Cycling California’s Central Coast
We highlight the magnificent stretch of coast from San Francisco south to San Luis Obispo for practical purposes:
Foremost, except for a few short sections of the ride, this section of Highway 1 winds along the coast, offering regular stunning vistas and whiffs of salty air. Secondly, this stretch can realistically be cycled by most any person in a week. Lastly, the Big Sur Coast is an area of particular interest, with its rugged breathtaking terrain, and it is not covered by public transit.
For anyone interested in and able to take the time to ride extended sections of the Pacific Coast, or for persons wanting more detailed information about this stretch of coast, see the Mountaineers Cycling the Pacific Coast (Kirkendall and Spring 1998?).
California�s Scenic Highway 1 between San Francisco and San Luis Obispo is (250-270) miles over a varied spectacular coastal terrain with generally mild weather conditions. It is worth seeing close up on a bicycle in the open air at a slow pace. At a slow average pace of 35-40 miles in a day, the route can be covered in 7 days. The moderately fit rider capable of covering 50-60 miles in a day can reduce the trip to 4 or 5 days.
- Introduction/General Description: Time of year, Number of miles, directional choice, public transit
- Accommodation: Camping, Hostels, Hotels
- Sites along the way: Beaches, Monuments, Parks, wildlife
- Services: Stores, restaurants, bicycle shops
- Terrain/Distances: Traffic, hills �nerves vs. muscles�
- Preparation: fitness training
- Gear: bike, lock, helmet, panniers
- To and From: trains, bus, equipment storage, shipping
- SOS service
- Other information: hostels.com, hiayh.com, kayaks, Cycling the Pacific Coast, cambriabikes.com, all hostel websites, stateparks camping info, elephant seals, Hearst Castle,<
- Monterey Bay Aquarium, maps.
- Daily ride summary: sites, services, notes, maps
Introduction/General Description: Time of year, Number of miles, directional choice, public transit
Considerations to be discussed below include:
- Travel direction: North to South or South to North? (winds, travel itinerary)
- Time of year
- Types of accommodation
- Gear required
Upon announcing my plan to set out on my first bicycle touring trip, a not so ambitious solo two day ride from my home in Los Angeles south to San Diego, my father looked up at me from the sofa, confused. �We have 3 cars. Why don�t you just drive?� He continued, �You could be there in 3 hours.�
On windy, rainy, long days when pedaling while cold, wet and hungry along busy dangerous deafeningly loud highways, and breathing vast amounts of black diesel exhaust fumes, I recall that moment and wonder why, indeed, not just take the car.
If you are not up for at lest a moderate challenge and occasional thrill, some diesel fumes, you want to get anywhere fast, do not waste your time thinking about cycle touring. Check out car rental agencies, train or bus schedules, or stay home.
Bicycle touring, even over relatively short distances, can be both physically and mentally challenging. Hills and distance pose physical challenge. More dauntingly, traffic and an array of unknowns, including wind and weather and road conditions, can pose an equal or more exacting mental challenge. Frazzled nerves can be more the cause of exhaust than physical exertion at the end of riding days.
Father was maybe the first but certainly not the last to question the purpose of bicycle touring. Why bother?
- Adventure: the uncertainties make an expedition out of what may otherwise be just another quick ordinary excursion
- Something different/the way less traveled: maybe you like being a contrarian and being called nuts in several different languages
- Inexpensive: No gas. No insurance. Minimal maintenance
- Green: low impact, no gas, no exhaust pollution
- Up close: slow pace means you can observe wildlife, see individual flower, feel the terrain, take advantage of the roadside tree for shade
- Practical: this trip area has no public transit
- Social: the exposed, relatively rare touring cyclist draws curious people
- Rewarding: getting somewhere under your own steam carries a reward of sense of accomplishment
- Healthy: pedaling burns calories and fat while building muscle
- Hostels from San Francisco going south: (see www.hiusa.org)
- San Francisco ( () miles)
- Montara ( miles)
- Pigeon Point ( miles)
- Santa Cruz ( miles)
- Monterey ( miles)
- Piedras Blancas: currently in development stage ( miles)
- Cambria ( miles)
- San Luis Obispo ( miles)
- Monterey Aquarium
- Kayak rentals-Monterey
- Ano Nuevo Park
- Henry Miller Museum
- Julia Pfeiffer State Park-waterfall
- Salmon Creek waterfall
- Elepant seals at Piedras Blancas
- Hearst Castle
- Wine tasting in San Luis Obispo County
- Kayak rentals-Cambria
- Whale watching
- Santa Cruz
- Cambria: Cambria Bicycle Outfitters. Center St. Cambriabike.com
- Cambria Bicycle Outfitters. Monterey.
- Foothill Cyclery. Foothill
- Transit: bus, tain, car SFO-SLO-LAX
- Luggage storage/shipping
- Equipment purchase/rental
- Bike: gears-3 front and 6 back
- Rack on bike
- Bike lock
- Panniers (appliance cart ok) back, front lowboy
- New Comoldisi Hermitage
This route offers several sleeping options from luxury to budget, including campsites, hostels and hotels/motels. Among the more off beat accommodation options: lighthouse and church hostels, yurts, hermitage and Esalen Institute. Camping might be a good choice for budget travelers carrying camping gear, especially couples or small groups traveling together, who can share gear, food supplies and cooking duty. There are a number of State Park campgrounds with hiker/biker campsites for as little as $5/person/night. Hostelling could well best suit the solo traveler or group wanting to meet other people and take advantage of self-catering kitchens and occasional perks, such as hot tubs and local tips. Hostels allow cyclists to avoid carrying bulky camping gear. Hostel dormitory beds run $20-25/person/night, and most have private rooms for a slightly higher rate. Hotels and motels may be the choice for couples wanting privacy and slightly more luxury than offered by camping and hostels. Except for a few stretches through Big Sur, there are a number of hotels and motels to choose from. Prices generally range from $80-150 for rooms along the coast.
Hostels: There are a string of hostels along the central coast. San Francisco boasts nearly 20 hostels. Going south, hostels are spaced along the coast, making convenient start and end points for daily rides, with the exception of the 100 mile stretch from Monterey to Cambria. Two hostels are in development stages in this stretch, but are not yet open.
Things to do along the way
Services: Stores, restaurants, bicycle shops
Terrain/Distances: Traffic, hills �nerves vs. muscles�
Preparation: fitness training
The 3 day rule to bicycle touring generally applies; the first three days will be hell, and then you will get used to it. If you have not trained and spent much of the day on a bicycle seat, and then done it again the next day and the next, you are likely to experience some aches and pains as your body adjusts to the bike and the routine of riding. We recommend some practice rides of the length that you intend to cover daily on your trip. Take test rides over different terrain and road conditions, if possible, to train both muscles and nerves.
Bicycling safety tips:
To and From
A primary problem with a one-way cycling trip is that the bicycle and gear, once finished with, must be transported somewhere, unless it can be picked up and dropped of at start and finish of the ride. Available options include: Amtrak trains, shipping gear, flying, Greyhound bus, car rental.
Amtrak trains offer a relatively easy way to transport bicycles and people between San Francisco, San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles. Bicycles must be placed into Amtrak bicycle boxes, available for a small fee at stations, and loaded onto luggage cars of trains. Generally, the only disassembly required is that the handlebars be turned sideways and the pedals removed from the bike. This can generally be done in a few minutes with a wrench.
Other Cycling Resources: GetActiveLA.com