The Amgen Tour of California’s Stage 5 is a hilly meandering that begins and ends in two iconic beach towns. In between, the peloton tours the best of Santa Barbara County, “America’s Riviera.” This is 138-miles of undulating hills with a few KOMs in the middle and nearly 10,000 feet for the day before a last-minute short but steep climb of 10% within the last three miles. It’s this climb that could split the leaders and propel a rider to victory in Ventura.
From downtown Pismo Beach, the race traces the shoreline along Pismo State Beach. Speeding towards the Santa Barbara County line, the peloton travels through a diverse universe of landscapes that straddle Pacific sandy beaches, undulating dunes, and expansive fields of green produce. At the town of Guadalupe, the Santa Maria River passes by before emptying into the ocean five miles to the west. The Santa Maria River defines the county border as well as marking the entry to the surreal Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. The dunes are one of, if not the, largest coastal dune system in the country – eighteen illustrious miles from Pismo Beach to Rancho Guadalupe Dunes. Collectively, the shifting dunes are known for their scenic wonders and recreational offerings like Oceano Dunes SVRA. Perhaps lesser known is their hidden Egyptian treasures that date to the Cecil B. DeMille 1923 classic The Ten Commandments. After filming, the director ordered the set be dismantled and buried. Nearly a century later, only a few artifacts have been uncovered. In Guadalupe, the peloton passes the Dunes Center, where this amazing natural and cultural resource is brought to life through exhibits and educational programs. It’s a great place to catch the race before then driving to the dunes themselves for a day’s exploration.
Beginning to climb ever more steeply, the race route heads increasingly inland along the Solomon Hills, an area known for its oil production. At the charming Chapel of San Ramon, the race delves into Santa Barbara’s famous wine country. After passing some nine vineyards along this quaint and rustic Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, the road heads into Los Olivos and overlooks of Lake Cachuma. This is the base of San Marcos Pass. Over the next four miles, the road inclines at an average of 6.7%, bestowing travelers with brilliant vistas of the Santa Ynez Valley. All the more spectacular is a gem just past the peak that is well worth a stop. Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park sits high up in the Santa Ynez Mountains overlooking the town of Santa Barbara 2,500 feet below. The Chumash people came to this sandstone cave high up in the mountains sometime before 1600 AD and painted these elaborate and colorful drawings that leave us inspired and asking more questions about this indelible past.
The AmgenTOC dives into Santa Barbara and almost immediately turns onto Foothill Road. Passing the turnoff to Gibraltar Road, riders and spectators will remember much of this path from the 2018 Tour of California. It’s a scenic, tree-shaded route through the residential hills of Santa Barbara, Montecito, and into Carpinteria. Along the way are sprawling villas and verdant gardens. One such place is Casa del Herrero - the house of the blacksmith. George Fox Steedman was a wealthy industrialist and metalworker when he moved from St. Louis to California in 1925. Inspired by Spanish and Moorish culture, he commissioned what Preservation Magazine called the “finest example of residential Spanish Colonial Revival architecture open to the public anywhere in the world.” With an eye for detail and close collaboration on every aspect of this masterpiece, Steedman built an eleven-acre Montecito treasure that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Where Casa del Herrero has a quintessential Riviera feel, the riders’ next stop is the finish in refreshing Ventura.