San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara – Self Guided Multi-Day

san luis obispo to santa barbara

Overview – San Luis Obispo (SLO) to Santa Barbara Self Guided Bike Tour

South of Big Sur, cycling through San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County offers a diverse palette of marine wildlife viewing, historic missions, winery areas and surfers plying the waves of the Pacific Ocean off sandy beaches. A San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara self guided bike tour is a good option for more casual cyclists looking to avoid the rugged terrain of the Big Sur coast, but still take in some breathtaking coastal scenery, beaches and wine country. Our standard itinerary is three days, but layover days can be added and/or shorter cycling days can make for a tour longer than three days. You can also start your tour north of SLO at Ragged Point to add even more great coastal cycling. See below for the standard tour and for other itineraries.

  • Standard Itinerary
  • Alternate Itineraries
  • Cost and Availability of Accommodations
  • Traffic, Road Conditions and Terrain
  • Overview Map
  • Start and End Tour Transportation

Standard Itinerary – San Luis Obispo (SLO) to Santa Barbara

3 Days / 133 Total Miles / Daily Average = 44 Miles / Daily Range = 38-52 Miles

Day One – SLO to Santa Maria – 43 miles (elevation +1101/-1131 ft)

Starting in the mission town of San Luis Obispo (voted happiest town in North America!), the SLO to Santa Barbara self guided bike tour route heads toward the coast. A short detour along a creekside bike path to the small resort town of Avila Beach beckons before cycling through Pismo Beach, a classic beach town. From Pismo Beach the route veers inland through rich farmland. Watch for artichokes and strawberries! The terrain south of Pismo Beach has some rolling hills, but levels out as you bike through the sleepy town of Guadalupe before the short spin to Santa Maria.

people in cycling suits

Day Two – Santa Maria to Solvang – 38 miles (elevation +1931/-1662 ft)

Leaving Santa Maria on this San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara bike tour, you’ll quickly find yourself in the idyllic vineyards of the Santa Ynez winery region. This is where the movie “Sideways” was filmed, often with actual staff from the winery tasting rooms. Tackling the hills at the south end of Foxen Canyon Road brings you to the tiny hamlet of Los Olivos and its numerous tasting rooms. From Los Olivos it’s a short spin along Alamo Pintado Road (or a rollicking climb and descent on Ballard Canyon Road) to the Danish-themed town of Solvang in the heart of the Santa Ynez wine country.

Day Three – Solvang to Santa Barbara – 52 miles (elevation +2472/-2965 ft)

The last day of this SLO to Santa Barbara self guided cycling tour starts with a pleasing spin and climb through isolated country behind Solvang past Nojoqui Falls Park before you gain US 101 and bike over Gaviota Pass to get back to the coast. The coastal approach to Santa Barbara on US 101 is actually quite pleasant for biking on a freeway and features expansive ocean views. As you near Santa Barbara, you’ll take the traditional Coast Bike Route through Hope Ranch and bike along the waterfront before ending the day among the palm trees and sandy beaches of Santa Barbara.

Adding Layover Days

Interesting layover days on our San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara bike tour can be made in the following locations:

  • San Luis Obispo (SLO). This diverse town offers plenty of galleries and restaurants in its award winning downtown area. The Edna Valley stretches south of town and offers numerous winery tasting rooms and great cycling.
  • Solvang. Located in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country, Solvang (or one of the towns close by) is the best place for a layover day if you want to experience wine country and/or do some cycling to wineries.

Alternate Itineraries

Many other options exist for cycling from the SLO area down to Santa Barbara. Please see below for brief itinerary descriptions to see how they differ from the standard itinerary.


133 Total Miles / Daily Average = 33 miles / Daily Range = 25-43 miles

This is a relaxed itinerary that splits up the longer day from Solvang to Santa Barbara with an overnight stay at El Capitan Canyon, a back to nature resort with luxury tents and cabins.


194 Total Miles / Daily Average = 49 miles / Daily Range = 38-61 miles

This is an excellent option if you want to tack on some really nice coastal riding. You still travel to the town of San Luis Obispo at the start of the tour and we shuttle you up to Ragged Point to start the cycling. If you want to keep the miles on the first day more moderate, you can also cycle from Ragged Point to Morro Bay instead of SLO and stay overnight there. That makes the next day to Santa Maria a bit longer, but evens out the mileage a bit better than staying in SLO.


