Santa Barbara, Calif.: A ‘Perfect’ Place

Santa Barbara is just one of many travel destinations runners enjoy. Photo: Jeff Clark

Beaches, vineyards, and running: What’s not to like about this coastal California city?

Where the Pacific Ocean greets the mountains of wine country, Santa Barbara offers the best of beaches for speedy bums, mountains for butt-busting runners, food for any palate, and flawless weather year-round. The small city American Riviera claims a large presence in the endurance community.

“Santa Barbara is one of the most perfect places in the country,” says Rusty Snow, race director of the fall Santa Barbara International Marathon. “For a place this small, it’s one of the strongest running communities I’ve ever encountered. People move here for the great training, racing, beauty and climate.”

From the trails that navigate the Santa Ynez Mountains to the flat coastline jaunts that are dotted with runners, bikers, and other outdoor revelers, there is no shortage of options for anyone pursuing a sweat fest.

Park in the quaint neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area — where shops and eats are aplenty — and grab a run to pretty much anywhere, including wealthy Montecito, where roads wind up and around the palatial manors tucked into the rolling hills overlooking the sea.

If secluded trail blazing is more your style, explore some of the popular routes above sea level — including the Jesusita Trail, which promises a killer climb to Inspiration Point, with its panoramic view of the city from 1,800 feet.

After running the town, meander over to lower State Street. No need to swap clothes — the famed outdoor drag is lined with casual shopping and dining to allow for a full day of run-eat-tour just minutes from the water’s edge. Be sure to check out the historic Arlington Theater, which hosts the infamous Santa Barbara International Film Festival every winter.

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Where To Run

Ellwood Shores, sitting on the north end of Santa Barbara County, paints the perfect seaside picture for any visiting runner, offering flat runs of varying length along the bluffs just a few miles west of college town Isla Vista, an easy access point for any visiting college students. Discover the Bluffs Overlook Trail that runs right along the cliffs (literally), with easy access points near Ellwood Elementary School. Park at the Cater Filtration Plant and grab the rigorous Jesusita Trail up to Inspiration Point — a round trip of just under 8 miles, with plenty of varying terrain and turns to keep your legs guessing.

To avoid repetition, continue down the other side of Inspiration Point, grabbing the Tunnel Trail, which finishes near 3,995-foot La Cumbre Peak, the highest point in Santa Barbara, for an added 3.5 miles one way. With rolling hills for miles, suburban neighborhood Hope Ranch touts some of the wealthiest homes in the state. If a Southern California coast run, sans cliffs, is on your agenda, head down to the harbor and follow the palm trees along Cabrillo Boulevard south toward Montecito; turn around at the zoo for an easy 5-miler.

Where To Race

The UC Santa Barbara Alumni Association hosts the seventh annual Gaucho Gallop (April 26; ucsbruns.com), featuring a 5K run/walk through the UCSB campus — complete with breakfast burritos at the Harder Stadium finish-line festival. For a full-fledged vino-scenic experience, the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon (May 10; destinationraces.com/runsb) explores Santa Ynez every spring, taking runners through the valley, the historic Danish village of Solvang and along the vineyards.

If you’re itching for an original road race that attracts hefty competition every fall, check out the Santa Barbara International Marathon and Half Marathon (Nov. 8; sbimarathon.com), boasting a brand-new half-marathon course this year, starting at UCSB and finishing at Leadbetter Beach. If you’re digging for trails, the Red Rock 50 (Nov. 30; ultrasignup.com) hosts a 50-miler, marathon and half marathon starting and finishing at Rancho Oso Guest Ranch and Resort.

Where To Eat & Drink

With 12 locations throughout the city, Blenders in the Grass (drinkblenders.com) is a local favorite among smoothie lovers. If you’re craving a hearty meal, The Brewhouse (sbbrewhouse.com) offers up a delicious buffet — mimosas and eggs Benedict! — on the weekends and a full menu every day. Natural Café (thenaturalcafe.com) has great greens for a veggie spin and killer chicken enchiladas for the meat lovers.

If you’re drooling for the full seaside seafood spread, Brophy Brothers (brophybros.com) serves up some delicious clams and stellar views of the harbor. For those who dig an original with plenty of local history, Joe’s Café (joescafesb.com) sits just up the street from its 1928 location, serving up some of the stiffest drinks — rumored to be one of the first speakeasies in 1935 — and best dinner plates in town.

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Where To Shop

Santa Barbara Running (110 Anacapa St.; sbrunningco.com) is the first destination for any runner, with locations downtown and in the small town of Goleta. The only running-specific store in the city, SBR offers up customized run, shoe and apparel advice to all customers.

For the shopaholics, lower State Street (santabarbaradowntown.com) hosts a slew of in-town boutiques, restaurants, bars, and stores for any type of traveler, including REI (321 Anacapa St.; rei.com) for those outdoor junkies. What’s more — public parking is free everywhere for the first 75 minutes in the downtown area, including the parking garage at Paseo Nuevo (651 Paseo Nuevo; paseonuevoshopping.com), which hosts a variety of chain stores and familiar eats.

Weather

“Weather-wise, Santa Barbara is perfect. We’re talking lows of mid-40s and highs of mid-60s in November,” Snow says. Strong spring winds tend to pick up in April and May, but temperatures hardly call for anything warmer than a jacket. Unlike its Southern California counterparts, the region does share some rainfall during the winter with the rest of the state — usually off and on through January and February. Although wet winters may force commuters to ditch the bike and reach for their bus pass on occasion, there are no major temperature changes.

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Did You Know?

The City: Santa Barbara is the setting for the USA Network’s hit comedy “Psych.”

The Food: There is a plethora of farmer’s market options, including the downtown location every Tuesday night.

The View: Beautiful Spanish architecture still dots all areas of the city, including the 228-year-old Mission Santa Barbara.

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