Santa Barbara is a very unique place to ride a mountain bike. The mountains around SB shoot up quickly out of the ocean (~4k feet), which makes for long, challenging climbs and steep descents. Most of the trails in the area were not built with mountain bike riding in mind–so most of them are only rideable in one direction (down). Most rides in SB start with a long road or fire road climb and finish with a fast/steep descent. The front-country trails are technical–loose, rocky, and rutted singletrack with steep switchbacks are common. I’d recommend at least a trail bike on all of the frontside trails. The backcountry trails are a bit more cross-country friendly, but I still think trail/ enduro bikes are the way to go. Here’s a list of my favorite rides in the area that are relatively easy to follow (there are some really fun bushwhacking, backcountry rides that I’ve left off the list):
Little Pine (22 miles, 3700 ft climbing):
Located out in the SB backcountry, the trailhead is located off of Paradise Road. This ride starts with a long fire road climb, followed by a fast and flowy descent. This is probably the most well-built mountain bike trail in the area. This can be combined with 19 Oaks and Camuesa Connector to make for an epic ride.
19 Oaks to Camuesa Connector (13 miles, 1800 ft climbing):
Also out in the SB backcountry, this ride starts from the same spot as Little Pine. You have the choice of either following the fire road up to the start of Camuesa Connector (the same fire road that you take to start Little Pine) or you can climb up the same single track that the Little Pine ride ends with to a trail called 19 Oaks. Take a right on 19 Oaks Trail and climb up to the start of Camuesa (see map below).
Romero Canyon (9.7 miles, 2600 ft climbing):
Romero Canyon is a figure eight loop on the front side of the Santa Barbara mountains. The trailhead is near Summerland at the top of Romero Canyon Road. This ride starts with a long fire road climb and ends with a blazing fast descent. The view on this ride are spectacular (probably the best in Santa Barbara). Once you hit the decent, the top part is smooth, loose, and exposed, the bottom section through the woods is rocky and more technical.
San Ysidro (16 miles, 3830 ft climbing):
San Ysidro trail is another front country trail that drops off the the top of Camino Cielo. To get there, you can either ride up Gibralter Road or up the Romero Canyon fire road. I prefer riding up the fire road (see map below).