Velo course: The Santa Barbara Coast

I have enthused about the Santa Barbara area enough times over the years, for you to figure out it is one of my favorite places to ride. It is only natural then, that at least one route up there should make its way into the Velo course. The word 'coast' in the title of this one is key; while there is a hillier, roughly parallel route along the foothills, this one is all about the coast and the views out across the Pacific. That does not mean that those blue waters are always in view, the route does wind inland at times. But make no mistake, it always comes back to the water's edge, and its border of white sand or sheer cliff face.

Start this ride at the Jr. High School in Carpinteria at the corner of Carpinteria and Palm Avenues. The parking lot is on Palm, where the tennis and basketball courts are located, as well as the swimming pool. There are plenty of spots whenever school is not in session. Incidentally, if you continue down Palm you will come to the State Beach and campground. You might want to end the ride there, but to start head back to Carpinteria Ave and turn left (not an easy thing to do during the summer). Follow this street through the town center. At Santa Ynez Avenue turn right and cross over the freeway, then turn left at the first intersection, Via Real. You will take Via Real out of Carp and into the next town along the coast, Summerland. Along the way you will pass numerous wholesale growers (nurseries), as well as the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club. Founded in 1911, the Club is the third oldest polo facility in the United States. I have never been to a match there, but assuming they would let cycling riffraff in, i think it would be pretty interesting to watch a tourney.

Past the Polo Club you jog through a small residential area and begin to climb a low hill. As you do so, wonder at how much the large estate along the right of the road must be worth and at how many lifetimes you would need to live to accumulate that much wealth. When you crest the hill a nice view of the ocean will open up. Remember this point for the return trip, as you will make a turn here. A quick run down hill will take you into Summerland, long known for its antique shops and Big Yellow House. Somewhere along that downhill run, and for what ever reason, the street name changes from Via Real to Lillie Avenue and then, in the town center area, changes again to Ortega Hill Avenue. It used to be that Ortega Hill was the only obstacle along this route, and that is not saying much since it is not a particularly long, or steep, hill. Now a-days we don't even have to tackle Ortega; at the base of the hill look to the left just past the freeway entrance for the separated bike path which follows the route of speeding (or slowly moving, depending upon the time of day) traffic around the hill, rather than over it.

Once around Ortega Hill you will find yourself in the monied enclave of Montecito and on Jameson Lane. Follow Jameson alongside the freeway all the way to the edge of Montecito's commercial core at Olive Mill Road. Turn left there and take this road down to the beach at the Four Seasons Biltmore; the road will bend to the right and become Channel Drive between the beach wall and the hotel. You may be tempted to stop for a while here for a look around; there is still a ways to go, so it might be better to do so on the way back. 

As you leave the hotel and head up the next small rise watch for the beginning of the cliff -top bike path and merge on to it. This may very well be the most beautiful quarter mile of bike path in Southern California - flowers are always in bloom and, as long as the sky is clear, the Pacific is always sparkling. In too short a distance, the Channel Drive Bikepath will bend to the right and become a full street again. The big open space on your left is the Santa Barbara Cemetery. Channel Drive comes out at Cabrillo Boulevard, the main waterfront drag through Santa Barbara. At the intersection you have a choice - you can turn left and take to the street (my preferred route), or you can cross and enter another off-street, but parallel bike path, with its view of the lagoon and Andree Clark Bird Refuge.

Either way you choose I would next suggest making a left into the beach-side parking lot at the East Beach Bath House. There is a cafe there with outside seating, and often a beach volleyball tournament taking place. Warily make your way through the parking lot on the far side of the bathhouse and once again enter the bike (multi-use) path along the ocean front. If you are doing this ride on a Sunday, the linear park along here hosts an arts and crafts show every weekend and on holidays. Check it out, it is a major event and there is always something of interest. You can also expect to see jugglers, tight rope walkers, hear drumming circles, solo guitarists, and others in this park. At Stearn's Wharf leave the bike path and turn onto State Street. State is Santa Barbara's main commercial drag and well worth a little exploring time, if you have never been. As you cross under the 101 freeway the street will narrow to a single lane and bike path in each direction, mobs of pedestrians line the sidewalk. Riders not used to being in close proximity to motor vehicles might be apprehensive, but honestly, cars move so slowly through here and bikes are so prevalent, that there is actually very little to worry about.

