Santa Barbara is famous for surfing, hiking and biking; but a lesser known vantage point is from the window of a car driving along beautiful mountain passes and winding backroads. Some of the most stunning views and epic scenery come not from the trail but from the street, so here are our recommendations for the top 5 backroads to explore in SB:
Certainly one of the most recognized roads in Santa Barbara, Highway 154, aka San Marcos Pass, is a stunning path that leads to the Santa Ynez Valley. Popular for trips to Lake Cachuma or excursions to local wineries, the highway runs up through the mountains and offers a spectacular ocean view for most of the way. However, the pass is infamous for dangerous and speedy drivers, so take it slow and enjoy the ride!
Sycamore Canyon is a winding, shady back road that will take you from the foothills of the Riviera to the entrance of Montecito and the city’s southern shore. Take this road on your way to popular shops or Butterfly Beach to avoid traffic and enjoy some great real-estate window shopping. Look for gorgeous mountain estates, giant eucalyptus-lined driveways and even the inconspicuous entrance to Lotus Land on your way.
Gibraltar Road is a major hot spot for bikers and hikers, but also for those looking for a quiet drive and a place to watch the sunset. We suggest taking this narrow and twisting road to the top of the mountain where you’ll find several pull outs to park and take in the panoramic ocean view. If you drive at dusk you will bear witness to one of the best shows in Santa Barbara as the water turns pink and orange and the city lights come on for the night.
A drive down Las Alturas Road is a quick, but highly worthwhile detour we suggest for an aimless day spent wandering the city and soaking in the Santa Barbara lifestyle. Lined with houses, all with ocean views, this backroad sheds light on why this city was given the nickname the ‘American Riviera.’ On a sunny day, sailboats on the water and cheery patios will remind you slow down and enjoy the simple things; but be careful, sharp hairpin turns will test even the most skilled of drivers.
Alameda Padre Serra
Alameda Padre Serra, locally referred to as APS, runs along the riviera and through the heart of the city. We recommend taking this road after a visit to the Old Mission and letting it lead you to the entrance of Montecito before hitting the beach. On the way you will find the classic Santa Barbara-style stone walls, a perfect overlook of Downtown and stunning views of the Harbor and Stearns Wharf.
Figueroa Mountain Road
The last backroad on our list is Figueroa Mountain Road, located in Los Olivos and off the beaten-track. Take this path towards Figueroa Mountain in the springtime for some of the most vibrant and beautiful poppy-viewing in California. The countryside lights up in bright orange as visitors take this drive to unwind, picnic or explore the trails at the end of the road. As an exciting bonus, this is also the place where Michael Jackson’s infamous Neverland Valley Ranch, and the entrance can be spotted from the road.