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Road Biking In Santa Barbara

By Amarica Rafanelli

A Beginner’s Guide to Road Biking in Santa Barbara


Santa Barbara has some of the best road biking in the world and if you’re an outdoor enthusiast you might want to consider copping a Specialized off craigslist and clipping in for the most scenic views California’s Central Coast has to offer.


Getting into the sport might be the hardest part, aside from the 4000 ft. climbs. I recommend looking on Craigslist for a bike that’s used, but has good components. Santa Barbara is chock full of “serious” bikers with nice bikes and if you’re lucky one of these spandex sporting pros will be looking to upgrade and sell their 2005 Bianchi, to you! You’ll also need clips. REI is your place. They’ll help you find the right ones for your bike’s pedals. And while you’re at, buy yourself some of those dorky Pearl iZUMi shorts. You’ll thank yourself later.


Once you’ve got your gear, you are ready to ride. Since it’ll be your first time on the road with clips, you should go for a practice loop. You are going to fall at stop signs. Every beginner (and non-beginner) does. Once you get the hang of clipping in and out of your pedals you can set out on your first real ride. In my opinion, Farron is a great choice.




Farren Road is just north of Goleta, tucked away in a sea of green slopey pastures. With a front row view of the ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains as its backdrop, Farren gives you the best of both worlds just 6 short miles from the UCSB campus. There’s a few ways to get there but my favorite is via Hollister Road. As you approach the climb, milky green fields escort you to the first switch back of the ride. It’s a toughy, but once your through it, the hardest part is over. As you reach the end of the first uphill section, you will be greeted by a view of the iconic Santa Ynez mountain range, often cloaked in a feathery layer of fog. The rest of the ride is a series of hills that take you deeper into the rolling landscape. After about 3 miles, the road dead ends at gated farm. Take your cue from the “No Trespassing” sign and begin your return home, this time towards the ocean. As you peak up over each hill, you are treated to a horizon full of ocean. Once you pass over the last peak, you descend down into all too familiar territory, leaving behind a seemingly hidden treasure nestled in your own backyard.




While Farren offers a quick escape into northern Goleta’s luscious landscapes, Old San Marcos (OSM) brings into the heart of the Santa Ynez mountain range.  A 3 mile climb with 1500 ft. of elevation gain, OSM has some of the steepest switchbacks the area has to offer. To get there hop onto Hollister and follow Cathedral Oaks Road south until you hit Old San Marcos Road.

The ride is a vertical ascent along vegetation-studded cliffs that rise above the valley floor. With every switchback, you are treated to sweeping views of the canyon below. Above you is the Santa Ynez ridge line, a dramatic feature whose peaks rise and fall in rhythm. Below you, the coastline hugs the whole of Santa Barbara. If it weren’t for the Channel Islands obstructing the blue horizon, the ocean would melt into the sky. Once you knock out the last switch back, you have only a quarter mile to go before a quiet rest stop presents itself at the top of the road. And from there, it’s all downhill.


The Ridge


The most epic ride in Santa Barbara (in my opinion) is the Ridge. This 50 mile ride scales the spine of the Santa Ynez mountain range offering views of Santa Barbara’s luscious coast on one side, and the Los Padres National Forest on the other. To get there follow the bike path downtown to the Mission. Take Mission Canyon Road up to Gibraltar Road.


Gibraltar is a 6 mile grind, but the views will make you quickly forget about the 4000 feet of climbing ahead of you. As you wind your way up the mountain you are treated to panoramic views of cascading landscapes that gradually roll themselves into the ocean. With an average grade of 8%, the climb is a relatively consistent push that lulls you into a sustainable cadence. Gibraltar’s gradual ascension creates the best vantage point for appreciating Santa Barbara’s unique topography. The road spits you out onto the ridge which is an 11 mile roller. To your left is the whole of Santa Barbara: green canyons flow into a silver city enclosed by the coastline. To your right is a sea of stark white mountains blanketed by the Los Padres National Forest. Make your way past Knapp’s Castle to begin your descent down Painted Cave Road. Once you hit Old San Marcos you have just a few short miles before you have completed the epic ridge loop.


Road biking in Santa Barbara is a treat. In my opinion, it’s the only way to really get a taste of this place. So while you’re here, hop on a bike and enjoy the ride.

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