10 Reasons SB is for Outdoor Lovers

Photo Credit: Cecilia Rosell

Tucked between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara features the best of both worlds when it comes to outdoor adventure. Water lovers can enjoy the beaches and some of the most scenic islands in California just a short boat ride away. Hikers will find endless trails in the Los Padres National Forest with towering views of the Pacific. Add world-class wineries, fine dining, spas, manicured gardens, and the beautiful Mediterranean-style architecture of the city, and you’ll understand why Santa Barbara is so beloved. If you’re an outdoor lover, here are 10 ways that you can get the most out of a Santa Barbara getaway.

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1. Santa Ynez Mountains

This east-west range rises sharply from the Pacific, creating a towering backdrop to the coastal city. Located primarily in the Los Padres National Forest, the mountains are filled with excellent hiking trails, many of which culminate with spectacular views of the city and the ocean below. Ambitious hikers can tackle the 2,485-foot Gaviota Peak, which is just two miles from the ocean and accessible by about a 6.5 mile (out and back) trail that rises nearly 2,000 feet in elevation. Many shorter trips are also available, including a popular trail to Lizard’s Mouth, a mountaintop rock formation that offers another unforgettable vista over Santa Barbara.

The beauty of La Cumbre Peak. Photo Credit: Instagram @jack_landis

2. Surfing

Santa Barbara features some of the best surf breaks in the world, which is why many of the top names in the sport make the town their home. You can watch the top dogs in action or take to the waves yourself. Rincon Point, known in the surf community as the “Queen of the Coast,” features waves that travel for up to half a mile. Leadbetter Point features smaller breakers just west of Santa Barbara Harbor and is perfect for those just learning the sport. Campus Point at the University of California is another mellower spot for visitors to get up on a board and become a part of that famous surf culture.

Did you know, Santa Barbara is a big part of California’s surf culture? Both world-famous surfers and first-timers are attracted to catching the waves of Santa Barbara. Photo Credit: Instagram @citysage

3. Channel Islands National Park

Just off the coast of Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands National Park offers a spectacular setting to explore. For thousands of years, the isolation of the islands led to the creation of unique plants and wildlife that you won’t see anywhere else. The park has mainland visitor centers in Santa Barbara and Ventura, but the best option is to take a trip to the islands. Once you’re there, there’s no transportation, food services, or any other support. All you’ll find are scenic trails and unforgettable ocean views of these rugged national treasures.

4. Biking

Cycling is a great way to explore Santa Barbara. Bring your bike and enjoy comfortable beach cruises or challenge yourself by traveling through the mountains. For those who prefer to leave their bikes at home, join Cal Coast Adventures for a cycling adventure during one of their ten bike tours.

One of the most iconic climbs for road cyclists in Southern California is Gibraltar, a nine-mile ride that features more than 3,000 feet of climbing. Local cyclists refer to it as the Alpe d’Huez of Santa Barbara, recalling the famous mountain stage of the Tour de France. Mountain bikers have lots of options when it comes to going off-road. Stick close to town and explore Elings Park, which features about five miles of singletrack trails that are perfect for beginners. Serious riders will want to check out Jesusita and its 7 miles of trails in the mountains just outside of town. Be prepared for long climbs and some technical section of trail.

5. Stand-Up Paddleboarding

This water activity has exploded in recent years, and you won’t find a more scenic place to stand up on the water than in Santa Barbara. Both the Santa Barbara Adventure Company and Paddle Sports Center offer both rentals and lessons at several area beaches. (They can also help with rentals/lessons for kayaking and surfing as well.) One of the most popular spots is Santa Barbara Harbor, which features calm waters and sandy beaches. After your ride, stop by Shoreline Beach Cafe for a well-earned meal.

6. Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens

Get to know more about the area’s plant life at the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. You’ll find more than 1,000 different native California plants in this 78-acre preserve that’s also a world-class center for research. You can take a docent-led tour to find out more, or simply enjoy a self-led hike. You’ll find everything from cool Redwood forests to sandy desert terrain.

