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Cycling Santa Barbara County:
your ultimate guide

Looking for a chunk of road cycling heaven? Head to Santa Barbara county - the wonderful city of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara hills and the Santa Ynez Valley just beyond them. There’s everything from easy coffee (or wine tasting!) rides to tough, mountain roads. Plus a mild, year-round climate.

One of the things we love about cycling the Santa Barbara region is that even the easy riding is gorgeous: from the beachfront bike path in Santa Barbara to the winding lanes of the Santa Ynez Valley that take you past oak-dotted hillsides, grassy canyons, white picket fenced ranches and rolling vineyards. The backroads through this bucolic countryside are quiet and gently undulating.

Those wanting more of a challenge will be in good company. There are mass participation events like the Solvang Century and the Figueroa Mountain Gran Fondo, annual visits from the Tour of California and pro team Spring training camps. For a ride you won’t forget, climb the notorious Mount Figueroa, a former Discovery Team favourite, or Gibraltar Road close to Santa Barbara.

When you’re not on the bike, enjoy pretty Santa Barbara or potter between the Santa Ynez Valley’s wine tasting rooms (there are over 100 to choose from), great restaurants and smart interiors shops. The abundance of wine tasting makes it an ideal cycling destination for wine-loving adults, but there’s a surprising amount for kids too: from fantastic parks to beaches and the seafront cycle path and museums of Santa Barbara.

Want to get planning?

In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to plan an unforgettable cycle trip to Santa Barbara County: detailed information on the best rides plus where to stay, when to visit and Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez/Solvang bike rental

Read on and plan your next cycling adventure.

Santa Barbara cycling routes

The Santa Ynez Valley is an excellent base for road cyclists wanting to cycle Santa Barbara County. It’s home to some of the best southern California bike rides.

It has a generous network of peaceful country backroads that roll through oak-studded vineyards, expansive ranches and quiet canyons (for example the Ballard or Zaca loops). But there are other options too: the wild and deserted coast around Jalama beach is a great ride.  

Or pit yourself against one of the region’s big mountains: the crown jewel is Mount Figueroa, a gorgeous, challenging 10 mile climb with spectacular mountain and ocean views.

Check out our detailed ride guides below:

Wine country cycling (route 1): Happy Canyon and Ballard Canyon loop

  • Distance: 41km
  • Elevation: 380m
  • Difficulty:
  • Epic rating:

Wine country cycling (route 4): Zaca, Foxen, Alisos, Drum, Harris Grade and Santa Rosa Road loop

  • Distance: 118km
  • Elevation: 1,110m
  • Difficulty:
  • Epic rating:

Wine country cycling (route 2): Zaca, Foxen, Alisos and Drum Canyon loop

  • Distance: 80km
  • Elevation: 870m
  • Difficulty:
  • Epic rating:

Route to the sea: Santa Rosa Road and Jalama Beach Road

  • Distance: 134km
  • Elevation: 1,590m
  • Difficulty:
  • Epic rating:

Mt Figueroa loop

  • Distance: 68km
  • Elevation: 1,430m
  • Difficulty:
  • Epic rating:

Wine country cycling (route 3): Ballard, Drum, Cat and Foxen Canyon loop

  • Distance: 112km
  • Elevation: 1,280m
  • Difficulty:
  • Epic rating:

Gibraltar Road, East Camino Cielo and Painted Cave Road loop

  • Distance: 47km
  • Elevation: 1,410m
  • Difficulty:
  • Epic rating:

Family rides

Harbourfront cycling path in Santa Barbara

Hire a bike from Wheely Good Rentals (they have all sorts) almost opposite Stearn’s Wharf, and head out on the Cabrillo Boulevard bike path, which is separate from the traffic.

As you face the ocean, head left on the path for Andree Clark bird refuge or right for the harbour. The path is 3 miles long, and it’s further to Andree Clark bird refuge than the harbour.

Bike path for cycling Santa Barbaras seafront

Cabrillo Boulevard, Santa Barbara's seafront bike path (photo credit: RuthChoi/Shutterstock.com)

Stearns Wharf on Santa Barbara's seafront

Stearn's Wharf (photo credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com)

Lifeguard station on Santa Barbara beach

Santa Barbara seafront

solvang bike ride

This is an out and back ride from Solvang along roads and bike paths. It’s up to 18.5km long with an elevation gain of 138m.

It’s a nice, flattish ride with some stopping off points that will incentivise the children. If they get tired, you can turn around at any point.

