We’ve given it a two difficulty rating, but it’s an easy two: nearly 80 km and 870 m of climbing. For that, you get many of the region’s highlights. If you’re not up for one of our longer wine country routes and you’re looking for bang for your buck, this is the ride for you.
There’s also a fabulous coffee shop half way around.
For a shorter wine country ride, look at this: Wine country cycling (route 1): Happy and Ballard canyons.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
It’s very difficult to pick the best bits of this ride. It’s rare that we say that, but Zaca Station Road, Foxen Canyon Road, Alisos Canyon Road and Drum Canyon Road are all awesome.
You get varied views through vines, forests, horse ranches and open fields of grass. You’re surrounded by distant mountains, and the ride is interspersed with pretty towns with good coffee shops.
1. Santa Ynez to Zaca Station Road to Foxen Canyon Road: 0-19 km
It’s an easy warm up out of Santa Ynez, to the charming village of Los Olivos. You could head out of town on Foxen Canyon Road, but you’ll have 9km of Foxen later on, so we prefer to mix it up and take Zaca Station Road instead.
It’s a wonderful road with wide, open views across grassy fields to mountains in the distance. Ground squirrels cavort around the trees, and it’s blissfully quiet. Just before you meet Foxen Canyon Road, you come across a small, unmanned oilfield with pumpjacks peacefully nodding away. They dot the landscape in this part of the world, but they’re still a surprising sight for those not from oil-rich areas.
2. Foxen Canyon Road to Alisos Canyon Road to Los Alamos: 19-43 km
Foxen Canyon Road is a treat. It may get some wine tasting traffic on weekends, but when we rode it, it was quiet and picturesque, gently ascending through vineyards interspersed with woodland and mountain views. It gets even quieter as you turn up Alisos Canyon Road. There’s a short uphill and then a gradual downhill through the tranquil valley.
A bumpy, poorly surfaced private road takes you beside the 101 into Los Alamos. If you’ve got time for a treat, stop at Bob’s Well Bread.
3. Los Alamos to Drum Canyon Road to Santa Ynez: 43-79.5 km
The climb up Drum Canyon Road starts as soon as you leave Los Alamos.
Over the whole of the 15km climb and descent, we saw just one car and a handful of hikers. It’s gradual, to begin with, but soon gets steeper, though it never gets over 9% and the average is around 5.5%.
What’s more difficult is the road surface which is consistently bumpy and broken. Take care, especially on the otherwise glorious descent. Once you’re off the mountain proper, the road surface improves, and there’s a fantastic couple of kilometres of straight road, gently sloping downhill, which is huge fun to ride.
The 18 km back to Santa Ynez on the 246 won’t be the highlight of your ride, but at least there’s a decent shoulder to ride in. If you want to avoid an 8.5 km section and add an additional 11km to your ride, turn up Ballard Canyon Road into Los Olivos and then back the way you came at the start of the ride, to Santa Ynez.
You could stop at one of the many cafés or restaurants in Los Olivos, but only 9 km into your ride it might be a bit early!
Los Alamos is the obvious place for a break, and we totally recommend a visit to Bob’s Well Bread.
Los Alamos is a tiny village with a vintage, Old-West feel to it. Bob’s Well Bread feels slightly incongruous in such low key surroundings: it’s an artisan bakery located in a refurbished 1920s gas station. Vintage pieces mix with touches of stone, wood and steel. It’s owned and run by Bob Oswaks, onetime president of worldwide marketing at Sony Pictures Television. He’s done a good job.
Order a Stumpdown cold brew and a cinnamon raisin brioche french toast, take a seat outside under the trees by the petanque court and enjoy. Feeling more peckish? Try a savoury hot breakfast dish like the Egg-in-a-Jar, a mason jar layered with purple potato purée, topped with gruyère cheese, poached egg, bacon lardons, chives and crème fraiche. But do bear in mind you’ve still got to climb Drum Canyon… On which note, take advantage of the self-service filtered water fountain opposite the service counter, before continuing on your way.
We stayed at the excellent Farmhouse at MK Ranch, between Santa Ynez and Los Olivos. We loved our stay; it was a highlight of our holiday. We stayed in the three-bedroom house, but there’s also a one-bed option available.
Alternatively, take a look at more of our accommodation suggestions in our ultimate guide to Santa Barbara County for cyclists.
If you’re still not sure, our best towns for cyclists in Santa Ynez valley article should help you narrow down the best town for you.
Foxen Canyon Road gets additional wine-tasting related traffic at weekends. Also take particular care on the 246.
The road surface on Drum Canyon is very bad. Take care.
This ride can also be ridden in reverse, which might suit you if you’d rather get the section on the 246 between Santa Ynez and Drum Canyon Road out of the way first. It also means you’ll do Drum Canyon before you get to Los Alamos, which means you’ll be even better able to justify a stop at Bob’s Well Bread. If you do do this, take extra care on the descent to Los Alamos (the asphalt is terrible).
Read our tips for cycling in Southern California before you set out.
Click here for our complete guide to planning a cycling holiday in Santa Barbara County.
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- Don’t miss our other ride guides on Santa Barbara County: see the related rides section above.
- Check out our ultimate guide to cycling Santa Barbara County and other articles on the region, below.
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