Ways to Tour Santa Barbara on Bike

Main Takeaway

There are a variety of ways to tour Santa Barbara on bike. Your ultimate plan and destinations will be based on factors, including time and distance you’re willing to bike. We’ve outlined some top destinations you can visit.

What sights should you see? If you had to skip some sights, which would they be?

In my opinion, this can only be determined by answering these two questions:

“What are you interested in?”

“Have you seen it already?”

Ultimately, it’s a matter of having enough time. When time plays a factor in tours, most visitors often choose to skip the Mission and/or Montecito and Butterfly Beach These spots are great, but they are the extremities of the route. Some guests have told me they’ve already seen the Mission or they’re not interested in churches.

If you’re still struggling to choose which stops to cut, I usually recommend asking yourself the following: “Have you seen the Mission Rose Garden and Mission park?”

Remember: some sights look better on paper brochures.

The Santa Barbara Courthouse

Your Tour, Your Decisions on What to See

I have a few “story stops” as I call them on the ride up to the Mission. If we are short on time, I will often skip the Presidio because most people don’t find it as interesting or as scenic as the other sights. 

Regarding Butterfly Beach and Montecito, many guests say, “I’m glad we saw that.” (Especially if they love nature and beaches.) I especially look for hummingbirds, dragonflies and Monarch butterflies on the plants on the cliffs of Channel drive. I stop at the Coral Casino and look back at Santa Barbara and point to the Mesa to show them where we are headed – this helps them understand the size and contour of Santa Barbara. 

Similarly, when at the Harbor Overlook, I point back at the Coral Casino and explain that’s where the tour originated. Also, at the Harbor Overlook, I point out the Mission, Arlington and Granada Theatres since they are easy to spot. 

The comment I hear often is “wow, we’re covering a big area!” When we have extra time, I often propose that we go to Leadbetter Beach and up to Shoreline Park. Shoreline Park is a favorite for my wife and me. On hot days it’s a great way to cool off with the dependable cool breeze. 

If guests prefer something outside of the beach, I typically suggest we ride out on Stearns Wharf. I always warn them it’s a bit bumpy and often congested, but it has a nice view back at the city and a cool compass painted on the wharf that illustrates the south facing beaches. (Yes, you’ll get to view a California beach that defies California’s standard westward facing beaches!)

A Tour Catered to You

Depending on the questions and interests of the guests, I occasionally bring up potentially controversial topics they may like to discuss.

These topics include issues such as the high cost of housing and homeless population, the exodus of downtown department stores, or even the tragedies of the Montecito mudslides and Santa Cruz island boat tragedy.

Some guests enjoy aviation. We can make a short stop to show where Lockheed Aircraft got its start. Other guests may enjoy wine, and we can point out the wine tasting opportunities of El Paseo and the funk zone. Given guests are old enough to have heard of Daniel Boone and Fess Parker, we’ll make a stop and discuss them!

It’s all about finding out what the guests are interested in and proposing ideas that might pique their interest.

About the Author

Mike Suding is the founder and owner of American Riviera Bike Tours. He has over 50+ years of experience in tours, travels, and blogging. He is the principle contributor for the blog readyriders.bike.

Mike has published other helpful articles, including Choosing a Bike for your Tour of Santa Barbara.