You can make a left off of State at any time (be wary of the no left turn signs if you do) but i would suggest going up the street to Micheltorena Street where there is a left turn lane. Follow Micheltorena up and over the 101 freeway before making a right onto San Andres Street. At Mission Street make another right, and then an immediate left onto Modoc Road. You will follow Modoc for a handful of miles. About a half mile past the Las Palmas overhead look for the Obern Trail starting on the left; it is rather nondescript, though there is a sign (which may say Coast Route at this point, rather than Obern Trail), and a striped crosswalk. From this point the route switches between bike path and residential street, so you will need to watch for signs.

The first change up will be at Nogal Drive - you will want to cross and merge onto Nueces Drive. This first section of Nueces will end shortly for autos but you can ride across the little wooden bridge and continue on a second section of Nueces. When you come to a T-intersection at Arroyo Road, make a left. At the end of this street is another small bridge, cross and continue on the bike path alongside More Mesa Drive. From this point you are on separated bike path all the way up to Goleta Beach and UCSB. The route weaves between residential, agricultural, and wooded open space along the course of Goleta Slough. Local racers often take an easy spin along this section of the route, my last time up there for instance, it was former National Elite Road Race Champion, Chris Walker who passed by in the opposite direction. Be wary at the two intersections you come to - one is controlled and offers little problem, the other is not and autos fly past without stopping or slowing. Anyway, you eventually reach a point where the wooded landscape along the slough comes to an abrupt end. It is right were the slough opens up and widens out, and you get an unobstructed view to the campus in the distance. The bike path momentarily ends at Goleta Beach where the access road enters the park. Turn left there and then at the stop sign notice the path almost doubling back on the right - follow it up to the campus. Explore the myriad of pathways up there, check out all the new construction, take in the lagoon overlooks, slurp up a Jamba Juice or get a bite to eat at the UCen (opposite Storke Tower and Plaza), take in the latest exhibition at the Museum of Art right next door, and then return, essentially the way you came.

But wait, i mentioned you should remember a point atop a small hill between Carpinteria and Summerland. When you get back there, Padaro Lane, go right across the freeway. This is a nice, mostly peaceful road, in contrast to Via Real on the other side of the freeway, where the speed limit varies between forty and fifty miles per hour. Instead, the ocean side of the freeway has a speed limit of twenty-five miles per hour. It is true, money will not buy you happiness, but apparently it will keep the speed limit on your street down. When you get back to Carpinteria there are plenty of places to eat, drink and refresh. For burgers might i suggest the Spot, down at the bottom of Linden near the beach, or for Mexican try Cabo's on Carpinteria Ave, just east of Linden. Other good places have come and gone, but those two have been there for a good long time. Still have some time to burn, check out Carpinteria State Beach, the worlds safest.

Direct mileage for this Velo course route is going to be just under fifty miles, but depending on how much extra exploring you do, it would be very easy to end up with more. Likewise you can expect that whatever time you normally give to a fifty mile ride will likely extend to twice that after all the stops and sightseeing you will do along the way.

the hill at Padaro Lane, SB coast in the distance

the most beautiful stretch of bike path in SoCal, Montecito

the lagoon at UCSB

Storke Tower

major construction at the Davidson Library - i seem to recall spending a few hours in there

the lagoon and a marine sciences facility

beach access at UCSB

Obern Trail and equestrian center

East Beach view - boats and Santa Cruz Island

East Beach view - bikini and Santa Cruz Island

East Beach view


  1. I haven't ridden up there in years. ROAD TRIP!

    1. Well i guess my mission for the Santa Barbara tourist bureau has been accomplished. Wish i could get up there more often.


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