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    0km: Mission Santa Ines has beautiful grounds that the children can play in and they may also like the displays of early Mission life.
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    5.5km: Kalyra Winery: kid-friendly and relaxed. If you bring a picnic, you can eat it here. The deck has great views.
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    11.5 and 16.5km: Sunny Fields Park, with an excellent playground featuring connecting wooden structures, built like castle ramparts, as well as the usual slides and swings.
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    14km: Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch: you can look at and stroke the miniature horses which are bred and raised here. There’s no charge.

Tip - the first and last kilometre is on the busy Highway 246 which doesn’t have a bike lane, though it does have a wide hard shoulder. It’s easy to avoid this altogether (though you’ll also miss the Mission Santa Ines): just park in the RiteAid should complex car park at the bottom of Alamo Pintado.

Sana Ines Mission Solvang against a blue sky

Mission Santa Ines, Solvang

Windmill in Solvang

Solvang's famous windmill

Sunny Fields park, Solvang

Sunny Fields park, Solvang

ballard canyon loop

This 21km loop has 220m of climbing and takes in glorious Ballards Canyon, one of our favourite roads in the area. You get to see Solvang, the Alamo Pintado Valley (featured on the Alamo Pintado Road bike path ride) and the highlight, quiet and rural Ballard Canyon.

Tip - the first and last kilometre is on the busy Highway 246 which doesn’t have a bike lane, though it does have a wide hard shoulder. It’s easy to avoid this altogether (though you’ll also miss the Mission Santa Ines): just park in the RiteAid should complex car park at the bottom of Alamo Pintado.

WIndmill in a field by Ballards Canyon road

Accommodation

This section includes details of hotels and villas we have either stayed in or which we think look great. Full disclosure: if you click on a link and make a booking, we may earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure policy for further information.

Santa Barbara is 50 km (31 miles) southwest of Santa Ynez. From a cycling perspective, we think it’s best to stay in the Santa Ynez Valley because then you’re surrounded by great riding on varied terrain; you could just do a day trip to the Santa Barbara hills.

If you’re based in Santa Barbara, you’ve got Gibraltar Road and San Marcos on your doorstep, but you’ll probably want to get in a car quite a bit to get out to the riding in the Santa Ynez Valley.

We stayed at a wonderful ranch close to Santa Ynez. Our accommodation recommendations below are for places within the Santa Ynez Valley.

Not sure where in the Santa Ynez Valley you want to stay? Read our post on the best towns for cyclists in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Our choice

We stayed at the three-bedroom Farmhouse at MK Ranch five minutes drive from Santa Ynez but also close to Solvang and Los Olivos. It’s a real find and highly recommended. The house is on a 20-acre working ranch which, at the time of our visit was home to 45 horses as well as goats, sheep, a cow and chickens. There is also a two person cottage available to rent on the ranch.

Exterior of the Farmhouse at MK Ranch near Solvang
Sunrise at MK ranch with silhouettes of horses and an oak tree
Kitchen at The Farmhouse, MK Ranch

What we loved

Idyllic ranch setting. When you pass through the abundant white rose bushes at the entrance and drive down the tree-lined drive, you know you’ve chosen well. The setting is wonderful. Despite (or perhaps because of?) the livestock, it’s a peaceful place with a wonderful sense of calm. The Farmhouse looks out onto a lush green lawn with three gnarly old trees, and a rose bush border. Beyond that are palms and two sage coloured barns, with horse paddocks creeping into view either side. Elsewhere you’ll find a swimming pool, climbing frame, rose garden, BBQ and fire pit, all available for guests to use.

Spacious rooms, tastefully decorated in a traditional country farmhouse style. The large, solid wood kitchen includes a pantry and large island unit. There’s a chalky white, six-person dining table next to the comfortable seating area that is clustered around an open fire. An aged dark wooden box sits in front of the fire and lends a comfortable time-worn feel. We loved the freshly cut flowers that greeted us in several rooms, while little touches like the light fitting made from upside milk pails, glossy coffee table books and warm side lighting, made us feel at home.

Wonderful hosts. Mary and her husband are kind and gracious hosts. They were responsive to messages and always on hand to help with things like restaurant recommendations and what to do. They went above and beyond for us, helping us arrange a horse riding lesson for our children and babysitting too.

Sitting room at Farmhouse MK Ranch
Bedroom at The Farmhouse, MK Ranch
Bathroom at The Farmhouse, MK Ranch

Things to be aware of

Small bathroom. The bathroom is small and very blue, but perfectly serviceable. There’s also a big cupboard next door in which you can store anything you don’t have space for in the bathroom.

Conclusion

We had a great time at MK Ranch and would certainly return. It’s a beautiful place to stay, and you heave easy access to some of California’s best bike rides.

