Santa Barbara is claimed by many as the cyclist’s Nirvana, alongside with San Diego.
I had to travel to Santa Barbara on business and brought my bike, naturally. One day I rode up Gibraltar and then down Old San Marcos/Painted Cave. The next day I did the same loop in reverse – climbed OSM/Painted Cave and descended Gibraltar. Both times it was about a 40-miler with 6,000+ ft of elevation gain (Link to GPS/Strava routes of Day 1 and Day 2).
The views are fantastic, for San Diego riders – imagine a Palomar (along with a long mountaintop ridge) moved to La Jolla, where Mount Soledad currently is. Basically, you are almost always have a view of the ocean, and the other, eastern side of the ride has fantastic views of the mountains as well. The Gibraltar climb is longer and provides for more steady (=less difficult) climbing, but the roads are rough at places – good enough for climbing but a bit too sketchy for my taste for descending at full speed. Old San Marcos, and especially the Painted Cave section provide for some nice double-digit gradients (it is the steepest 5-mile section in SoCal, and top 5 in California – steeper than infamous 5-mile super-steep section of Mt. Baldy).
Below are some photos and a video: