Discovering Santa Barbara’s Best Coastal Drives
September 26, 2023
Santara Barbara’s beauty knows no boundary. From sun-drenched coastlines to winding mountain passes, the American Riviera and the roads that lead there, are filled with breathtaking panoramas that make every moment truly unforgettable. Whether you’re looking for an epic road trip or just a quick, coastal drive, Santa Barbara’s a driver’s dream and we’ve lined up some of the best routes for your next rendezvous.
Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1)
No list of coastal drives is complete without mentioning the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1. This legendary road stretches along the coastline, offering travelers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and dramatic cliffs on the other. Starting from Santa Barbara, you can head south towards Malibu or venture north towards Big Sur.
As you drive along this winding road, you'll pass by charming seaside towns, like Carpinteria and Montecito, where you can stop for a relaxing stroll on the beach or a leisurely lunch. Keep an eye out for viewpoints, such as the famed Gaviota Wind Caves and the Bixby Creek Bridge, where you can pull over and snap some feed-worthy photos.
San Marcos Pass (Highway 154)
If mountains are more your vibe, San Marcos Pass is the perfect choice. This picturesque highway takes you through the Santa Ynez Mountains, offering stunning vistas of the Santa Barbara coastline and the Santa Ynez Valley.
The drive will take you through Los Padres National Forest, where you can stop for a hike or a picnic amidst the serene wilderness. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Cold Spring Tavern, a historic stagecoach stop dating back to the mid-1800s, where you can step back in time and experience California like a pioneer.
Santa Barbara Wine Country Loop
If you have a taste for the finer things in life, the Santa Barbara Wine Country Loop is a must-do. This scenic drive will take you through the renowned Santa Ynez Valley wine region, where vineyards and wineries dot the landscape.
Starting from Santa Barbara, head towards the charming town of Los Olivos, where you can explore tasting rooms featuring a variety of wines, from Pinot Noir to Chardonnay. Continue on to Solvang, a Danish-inspired village, for a taste of European charm
Refugio Road to Gaviota Pass
For a shorter, yet no less stunning drive, take Refugio Road to Gaviota Pass. This lesser-known route offers breathtaking views of the Santa Barbara coastline, with opportunities to spot dolphins and whales from the cliffs.
As you wind your way up towards Gaviota Pass, the landscape transforms into a rugged wilderness, providing a sense of solitude and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Don't forget your camera, as this drive is filled with photo opps.
If you're in the mood for a leisurely drive right along the ocean's edge, Rincon Parkway is the way to go. This unique roadway stretches between Santa Barbara and Ventura, offering an unparalleled coastal experience.
The drive takes you past sandy beaches, rocky coves, and rolling waves, making it a popular route for surfers and beach enthusiasts. Pull over at one of the many designated vista points to watch the sunset over the Pacific and listen to the soothing sound of waves crashing against the shore.
Jalama Beach Road
For a more secluded and off-the-beaten-path adventure, venture to Jalama Beach Road. This scenic route takes you to Jalama Beach County Park, a hidden gem known for its untouched natural beauty.
The road meanders through the rugged coastal landscape, and once you arrive at the park, you'll be rewarded with a pristine beach, perfect for a relaxing day in the sun or a beachside picnic. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, as the park is home to numerous bird species and marine life.
There’s no route more iconic than the one leading from Santa Barbara to Malibu. Spanning approximately 100 miles, this drive takes you along the iconic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and treats you to breathtaking ocean views, charming beach towns, and numerous opportunities for exploration.
Before embarking on your journey, make sure to grab some breakfast from a local Santa Barbara cafe. Once you hit the road, head south on Highway 101 until you reach the junction with Highway 1, which is where the coastal adventure begins. Your first stop should be the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve, just a short drive from Santa Barbara. This coastal preserve offers stunning cliffside views and a chance to spot local wildlife, including seals and seabirds.
Continuing along the PCH, you'll soon reach the charming town of Summerland. Take a leisurely stroll along the main street, which is lined with unique boutiques, art galleries, and delightful cafes. Don't miss a visit to Lookout Park, where you can take in the panoramic vistas of the coastline and the Channel Islands.
As you venture further south, you'll approach the renowned Rincon Point. This area is a mecca for surfers, so if you're lucky, you might catch some impressive waves and skilled surfers riding them. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even try your hand at surfing here!
Next up is Ventura, a vibrant coastal city with a laid-back vibe. The Ventura Pier is a great spot to enjoy the sea breeze and take a stroll. If you're a history enthusiast, the Ventura Mission is worth a visit for a glimpse into California's colonial past.
Continuing along the PCH, you'll arrive at the iconic Malibu. This upscale beachfront city is famous for its celebrity homes, stunning beaches, and scenic beauty. Make sure to stop at the Malibu Pier and enjoy the coastal views while grabbing a meal at the Malibu Farm Restaurant.