7. Sailing

Let the wind do the work while you enjoy the views while out on a sailboat. Start at Santa Barbara Harbor and you’ll be able to explore the coastline, the Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands National Park. Regular northwest winds make this an excellent spot for both novice boaters and experienced sailors. Santa Barbara Sailing Center offers both instruction as well as private and public cruises. From mid-February to mid-May, take a whale-watching cruise to spot the majestic Pacific Gray Whales.

Consistent winds draw sailors of all kinds to Santa Barbara. Photo Credit: Instagram @SBsailing

8. Island Kayak Tour

This kind of boating requires more effort on your part, but trust us, it’s worth it. The best ways to see the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary is by kayak, which allows you to explore many caves that are inaccessible by foot. Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers trips to the Scorpion Anchorage, which features some of the best sea caves in the world. Trips include a ferry ride to the islands, boats, gear, and top-notch guides.

sea cave kayaking the channel islands
Kayaking is the best way to see The Channel Islands up-close and personal. Photo Credit: Instagram Fan @sbadventure

9. Golf

Santa Barbara features spectacular golf courses that are among the most scenic in the country. Glen Annie Golf Club is in the foothills just outside the city. The front nine holes feature lakes and water hazards while the back nine on the mountain feature ocean and channel views. Sandpiper Golf Club, named by Golf Digest as one of the top 100 public courses in the country, features a links-style course with ocean and mountain views on every hole.

Sweeping greens and views at Sandpiper Golf Club. Photo Credit: Instagram @forelinx

10. Enjoy the Beach

A day at the beach doesn’t necessarily mean just lying around—although there’s nothing wrong with that. Santa Barbara has a wide variety of beaches to suit many moods. If you want to get in a game of volleyball, East Beach is the place to be. It also offers bike rentals, playgrounds, cafes, and other beach amenities. Arroyo Burro Beach is a dog-friendly beach that’s an excellent beachcombing spot. Leadbetter Beach is the hot spot for surfing, boogie boarding, and swimming, while the west-facing Butterfly Beach may be the best place to watch a sunset.

Butterfly Beach Sunset
Grab a front row seat to one of the coastline’s best treasures, stunning sunsets. Butterfly Beach is must for viewing.

Plan This Itinerary


Cal Coast Adventures

If you’re looking for a rental or tour of Santa Barbara or just something fun to do, you’ve found the right place! Cal Coast Adventures offers 10 different types of bike tours from electric bike tours of the city to leisurely mountain…


Glen Annie Golf Club

Glen Annie Golf Club is a championship golf course situated in the rolling foothills of scenic Santa Barbara. This challenging layout is enhanced by breathtaking panoramic ocean and mountain views and is always maintained with the highest…


Paddle Sports Center

The Paddle Sports Center is Santa Barbara's premier Kayak | SUP | Surf rental, membership, instruction center.  we have been around since 1993 offering the highest quality experience, gear and instruction.  We are conveniently located in…


Santa Barbara Adventure Company

See a part of Santa Barbara few visitors ever get to experience with the best outfitter in town. Our guides create thousands of unforgettable travel adventures each year – come join us! Channel Islands National Park - Sea Cave Kayaking…


Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Explore California’s unique natural landscape at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, a 78-acre living museum designed entirely with California-native plants. Five miles of easy walking trails crisscross the wild-crafted gardens, so you can…



Sandpiper Golf Club

The championship golf course at Sandpiper has been rated by Golf Digest in the top twenty five public golf courses in the nation. It was designed by William F. Bell and opened in 1972 featuring beautiful rolling fairways and challenging greens in a…


Shoreline Cafe

Meet us at the Beach!  Put your toes in the sand or relax on our shaded deck while enjoying our casual beach fare.  Located just North of the Santa Barbara Harbor on Leadbetter Beach we serve Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner seven days a…


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