When I first moved to Santa Barbara, one feature of this incredible city stood out to me above all others: the proximity of the Santa Ynez Mountain range to the Pacific Ocean. While many find Santa Barbara attractive for its boutiques, skyscraper-free Spanish architecture, and pleasant climate, I couldn’t stop longing to explore every peak of its mountains and every curvature of its coastline. The possibility of being able to hike to a high peak with backcountry and Riviera views and cool off in the ocean in the same day – even within a few hours of each other – left me enamored with this city.
I still believe the best trail runs and hikes end with a refreshing dip in the Pacific to soothe sore muscles, wash away any dirt, blood, or sweat, and leave you feeling renewed for another week of work or simply ready for the next day’s adventures. A rare but perfect southern California day is one where you can enjoy a mountain hike as well as catch a few great waves, so here are RootsRated’s top 3 surf and turf combos in and around Santa Barbara:
1. Montecito Peak and Butterfly Beach
Every once in a while a small but significant amount of snow graces the tops of the mountains behind Santa Barbara. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to hike to snow-capped Montecito Peak on the Cold Springs Trailhead where we had a snowball fight overlooking the city. Pulsing with enthusiasm and adrenaline from the thrill of it all, my friends and I ran down the trail to finish the afternoon relaxing in the sunny 75-degree weather at Butterfly Beach. I don’t know that I’ll ever have that kind of day again, but even if the weather is poor (atypical in Santa Barbara), these two spots never cease to impress.
Less than three miles away from each other, the Cold Springs Trailhead and Butterfly Beach can easily be enjoyed in a single afternoon. The trail winds four miles up 2700’ of elevation to Montecito Peak where you can see the beaches below and sometimes all five of the Channel Islands. Parking along Butterfly Lane or Channel Drive is the best way to access Butterfly Beach. While the surf here is not consistent, Hammonds/Corral Casino can be one of the better breaks in the area.
2. Gaviota Point and Peak
A scenic thirty-minute drive up the coast from Santa Barbara, Gaviota State Park offers a nice escape from the city and a foretaste of the California Central Coast. While the wind is often strong and the waves choppy, a tall railroad bridge frames the slice of beach in this state park to give it a picturesque feel. The area reminds me of some of the beaches in Big Sur which is a few more hours up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Two great hikes originate in this area. One begins adjacent to the State Park and is a short jaunt to the Gaviota wind caves that are carved into sandstone and which offer multiple vantage points to view the coastline. The second, around 6-7 miles, just a quarter mile further up the 101 highway, takes you to Gaviota Peak overlooking the point. Parking in the State Park area by the beach requires a small fee.
3. Arlington Peak and Arroyo Burro Beach
My favorite hike in Santa Barbara, Arlington Peak challenges all who brave its rugged, rocky route weaving along its spine-like ridge. The view at the top makes all of the cuts and scratches along the way more than worth it, and you can even keep going to another favorite, Cathedral Peak . You can access the trail at the Tunnel Trailhead on Tunnel Rd. and be sure to bear left to go up the ridge once you cross the creek. Even if you do miss the turn, other routes in the area will take you to popular spots like Seven Falls , Jesusita , and Inspiration Point .
Head down Las Positas Rd. to reach Arroya Burro Beach, also called Hendry’s Beach, where you will be greeted by a refrain of dogs barking and playing in the sand. Whether the pup joined you on the hike or not, Arroyo Burro Beach has a fun atmosphere that only the best dog-beach in town can create. If visiting a beach without a surfboard is not your style, this one comes with a small surf break, so you really can get the best of both surf and turf.