You don’t have to go far in Santa Barbara to find a great spot to climb. (I once had a perfect 14-foot boulder right outside my dorm room window!) However, if you’re new to the sport or if you’re simply looking for new challenges, it can be tricky to know which of those thousands of rocks out there are worth your time. RootsRated has assembled a list of 5 spots to explore ranging in difficulty so there’s something here for everyone.
Just because it’s inside doesn’t mean it’s not adventurous! After opening last year, the Santa Barbara Rock Gym has been a huge success among locals as it brings new people to the sport and provides a great place for veterans to hone their skills. If you haven’t climbed anything since the playground in 3rd grade, you’ll want to start out here. The Rock Gym is the safest environment for climbing with helpful staff and plush crash-pad floors. But that’s not to say it won’t be challenging for even the best climbers out there. With a variety of both bouldering and roped routes, this gym is one of the best places for climbers to train on routes at or above their skill level. After just a few weeks of problem solving and crimp-strengthening at the gym, you’ll be surprised how much more you can handle on real rock.
2. Lizard’s Mouth and the Rock Playgrounds
Stunning sunset views, secret caves, and dozens of boulders – no wonder locals so aptly call this area the “rock playground.” Lizard’s Mouth, which has a 20ft cave traverse in the “mouth,” is the crown jewel of the area and a popular destination for many, but the network of trails just off the side of the road leads to any number of new climbs ranging from V0-V8 in difficulty. Bring a crash pad for all the bouldering, but you’ll also find a couple less-popular top-rope routes. Stay for sunset. The view is incredible.
3. Painted Cave
Another excellent bouldering location , the rocks hang over Painted Cave Road, requiring no hike-in; you can’t miss them. The spot is just below the historic site of Chumash cave paintings, which are over 800 years old, hence the name. Climbing here is somewhat limited with only 3 main boulders, but the views and the drive add adventure to the whole experience. Who knows, you could be following the same routes that Chumash Indians used to climb! Like other spots, there are plenty of different levels of difficulty here, but the poster route here is “Heavy Traffic,” a V4 that goes directly over the road (spotters and traffic control are a necessity).
About halfway up Gibraltar Road on the way to East Camino Cielo (15 minutes from downtown), Gibraltar Rock offers 4-5 excellent trad climbs ranging from 60’-100.’ As is usual in Santa Barbara, the views are fabulous, but the climbs here are even more exciting. The easiest route is a 5.6 called Mid-Face, and the most spectacular and challenging is called “The Nose” on the southwest corner of the rock.
Approximately 45 minutes from Santa Barbara on the scenic highway 33 from Ventura to Ojai, Wheeler Gorge provides an excellent half to full day trip for a truly unique climbing destination. Two features really set this area apart from the rest: the climbs all start from the creek bed; usually the water is pretty low and you climb very close to the road near three tunnels adding thrill for the climber and drawing attention from car traffic. With three types of rock and plenty of routes, you can get a variety of experiences in just one location here if your calluses allow. The area also has some great camping, and if you drive through Ventura be sure to stop at the Surf Brewery .