Santa Barbara is known for its beautiful beaches, iconic architecture and award-winning wine country, but it’s also a great place for cycling, with temperatures staying between 50 and 80 degrees year-round.
The most iconic and toughest route is up Gibraltar Road – home to the spectacular Amgen Tour of California Stage finish in 2016 (where, bonus – the road was recently repaved).
Known by locals as the “Santa Barbara Alpe d’Huez,” Gibraltar is a world-class cycling climb featuring approximately 3,000 feet in elevation gain over the course of 7 miles. Your reward for reaching the top? Expansive, unparalleled views of the Santa Barbara coastline – and well-earned bragging rights.
With grades varying between 7% and 15%, not to mention some technical descents, this ride is best suited for experienced cyclists.
For one of the most scenic routes, begin at the Dolphin Fountain at Stearns Wharf, the oldest working wooden pier in California (that once belonged to Hollywood legend Jimmy Cagney and his brothers). Follow the bike lanes on State Street and take some time to warm up – your climb begins in short order at the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara (known as the “Queen of the Missions” for its exceptional beauty).
While cool coastal breezes abound in Santa Barbara, suffice to say it can get warm 3,000 feet above sea level. Depending on your skill level, climbing Gibraltar can take 40 minutes to over an hour. Be sure to bring two water bottles (on warmer days, perhaps even three) and dress in layers – it can get chilly during the descent!
Looking to test your climbing skills against other cyclists? Enter the Santa Barbara 100 ride in October – which features 100 miles of riding including a time trial up Gibraltar for KOM and QOM status.
If the thought of climbing 3,000 feet is a bit daunting, or if you’re simply short on time, cyclists can ride to the “No Shooting” segment – roughly one-third of the way up, where the road flattens out and the switchback points to the east. Up for a slightly bigger challenge? Try the No Shooting repeats segment on Strava.
Photo credits: Michael Becker and Jeff Clark