194 Total Miles / Daily Average = 39 miles / Daily Range = 30-52 miles

This is a more relaxed version of the Ragged Point to Santa Barbara 4 day itinerary above and stays overnight in the beach towns of Cayucos and Pismo Beach instead of San Luis Obispo.

Cost and Availability of Accommodations

The cost and availability of accommodations on a California coast self guided bike tour can vary considerably and are influenced by location, high season vs. low season rates, and weekend vs. weekday rates. The best way to get a sense for what accommodations for your tour might cost is to first choose a specific itinerary and dates. Then you can check availability and rates for your specific dates. It can be a challenge to find hotel accommodations for less than $100 per night average, although if you are willing to stay in hostels where they exist, you can average less than $100 per night. Most budget hotel accommodations are in the $70-150 per night range. Mid range accommodations are typically between $150-300 per night. Some places may sell out months in advance during the busy summer season or other holiday times, and/or may require two nights stays on certain busy weekends. The farther in advance you plan your bike tour, the better chance you have to get the accommodations you want at each stop along the way. Virtually all accommodations we recommend have websites where you can check availability and book rooms.

Traffic, Road Conditions and Terrain

Traffic along the SLO to Santa Barbara bike tour route is highly variable. Some stretches are on remote roads that have little to no traffic. Some of the cycling route is on Highway One which has differing traffic volumes on different portions. Highway One also has highly variable shoulders with some stretches that have little to no shoulder. A small portion of the cycling tour is actually on freeways (mostly on the approach to Santa Barbara), but these sections always have a large shoulder, except for two very short stretches on the approach to Santa Barbara. Cyclists doing the SLO to Santa Barbara bike tour should be comfortable riding with traffic for portions of the tour.

The terrain for the San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara bike tour route is variable, but less challenging than the riding along the Big Sur coast to the north. Most days will have some combination of relatively level riding and some hill climbing. Most of the sustained climbs (i.e. 1/2 mile or longer) are of moderate steepness (5-8%) and there are no sustained climbs that average over 10%. Each day of the SLO to Santa Barbara bike tour itinerary has the elevation gain and loss (in feet) listed. Cyclists contemplating doing the SLO to Santa Barbara bike tour should be comfortable with riding at least a few sections with hilly terrain.

Overview Map

map santa barbara cycling routes

Start and End Transportation

San Luis Obispo Area

San Luis Obispo has a regional airport (SBP) quite near town, although it is smaller and currently served by only two airlines (United and US Air). There are non-stop flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix. San Luis Obispo is also well served by Amtrak and has several trains/buses per day north toward the San Francisco Bay Area south toward Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Many people assume you can rent a car in most of the towns in SLO County, but this is not the case. There are no places to rent cars along the northern SLO County coast (i.e. Cambria, Cayucos, Morro Bay) until you get to the town of SLO itself, where most major national car rental companies are represented.

Santa Barbara Area

Similar to Monterey, Santa Barbara has a regional airport (SBA) served by several major airlines. There are non-stop flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, Portland and Phoenix. The Santa Barbara Airbus offers transportation from several Santa Barbara area locations to Los Angeles International (LAX) as well. Shuttle time is usually 2-2.5 hours. Amtrak also offers train service from Santa Barbara to the Los Angeles area.

The Journey Begins: San Luis Obispo

Discover Downtown SLO

San Luis Obispo serves as the threshold to an adventure that celebrates both the robust history and the vibrant spirit of California. Start your day with a walk through the heart of the city, where the Spanish mission-style architecture mingles effortlessly with the modern pulse of Southern California’s college town.

Must-Eat Spots for Your Culinary Adventure

SLO’s culinary scene is diverse and exuberant, with a myriad of options to please every palate. Delight in farm-to-table cuisine at one of the local eateries that champion seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. Coffee lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the country’s most dog-friendly coffee shop, Black Horse Espresso.