Hotels in Santa Ynez valley

Had we been looking for a hotel, we would have considered those listed below. 

If you're not sure what the towns are like, read this: best towns for cyclists in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Tip: double-check bike policies before booking, as the information below may have changed.

The Landsby 

  • 1576 Mission Drive, Solvang

  • - A chic 50 bedroom boutique hotel with clean, contemporary design and Scandinavian style.
  • - Centrally located in Solvang with parking available.
  • - Rooms are bright and open, decorated with pale woods and brushed brass accents.
  • - There’s a lobby bar as well as a restaurant that overlooks the lovely courtyard garden and features ingredients from the California Central Coast.
  • - Bike facilities: “We do not have a designated bike storage but we can store your bikes for you under lock and key. We do not have any bike tools on property.”


Santa Ynez Inn

  • 3627 Sagunto St, Santa Ynez

  • - 20 bedroom Santa Ynez Inn in the centre of Santa Ynez.
  • - A modern luxury boutique bed and breakfast in a building reminiscent of a historic 1900s inn.
  • - All about understated luxury - high ceilings, leather-backed chairs and plenty of cosy fireplaces.
  • - Fitness suite, spa and sauna, heated outdoor whirlpool.
  • - Bike facilities: “Yes we do have a secure bike shed where you can store your clean bikes. Our shed is very secure locked under code all day long, unfortunately to preserve our new renovations and upgrades we can not allow bikes inside the building due to new hard wood flooring and carpet in all rooms.”

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn

  • 2860 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos

  • - Grown-up luxury, with a palate of dark wood and elegant modern fittings.
  • - Located in the centre of charming Los Olivos.
  • - Refined ranch cuisine in the Bear and Stars restaurant.
  • - Gym and heated pool.
  • - Bike facilities: “We do have a secure storage area for guest bikes. When you check in, our bellman will be happy to help show you this area and store your bikes. We do also have an air pump available for guest use.”

Ballard Inn

2436 Baseline Avenue, Ballard (near Los Olivos)

  • - Bed and breakfast come hotel with 15 bedrooms and a relaxed, country house aesthetic.
  • - Situated in the hamlet of Ballard but close to Los Olivos.
  • - Large sitting room focused on the generous fireplace.
  • - Staff are recommended as friendly and helpful.
  • - Well-regarded restaurant where the chef blends Asian and French cuisine.
  • - Bike facilities: “We do allow guests to keep clean bikes in their rooms. We do have a track pump available for guest use.”

Bike hire

We’ve listed road bike hire information for both Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Valley.

Of these, the only shop we have used personally is Dr Js Solvang bike shop. They are the main player in the area. They are a traditional bike shop that rent a range of bikes, from leisure bikes to gravel bikes, mountain bikes and road bikes. They also have an on-site workshop and sell bars, gels and accessories. We rented a Specialized Ruby and were pleased with the service. Corey, the owner of the shop, took some time helping us adjust the reach and saddle height. He was also a good source of information on local routes.  

This information is offered as an indicative guide only: we periodically update it, but prices, services and bike brands may change. Please let us know if you find anything that is incorrect.

Santa Ynez bike rental/Solvang bike rental

Tip: If you’re looking for bike hire in Santa Ynez/Solvang, then given the lack of rental options in the area, we would advise booking early.

Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours

(aka Dr Js bike shop in Solvang)

1693 Mission Drive Solvang

Specialized Ruby with 11-speed Shimano 105 and Specialized Roubaix bikes with 11-speed Ultegra

Includes:

Helmet, repair kit with CO2 inflator. Happy to swap out saddle and pedals.

Prices below based on Specialized Ruby. Roubaix in brackets after.

1 day: $70 (95)

2 days: $120 (160)

3 days: $180 (240)

4 days: $200 (260)

5 days: $250 (325)

6 days: $270 (330)

7 days: $315 (385)

Exterior of Dr Js bike shop, Solvang, Santa Barbara County
Cycling bars and gels on sale in Dr Js bicycle shop Solvang, Santa Barbara county
Interior Dr Js bike shop Solvang

Wheel Fun Rentals

475 First Street, Next to Solvang Park, Solvang

We doubt hiring serious road bikes is the core of their business model, but their pricing is very reasonable. When we visited, the road bikes on offer were Specialized Tarmacs.

Hourly: $15

Half Day: $32

Full Day: $35

Wheel Fun Rentals Solvang
Trek road bike hire Solvang

Santa Barbara bicycle rental

Tip: There are Santa Barbara bike hire shops that rent e-bikes, beach cruisers and leisure bikes that are not listed here because they don’t also hire road bikes. Our list focuses on road bike rental in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara bikes to go

736 Carpinteria Street Santa Barbara

Trek, Orbea, Cannondale and BMC with carbon frames and dura-ace/ultegra components.

Includes:

Helmet, floor pump (depending on rental duration and availability), route recommendations, lock (if needed), bike map and free delivery in Santa Barbara

Price based on their base level road bikes. Premium bikes in brackets.

1 day: $75 ($105)

2 days: $150 ($170)

3 days: $180 ($195)

4 days: $210 ($220)

5-7 days: $225 ($245)

Cal Coast Adventures

736 Carpinteria Street, Santa Barbara

Orbea, Cannondale, Kona, and Trek. Carbon fibre bikes with 105 group sets up to SRAM red.

Includes:

Road Maps, delivery and pick up within 20 miles of Santa Barbara (further for an additional charge), helmet, pedals (Shimano SPD’s, Shimano Road Bike Pedals, Look Keo, platforms & toe cages), SBFit Water Bottles. Rentals for four days or more include a floor pump

1 day: $75

Discounted rates for multiple day rentals.

Velo Pro Cyclery

15 Hitchcock Way, Santa Barbara

Has specialised demo bikes available to try before you buy.

$90 per day.

If you’d like to do a wine country bike tour around Santa Ynez, speak to the bike hire shops. They offer bike tours or will be able to point you in the right direction.

Tips:

  • - Book your bike in advance, particularly in peak season.

  • - Remember to bring your pedals, shoes and helmet. This packing list may help!

  • - Check which way around your brakes are set before you ride away.

Undecided on whether to hire a bike or bring your own? Read this.

When to go

The Santa Ynez Valley is suitable for cycling year-around. Temperatures are mild in winter, and though it can get very hot in mid-summer, you can always get up early or head down to the coast where it is often much cooler. Most of the rainfall occurs between December and March.

January

Temperatures remain mild, but you may encounter rainfall, which may even extend into April.

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    Average highs: 19-21℃
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    Rainfall: 100-125mm

February

March

April

April is responsible for almost all of the 36mm of rain shown below - May through October averages are 0-12mm. It’s also worth knowing that the western side of the Valley is much cooler in the summer than the eastern side.

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    Average highs: 24-33℃
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    Rainfall: 0-36mm

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

Temperatures cool, though remain mild, and from December the chance of catching some rain increases significantly.

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    Average highs: 19-24℃
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    Rainfall: 40-85mm

December

Tips and articles

This section includes details of products we have either used and liked or which we think look great. Full disclosure: if you click on a link and make a purchase, we will earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure policy (which includes our Amazon Associates disclosures) for further information.

Books

The Complete Guide to Climbing (by bike) in California by John Summerson: this paperback book gives short descriptions of California’s toughest hills and mountains. The roads in this area contained in the book are Figueroa Mountain Road East, Figueroa Mountain Road West, Refugio Road, Gibraltar Road, San Marcos/Painted Cave Road, 154/Painted Cave Road.  The book doesn’t have many maps, but it gives statistics and details of each climb together with a photo. If you’re just visiting this area, there’s probably not enough of interest to warrant the price. However, if you’re planning to do a lot of riding in California, it would be a useful reference point.

Lonely Planet’s Los Angeles, San Diego and Southern California: gives you the overview and background to the Santa Ynez Valley and covers the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, Los Olivos, Solvang and Buellton as well as LA and Santa Barbara.

Fodor’s California guide is excellent too. We like the fact it’s in full colour, practical and opinionated. It has detail on Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Solvang, Buellton and Lompoc.

Alternatively, if you’re just going to be in LA and Malibu, Fodor’s Los Angeles guide might be a good choice.

Santa Ynez Valley cycle map

Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours produce a useful cycle map of the local area. If you can’t buy it online, it’s worth picking up a copy in Dr J’s bike shop.

Good to know

It’s worth understanding California’s bike laws before you head out on the road.

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are the most well-known grapes grown in the area.

The area was made famous by Lance Armstrong when he and the Discovery Team used to train in the Valley for two weeks each January. It’s still a popular destination for pro teams, though the Tour Down Under means it sees fewer pro teams than it did in the past.

The Tour of California often visits the roads of the Santa Ynez Valley.

Enjoyed our guide?

We'd love to hear from you - comment below or drop us a line.

Want more? Don’t miss our guides to the best Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez cycling routes and other articles on California, below.

Want to check out some other destinations? Search by the month you want to travel or cycling destination you want to visit, here

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