For a usually warm, usually busy, always beautiful half-day hike in Santa Barbara, Inspiration Point by way of the Tunnel Trail, is a great bet. Not to be confused with the Inspiration Point offshore on Anacapa Island or the hike to Inspiration Point in the San Gabriel Mountains by way of Echo Mountain, this Inspiration Point rewards hikers with stunning views of the greater Santa Barbara area, including the northern Channel Islands. It's typically buzzing with hikers, joggers, mountain bikers, and dog walkers on a sunny day and for good reason. This 3.5-mile hike climbs an attainable 800 feet, the trail is well maintained, and it offers some of the best sightseeing in the area.
Most hikers choose to approach the hike by way of the dog-friendly Tunnel Trail, though for those craving a longer day, Jesuita Trail from San Roque road is a 7.5-mile round trip. Regardless of which path you take, the sweeping vista at Inspiration Point encapsulates Santa Barbara down below and broad perspectives of the Pacific's Santa Barbara Channel and Channel Islands. That’s not to undermine the varying and interesting views peppered along the hike itself. The trail meanders through Mission Canyon, a wide draw that is punctuated with the intriguing sandstone formation named The Mission Crags. Tantalizing glimpses of the ocean move in and out of view as the trail winds up toward the summit, and along with it, vistas of the Santa Barbara wharf, and the mission style architecture of the downtown.
The hike traverses through the varied topography of the Santa Ynez Mountains. As the westernmost of the Transverse Ranges, this extremely narrow range of mountains (by mountain range standards) rises sharply in the north and drops off almost equally as dramatically on its southern edge. This young range is characterized by the abundance of exposed, craggy sandstone—it’s evident that some local climbers have established intermittent and relatively easy bouldering routes here. Also abundant are the seemingly endless sloping shale fields, upturned by the still-active Santa Ynez Fault.