It’s seductively squeezed between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the sea, and Santa Barbara has some of the most beautiful day hikes in California. Standing above these rugged peaks, you can look out over stunning views of the city, the ocean and the Channel Islands shimmering on the horizon. In shady canyons, swimming holes and soothing waterfalls provide refreshing rest stops and picnic areas. Wildlife sightings are an added bonus. Along the coast, clifftop trails offer spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, where you can watch the seals crowing in secluded coves, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of dolphins and even whales not far from shore. Walking trails also fill the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens, although entry requires an entrance fee. From easy family-friendly hikes through canyoned plateaus to challenging summit climbs, Santa Barbara is a hiker’s paradise. Before hitting the trails, be sure to take plenty of water and keep an eye out for poison oak.
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1 The Douglas Family Preserve
The 70 million acre dog-friendly Douglas Family Preserve is one of Santa Barbara’s most rewarding hikes and has long been known as the Wilcox property by locals. This beloved trail is named after his movie star donor Michael Douglas and his father Kirk. It is a favorite with dog owners because it is one of the few areas in Santa Barbara where their furry friends are allowed to roam off leash in designated areas. Suddenly over beautiful cliffs, the three-kilometre trail winds through eucalyptus trees, oaks and cypresses with stunning views of the ocean and Arroyo Burro Beachbelow. Lucky hikers can spot dolphins or whales off the coast. This beautiful trail is also family-friendly – although children must leave the cliff. One corner of the park is a popular launch site for hang gliders. You can access the reserve from the east at Medcliff Road and park at the intersection with Selrose Lane or access via a sidewalk from the Arroyo Burro Beach parking lot.
2 Inspiration point
One of Santa Barbara’s most popular hikes, Inspiration Point is true to its name, culminating in a small summit with stunning 180-degree views. This four-mile, moderate trail starts at Tunnel Trail (accessible from the Jesusita Trail) and travels on a paved road for about 1 mile before turning onto a dirt road behind a metal gate. Eventually it passes a creek, which may not flow depending on the amount of precipitation. The trail ascends 800 feet to a summit with breathtaking views of the city, ocean and islands, as well as the Santa Ynez Mountains. Cathedral Peak looms behind. The best time of day to attempt this hike is later in the afternoon, when the light turns a rich honey color and the trail offers more shade. This is a dog-friendly trail and it is popular with local trail runners and mountain bikers. Please note that parking is limited at the trailhead and tickets are often issued for parking violations. You can access the trailhead on Tunnel Road, off of Mission Canyon Road.
3 The Coastal Vista Trail: Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve
Harbor seals are the highlight of this spectacular cliff walk in Carpinteria about 12 miles from downtown Santa Barbara. The entire half-mile stretch of this flat and easy route hugs the edge of towering sea cliffs in one of the largest open spaces left along Santa Barbara County’s south coast. Along the way, you can look down at a seal sanctuary on a beach slope below and see these friendly creatures bobbing in the surf and crawling across the beach like giant caterpillars. From December to May the beach is closed to the seals that were born without disturbances. From the rookery the trail continues to the coastal salt marsh, through Tar Pits State Park, past eucalyptus trees and scenic ocean vistas overlooking some of the Channel Islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa. Plein aerial artists often prop their easels along this stretch to capture the beautiful views. Birds are also popular – the salt marsh is home to more than 200 species. Bring binoculars to spot the wildlife. To access the trail, take the US 101 exit south on Ballard Avenue in Carpinteria. Drive to the ocean and go to the Bluff parking lot. Please note that dogs are not allowed near the seal colonies. Birds are also popular – the salt marsh is home to more than 200 species. Bring binoculars to spot the wildlife. To access the trail, take the US 101 exit south on Ballard Avenue in Carpinteria. Drive to the ocean and go to the Bluff parking lot. Please note that dogs are not allowed near the seal colonies. Birds are also popular – the salt marsh is home to more than 200 species. Bring binoculars to spot the wildlife. To access the trail, take the US 101 exit south on Ballard Avenue in Carpinteria. Drive to the ocean and go to the Bluff parking lot. Please note that dogs are not allowed near the seal colonies.
4 Cold Spring East Fork
Cold Spring East Fork, one of Santa Barbara’s most beloved canyon trails, offers picturesque pools under shady alder trees a short walk from your parking spot. You can adjust the length of this trail to suit your appetite and energy level, with options ranging from an easy trek to the first pools, where kids can chase frogs and salamanders, to a tough one-way 4.5-mile trek up the East Camino Cielo. The hike starts from Mountain Drive in Montecito and includes several stream crossings and passes pools and small waterfalls (after good rains). From here, the trail ascends steeply up the canyon through chaparral to Montecito Overlook, 1.5 miles from the trailhead, with beautiful views of the city. On the upper parts of the trail you will zigzag up to Montecito Peak (5, 4 miles from the trailhead) and East Camino Cielo (4.5 miles from the trailhead) for spectacular views of the sea, 2,675 feet up to the summit. After admiring the view, you can descend the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains or head back to the trailhead. This is a great hike for a hot day as the trail is shaded until the headwaters. Beware of poison oak along the road.
