Where to Lace up the Shoes and Go for a Run in Santa Barbara

It’s tough to beat a run on the beach in Santa Barbara, but it’s just one of many options for runners.
It’s tough to beat a run on the beach in Santa Barbara, but it’s just one of many options for runners. Damian Gadal
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It’s no wonder that this northernmost coastal city of Southern California is home to a large and vibrant endurance community. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains with a mild year-round climate often compared to that of the Mediterranean, this resort town has no shortage of running spots and resources for both residing and visiting runners. It boasts a variety of running terrain from sandy beaches ideal for picking up the pace to rugged mountains for a gut-busting workout. No matter the type of runner, though, there’s a running route for everyone and we’ve listed the top seven spots for you to lace up and go.

Bluffs Overlook Trail

Length: 3.5 miles

Difficulty: easy to moderate

Just a few miles west of UC Santa Barbara’s infamous college town of Isla Vista you’ll find this 3.5-mile out-and-back trail along 80-foot high cliffs that run parallel to the ocean. The path is relatively flat and provides stunning unobstructed views of the Pacific—perfect for sunset runs. The Bluffs Overlook Trail also passes through the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, a small eucalyptus grove where you might spot migrating monarch butterflies before accessing a path down to the beach. This trail is best for easygoing, mellow runs, so you can take in the scenic beauty of it all.

Goleta Beach and the UCSB Lagoon Trail

Running along the UCSB Lagoon Trail.
Running along the UCSB Lagoon Trail. John Loo

Length: 4 miles

Difficulty: easy

This trail begins in Goleta Beach County Park, which then travels up a few small bluffs and onto the UCSB campus, circling its 31-acre lagoon. The lagoon loop is the highlight of this trail, providing access to the tide pools and expansive ocean views at Goleta Point. Since this trail is a convenient route for students traveling from the beach to campus, it’s trafficked more frequently than other beach trails in the area. However, the change of pace from ocean views to the serenity of the lagoon still makes this a worthwhile run.

Cabrillo Boulevard

Length: 5 miles

Difficulty: easy

If you’re seeking out a typical SoCal coast run sans cliffs, try Cabrillo Boulevard for a flat run on pedestrian-designated pavement. Head down to the Santa Barbara Harbor and follow the palm trees along Cabrillo Boulevard south toward Montecito. Turn around at the Santa Barbara Zoo for a solid 5-miler. Tip: Toward the end of the run, when heading back to the harbor, make a right onto Anacapa Street and pop into the Santa Barbara Running Company to see what running events this specialty shop may be hosting that week. This beach run is very convenient for those staying in the downtown area. Optional: At the harbor, head in the opposite direction onto Shoreline Drive toward Shoreline Park for an added 2.5 miles and change of urban beach scenery.

Camino Cielo Road

View from Gibraltar.
View from Gibraltar. Oleg.

*Length: *Varies

*_Difficulty: *_moderate to hard

Take the 154 to East Camino Cielo, which runs along the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and be prepared to experience the most breathtakingly scenic long run in the county. It’s hard to believe a nicely paved road exists here, winding through the mountains overlooking all of Santa Barbara’s front- and backcountry, but it makes for an ideal road running adventure—especially for those who prefer the road, but seek the quiet seclusion of the outdoors. There are no mileage restrictions on this road; you can go as far one way as you want, or have someone shuttle you back when you tire. There are also several trails that branch off of Camino Cielo such as Arroyo Burro Trail and Cathedral Peak Trail near La Cumbre Peak, for the option to turn a road run into a spontaneous trail run.

Jesusita Trail (to Inspiration Point and down Tunnel Trail)

Length: 7 miles round-trip, +3.5 miles down Tunnel Trail

Difficulty: moderate to hard

Besides the many running paths and trails that follow the coastline, Santa Barbara also has several trails that head into its mountainous border. One of the more difficult (yet totally worth it) mountain runs starts at the Cater Filtration Plant, where you’ll find the Jesusita trailhead to Inspiration Point. It’s a rigorous run with varying terrain and some steep climbs to the top, so be prepared to really wear your legs out on this trail. Instead of going back the way you came, another option is to grab the Tunnel Trail junction at Inspiration Point for an added 3.5 miles down the other side of the mountain, which finishes near 3,995-foot La Cumbre Peak (the highest point in Santa Barbara).

Buena Vista Trail

*Length: *4 miles

Difficulty: easy to moderate

For a much milder trail run than the Jesusita Trail, try the Buena Vista Trail, which is actually a Y-shaped loop connected to four other trails. To reach the trailhead you’ll have to start on San Ysidro Trail and make a short road detour onto Edison Road to Buena Vista. Other optional trails on this loop are Old Pueblo Trail, a horse trail that passes by some beautiful gardens, or the Wiman Trail. Both loop back to San Ysidro. Since the Buena Vista Trail is Y-shaped, it can be used as a connector between San Ysidro and Romero Trails—this will add some distance and difficulty to the run. Other than the short steep climb on Edison Road, this trail doesn’t require much technical trail running and appeals to beginning trail runners who have the freedom to pick and choose their route.

Originally written for Visit Santa Barbara.

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