Outdoor Adventures in SLO County

For the outdoor enthusiasts, San Luis Obispo County offers a plethora of opportunities to connect with nature. Hike the Bishop Peak Trail for panoramic views of the county, or cycle through the Edna Valley wine region, stopping at vineyards along the way to taste the local varietals.

Cruising Down the Coast: Highway 101

Taking the Scenic Route

The drive from SLO to Santa Barbara on Highway 101 is a scenic feast for the eyes. Marvel at the dramatic cliffs that plummet into the Pacific Ocean on one side and the verdant hills that roll into the horizon on the other. Keep your camera ready for the numerous vista points and lookout places that offer postcard-perfect views of the coast.

Roadside Eateries and Pit Stops

The trip from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara is studded with eclectic roadside eateries and local food joints that are not to be missed. Indulge in fresh seafood at coastal shacks, or sample California’s quintessential fast food, In-N-Out Burger, at one of the burger chain’s iconic pit stops.

The Wonders of The West Coast: Santa Barbara

Unraveling the Santa Barbara Experience

Arriving in Santa Barbara is like stepping into a postcard scene of paradise. This coastal city, often referred to as the ‘American Riviera’, offers a compelling mix of Spanish colonial architecture, pristine beaches, and a plethora of outdoor activities.

Browsing the Funk Zone

Art aficionados and wine enthusiasts will revel in the bohemian charm of Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. This thriving arts district is home to some of the city’s most cutting-edge galleries, wineries, and breweries. The colorful murals and the free-spirited atmosphere make it a must-visit for anyone seeking a unique cultural experience.

Water Adventures Galore

Santa Barbara is a haven for marine enthusiasts. Embark on a whale-watching tour to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, or grab a paddle and explore the calm waters of the Santa Barbara Harbor by kayak.

Linger a Little Longer: Hidden Gems and Local Hangouts

Discover the lesser-known attractions and local spots that add an extra layer of charm to your SLO to Santa Barbara adventure. These hidden gems provide personal encounters with the region’s authentic spirit and offer off-the-beaten-path experiences that are sure to stay with you long after your trip concludes.

Eco-Friendly Escapes and Sustainable Tips

With the growing emphasis on responsible tourism, it’s important to make eco-friendly choices during your coastal adventure. Learn about sustainable travel practices and discover how you can enjoy the natural beauty of the SLO to Santa Barbara route while minimizing your environmental impact.

Planning Your Ideal SLO to Santa Barbara Adventure

Transportation Options

Whether you prefer the freedom of driving your personal vehicle, the efficiency of public transportation, or the adventure of cycling, there are various transportation options to consider when planning your trip from SLO to Santa Barbara. Each mode of travel offers its own unique perspective of the California coastal landscape, so pick the one that best aligns with your sense of adventure.

Accommodations Along the Way

From stylish boutique hotels to cozy beachside cottages, the accommodation options along the SLO to Santa Barbara route are as varied as the scenery. Find the perfect place to rest your head after a day of exploration and make the most of your coastal escape by booking a stay that reflects the local character and hospitality of the region.

Best Time to Travel

California’s central coast enjoys mild, Mediterranean-like weather year-round, but there are certain times that are especially enchanting for a road trip. Consider the seasons, local events, and traffic patterns to plan the ideal time for your adventure from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara.

Packing Tips for Every Adventurer

Packing can make or break a travel experience. Whether you’re preparing for a cycling tour, a beach-hopping expedition, or a day of wine tasting, make sure you’re equipped with the right gear to maximize your enjoyment and comfort.

Enhancing Your SLO to Santa Barbara Adventure

To truly savor the experience of traveling from SLO to Santa Barbara, consider adding unique activities and excursions to your itinerary. Whether it’s attending a local festival, participating in a historical walking tour, or trying your hand at a new water sport, these additional adventures will elevate your trip from great to exceptional.

In Conclusion

The road from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara is more than just a route; it’s a tapestry of experiences waiting to be unraveled. From the rustic charm of SLO to the coastal elegance of Santa Barbara, each stop along the way offers a story worth telling. Engage with the local culture, relish the natural beauty, and make memories that will last a lifetime on this quintessential California road trip. Pack your sense of adventure, fuel up your spirit, and hit the road for a Californian expedition that’s bound to leave you refreshed, revved, and ready for more.