include 100 kilometers and 7,000 or 4,000 feet of climbing, or 34 miles and 2,200 feet of climbing. No matter which challenge suits an athlete’s fancy, they will be rewarded with a beachfront finish in a truly picturesque place. For those who like to watch the pros, the Amgen Tour of California returns to Santa Barbara this year. Stage Four of the weeklong race will start in Santa Barbara on May 17. The 100-mile stage will include more than 7,700 feet of climbing as the country’s top cyclists compete in one of the country’s top multi-day stage races.
Regardless of how serious of a cyclist you consider yourself to be, Santa Barbara is a biking paradise. Whether you like to stop and smell the roses or if you prefer slaying steep roads in a beautiful and temperate location, chances are you won’t want to leave Santa Barbara and its surrounding hills and beaches when your ride is complete.
Originally written for Visit Santa Barbara.