5 San Ysidro Trail
The moderately easy San Ysidro Trail in the chic enclave of Montecito is perfect for warm, sunny days and remains shaded most of the way. After good rains, the waterfalls and swimming area here are a welcome reward for weary hikers. The trail starts in a residential area along paved roads before following the unpaved path. Most of the way follows the San Ysidro Creek through a cool gorge. After about two miles you reach an 80-foot waterfall, which drops after good rains and barely drips in the dry season. When the pool here is full of water, enjoy a refreshing dip and spin around the waterfall for an easy 2.8-mile trek or continue, zigzagging steeply up through dry chaparral and oak forests to the 11,000-foot summit in the east Camino Cielo. From here, the views of the mountains, the sea, and on clear days, the Channel Islands are beautiful. If you make it all the way, the trail is a 60-mile hike that gives the calves and lungs a good workout while climbing 2,674 feet. You can access the trail from the end of East Mountain Drive to the left of Park Lane in Montecito. Watch out for poison oak and take plenty of water for the steep climb.
6 Rattlesnake Canyon
Yes, sometimes rats rattle along this path, but you’re unlikely to see one. About 15 minutes from town, this moderately easy five-mile hike is usually less crowded than Inspiration Point in the adjacent canyon and is one of the few backcountry trails where bicycles are prohibited. A large sign marks the trailhead, which is located near Skofield Park. The trail follows a creek through chaparral, oaks and sycamores and continues along a fire road to a meadow. Look for wildflowers after the rain. From here you can return the way you came for a 3.5 mile walk or take a fork and zigzag up half a mile to Gibraltar Road where you can enjoy stunning views over the mountains to the sea. This is a popular spot with local mountain climbers and hang gliders. Those who want more of a workout can take the Connector trail to Tunnel Trail and East Camino Cielo for even more beautiful views. Access the trailhead via Las Canoas Road.
7 Cathedral Peak
Cathedral Peak is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding hikes in Santa Barbara. This tough four-mile loop trail climbs 2,350 feet in elevation and is not suitable for children or anyone with agility issues. Access to the trailhead is from Tunnel Road, about three-quarters of a mile past the locked gate. Follow the Jesusita Trail until it descends into Mission Canyon. After heading upstream, an opening in a wall reveals the steep and narrow hiking trail to Cathedral Peak, which climbs over boulders and weaves through thick chaparral. Along the way you will see beautiful views of Seven Falls. The approach to Cathedral Peak, one of the Mission Crags, is steep and requires some sure footing, but once at the top the views are spectacular. From here you can look straight across Santa Barbara to the sea. For more of a workout, you can continue to La Cumbre Peak , although the route is not well defined.
8 Romero Canyon Loop
Climbing mountains that rise close to the sea, this moderate 10-mile loop offers more stunning panoramas of the city and ocean with fewer people than some of the other view walks. It is also one of the few loop routes in the foreland. Romero road once took drivers over the Santa Ynez Mountains until it was destroyed by mudslides in 1978 and closed to the public. It is now a popular walking and cycling route. The trailhead is off Bella Vista Drive behind a gate in upscale Montecito. For about two miles, the trail follows a shaded creek bed through the narrow canyon before climbing to the ridge line through chaparral. From here you can look out over the beautiful views of Montecito, the sea and the Channel Islands. If you walk west along the ridge you will reach Romero Saddle, an elevation gain of 2,000 feet from the trailhead and the road leads you back down. Bring plenty of water as the second part of the hike is exposed to the sun.
9 Tangerine Falls
When at full strength, the 100-foot Tangerine Falls are among Santa Barbara’s most impressive cascades. Even if the falls are barely a trickle, this 2.5-mile moderately easy out-and-back hike is a great choice for a warm sunny day because it’s mostly shaded. The trail begins at the main stretch of Cold Spring, where the creek crosses the road on Mountain Drive in Montecito. Take the West Fork trail and continue for about three-quarters of a mile until you reach the unsigned turnoff to the falls. It can be difficult to recognize. Pause at the fern-lined trees to hear the soothing sounds of flowing water over the mossy rocks after good rains. Mineral deposits have tinted the rocks a tangerine color, giving the falls their name. Streaming and rock hopping are part of the adventure on this trail, which ascends approximately 900 feet. Keep an eye out for poison oak and wear sturdy shoes as the final climb to the base of the falls can be slippery.
10 Seven Falls
The fairly easy 2.5-mile out-and-back Seven Falls trail offers cool waterfalls after good rains and fun boulder hopping when the falls aren’t flowing. Park on the popular Tunnel Road and follow the Tunnel Trail turnoff on the Jesusita trail until you descend into Mission Canyon. After a few creek crossings and a boulder scramble, the falls are about a quarter mile up the trail. These seven rock basins usually fill with water in the spring and cascade down. When the water is deep enough, it is a beautiful place to swim. You can access this trail via Tunnel Road, although parking is limited and violations are booked quickly. Dogs on a leash are allowed on this trail.
Which airport does it serve Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is served by one airport, Santa Barbara Airport (SBA), which is located about 10 miles (16 km) northwest of the city center.
You can find cheap flights to Santa Barbara through Swati Travel. Here are some indicative prices for one-way flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Santa Barbara (SBA) on Swati Travel for the dates of September 20-27, 2023:
- Alaska Airlines: $100
- American Airlines: $120
- United Airlines: $140
Please note that these prices are subject to change and may not be available on all dates. To find the best deals, it is always best to book your flights in advance.