Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara has become an oasis for rock climbers in central California. Whether it’s your first time on the ropes or you’re a crag connoisseur, here’s everything you need to know about rock climbing in The American Riviera®.
Santa Barbara’s Top Crags
Nestled in the Los Padres National Forest, The Playground is a collection of nearly 20 short sport routes that are divided into three areas: Little Lebowski Urban Achievers Crag, The Amphitheater and Land of the Lost. Little Lebowski houses the majority of the routes, offering both north- and south-facing climbs. The nearby Amphitheater features a collection of hard face climbing tucked away in a small canyon. Then, just a 10- to 15-minute hike away, sits the Land of the Lost, a nice sunny crag with significantly longer routes—ideal for experienced climbers. The Playground is also a favored spot for hiking and bouldering.
Difficulty Range: 5.7 to 5.12
Offering a few dozen routes, from hard slabs to vertical and sporty, San Ysidro features over 20 routes and some of the best canyon climbing in Santa Barbara. One of the area’s most popular is the 90-foot Face Lift (5.7), which lies on the main wall and provides access to several additional routes, including Tigger Treat (5.8), Scrub Job (5.9) and Chavez/Mosher (5.10 R). Climbers can also head to the left side where they’ll find five other trails. Note: The area is surrounded by thick foliage, so we recommend avoiding after heavy rain as it can be slow to dry.
Difficulty Range: 5.6 to 5.12
In June 1990, the Painted Cave fire swept through Santa Barbara. While extremely devastating to the destination and local environment, the fire uncovered a unique boulder formation and prime rock-climbing spot, now known as Fire Crags. Avid climbers Randy Judycki and Santa Barbara local Mike Colee established the five routes at this sporty climb in 1992. Since then, it’s become a haven for climbing enthusiasts.
Difficulty Range: 5.8 to 5.11
Located 30 minutes north of downtown, the Gibraltar Area is one of the most popular climbing sites in Santa Barbara. Gibraltar has a collection of single-pitch sandstone crags facing the southern side of the city. Some of this area’s top classic climbing routes include The Ladder (5.6), Mid-Face (5.6 R) and Any Minute Now (5.6) Many climbers enjoy hiking to the rock via nearby Rattlesnake Canyon Park for a pre-climb warm-up. Note: Access to Gibraltar Road is currently closed due to weather damage. Please check back for updates as they become available.
Difficulty Range: 5.6 to 5.12
Bouldering in Santa Barbara
For those that prefer to scale sans harness and rope, Santa Barbara is also home to several bouldering locations, including Lizard’s Mouth, The Brickyard and Skofield Park. Overlooking the Pacific coastline and located 50 yards before the entrance to Winchester Gun Club, Lizard’s Mouth is a bouldering cave with a 20-foot traverse that can be completed both backwards and forwards. While small, the cave has several challenging elements that make it popular amongst advanced climbers.
Situated near Lizard’s Mouth is The Brickyard, which, like Fire Crags, was discovered after a devastating fire. This dense area features several excellent traverses and is best known for its overhanging problems. It also has one of the highest concentrations of difficulty gymnastic bouldering in the area. Skofield Park, near the Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead, is small-but-mighty option for those looking for high-quality bouldering.
Santa Barbara Rock Climbing Guides
Whether you’re new to the sport or to the area, it’s never a bad idea to seek out local expertise for your Santa Barbara climbing adventure. Since 2012, Santa Barbara Rock Gym has offered indoor climbing lessons at the gym as well as guided climbs at some of the area’s top crags, including private trips and group technique-building excursions. Another fantastic option is The Pad Climbing, between Santa Barbara and Goleta. It provides a variety of instructional classes for both avid and novice climbers. Find more adventure tour operators in Santa Barbara.
Looking for more thrill-seeking activities? Check out this list of adrenaline-pumping adventures in Santa Barbara!