Southern California has achieved some level of notoriety from other regions for its hardly-noticeable seasonal changes, but despite the sunny-and-75 phenomenon and despite what out-of-towners may say, autumn is the best time of the year to run in Santa Barbara. There’s no denying that running is great year-round here; however, the cooler nights and crisp mornings of fall make it feel that much more like marathon season, and it’s no coincidence that the Santa Barbara Veterans Day Marathon happens next month on November 8th followed by the Red Rock Marathon and Ultra on November 30th.
Whether you're tuning up for the next big race or looking to liven up your legs with some new routes, Santa Barbara has a number of road-running gems to offer. RootsRated has selected 4 favorite road routes in America’s Riviera city – two in the mountains and two on the coast. The routes vary in terrain and mileage, so here they are in order of increasing difficulty. Explore, mix and match, cut short, or add more to all of these routes as you see fit. Enjoy!
1. Shoreline Park
Following a simple pedestrian path, this beach cruise is tried and true with its palm-lined parks, where lush green grass meets sand and cliffs. The only drawback is that it can be quite touristy around the Harbor-Wharf waterfront. During an afternoon run on a weekend, expect to be dodging poorly navigated rental bikes, trying to decipher foreign dialects, and weaving through all manner of rubberneckers. A morning run here, however, offers the best experience of the harbor area with less traffic, the occasional foghorn, and softly lapping waves. Starting from upper Shoreline Park above Leadbetter Point it is about 5 miles down the coast to Butterfly Beach using the bike path. Other trail options include West Beach/Shoreline Park and Cabrillo Beach Path .
2. Santa Claus Lane
Once home to the larger-than-life Santa figure, (now featured in the Ventura race called “Santa-to-the-Sea”) this destination takes runners through the pleasant main street of Summerland down to a wide-open beach. The route highlights the quirks and cuteness of the small, beach-town paradises that are Summerland and Carpinteria. From the Bird Refuge in Santa Barbara to Santa Claus Lane is 7 miles via the bike path - the Old PCH and Padaro Lane - but it is also nice to park at the beach and run into town and back form there, either towards Summerland or Carp. The segment along Padaro Lane is definitely worth incorporating for its tall, shady trees and minimal traffic. Check on the Bird Refuge and Back route, too.
3. Mountain Drive
Skirting the curves and canyons of the mountains, this aptly named road is the perfect go-to route. It’s close to town, just a few miles uphill, but you will have the views and secluded feel of being further above the city. From its origin at the Santa Barbara Mission, to San Ysidro Road in Montecito is 8 miles. The road has blind corners almost every 200 yards or less, so caution is crucial here. Thankfully very few cars drive on this route, but it is important to run on the outside curve, and be prepared to stay to the side of the road. Though it takes some effort to get to the road, Mountain Drive is relatively flat with rolling hills.
4. Camino Cielo
Every city has their crown jewel; Santa Barbara’s is a long run along the top of east Camino Cielo Road. With stunning views on either side of the mountains, a run up here will leave you feeling small but ecstatic for the rest of the day. Some people are not even aware of this road’s existence, as it seems an improbable place to construct a nicely paved road. But there is indeed a winding single-lane path that snakes across the tip tops of the mountains overlooking all of Santa Barbara’s front and back country. There's a reason this road has been used to film both bicycle and car ads. Our favorite running route is an out and back half-marathon from Gibraltar Rd to Romero Canyon Saddle . If you are fortunate enough to have someone to shuttle, a one-way, long run is even more stunning. Morning is the best time to run here, as it can be hot and dry in the afternoons. Expect to find yourself above the fog-line and beyond where most Santa Barbarians venture to explore.