These are six of the best hikes in Santa Barbara for every skill level.

By Patricia Doherty
December 05, 2020
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Sunrise on Inspiration Point of Anacapa Island
Credit: Getty Images

Hiking enthusiast and personal trainer, Jessie Hernandez, guides guests of Santa Barbara’s hotel Belmond El Encanto on outings that for many are their first hiking experience in the area. Those hikes usually end with a gourmet picnic, but for Jessie, the joy of hiking is the fresh air, ocean views, and variety of terrain. “I love hiking in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming and water is flowing,” Hernandez told Travel + Leisure, “but with our temperate climate, it’s enjoyable year round.”

She shared details of her favorite Santa Barbara hikes and suggested a book for those who want to get serious about exploring the area: Hiking & Backpacking Santa Barbara & Ventura by Craig R. Carey. According to Hernandez, “One of the best things about hiking here is that you can experience the mountains and then finish the day with an ocean dip.”

Here are some of the best hikes in Santa Barbara, according to Hernandez.

1. Inspiration Point Via Jesuita Trail

Moderate to challenging, 8 miles out and back, 2,460 foot elevation gain 

From Stevens Park to Inspiration Point, the trail passes through the edge of a property about two miles up, where there is a (non-functional) water fountain that serves as a good landmark and turn-around point for a shorter hike. For more ambitious hikers, continuing to Inspiration Point is a challenge as the trail gets steeper after the water fountain. It’s a great spot to catch sunrise or sunset on a clear day, but make sure to pack a headlamp for the dark portion of the trip.

2. Inspiration Point Via Tunnel Trail

Moderate, 3.5 miles out and back, 950 foot elevation gain

This shorter and steeper path from Stevens Park to Inspiration Point is reached via Tunnel Trail, leaving from the top of Tunnel Road. The trail starts on a wide fire road, then transitions onto a single track that makes its way to one of the most accessible views of the Santa Barbara coastline. About two miles up, look for the water fountain as a turn-around point. 

The Cold Spring arch bridge (State Highway 154) spans a deep canyon as viewed on May 24, 2013, near Santa Ynez, California
Credit: George Rose/Getty Images

3. Cold Springs Canyon Trail

Moderate, 2.7 mile loop, 912 foot elevation gain

This trail includes a few creek crossings, beautiful tiny waterfalls, a panoramic view of Santa Barbara, and plenty of space to spread out a picnic at the summit. This hike is shaded most of the way up, making it a great choice for a sunny day.

4. McMenemy Trail

Moderate, 4.4 mile loop, 1,299 elevation gain

McMenemy trail shares the San Ysidro trailhead, but peels off early, crossing a creek and winding through some lush foliage before ascending steep switchbacks and exposing great views of Montecito, the coastline, and on a clear day, the Channel Islands. This hike can be extended as it connects with Saddle Rock and Girard Trails. 

View of the Pacific Ocean from a cliff at Douglas Nature Preserve in Santa Barbara
Credit: Getty Images

5. Douglas Preserve

Easy, 1 mile loop, flat terrain

This one-mile loop is nestled on the cliff top between Hendry’s Beach and Mesa Lane Beach. Half of the loop traces the coastline, and half provides a look at Elings Park, where you might see paragliders taking off. The Preserve is a wildflower-covered paradise in the spring.

6. Romero Canyon Trail

Challenging, 14 miles out and back, 3,300 foot elevation gain

This is the most challenging of Jessie’s favorite hikes. The hike ends at a heavily graffitied water cistern on East Camino Cielo, a great spot for a picnic. On a clear day, the trail offers stunning views for most of the hike, and on a foggy day, it’s fun to hike through the mist. 

There’s an option to make it a shorter hike, too. Loop around where the single track and the fire road converge for about a 5.5 mile round-trip hike.