Here’s a fun Camp ‘n Ride, or an option if you are cycling around San Diego Bay (enCYCLEpedia Ride SD7 Option 2) and want to explore some new territory.
Sweetwater Summit Regional Park is located east of the southern San Diego suburb of Chula Vista. This San Diego County Park has a large spacious campground on top of a hill with RV hookups, adjacent to the Sweetwater Reservoir, which is not accessible to the public. A series of packed sand trails meander through the park, and down to a pedestrian bridge over the SR 125 toll freeway. This is the only hill involved in the route, and the return back up to the summit campground may be strenuous for some. The bridge leads to wide packed sand paths popular with cyclists, strollers, and equestrians, running adjacent to Bonita Golf Course and Chula Vista Golf Course, and past the town of Bonita where there are lots of restaurants. There is only one street crossing along the entire path to the sea. Road bikers stick to the main roadway, Bonita Road.
After crossing under Willow Street the path veers away from civilization and becomes a bit narrower and more isolated but also more scenic with riparian riverbottom vegetation, and resting benches. At about mile 5 this “Sweetwater Riverbottom Trail” meets a paved path. To the left leads to Bonita Road, and straight ahead continues to San Diego Bay. It emerges at Plaza Bonita Road in front of the Plaza Bonita Mall with several restaurants, where it becomes a painted path on a wide sidewalk. It veers off onto the Sweetwater Bikeway that follows the channelized Sweetwater River for 2.5 miles to San Diego Bay at National City’s Pier 32 Marina, crossing under several roadways en route including I-805 and I-5.
Near the end it crosses and becomes part of the 26-mile Bayshore Bikeway route that encircles San Diego Bay by way of the San Diego-Coronado ped/bike ferry, discussed in another blog post. The Waterfront Grill at the marina is a popular spot for cyclists with its large patio, open for lunch and weekend breakfast. At this point you’ve cycled a little under 9 miles.
Safety note: Except for the section between the campground and Bonita, this seems to be a “ride with a friend” trail because of the isolated sections in the thick brush, and homeless encampments as you get closer to Plaza Bonita. The path along the Sweetwater River has a lot of graffiti and abandoned shopping carts, and the section between the freeway and the river has no exit options. I rode it solo on a summer Saturday morning with no issues.
Europe is known for it’s extended bike trail systems like EuroVelo 6 through lovely villages, pastoral countryside, and medieval cities. The routes along pretty rivers such as the Danube attract thousands of cyclists, and easy access to rail enables hopping from place to place. Although Southern California does not offer the same wealth of cycling infrastructure, it does have its fair share of bike trails and pleasant bike routes that are conducive to touring the region on two wheels. Using its bike friendly rail system, cyclists can experience a Euro-style holiday, particularly along its spectacular coastal region that attracts visitors from the world over to its beautiful beaches and charming towns, many with Spanish-influenced architecture. A trip can last a weekend or a month, depending on schedule and budget. If being away from your car is too inconvenient, you can still use the trains to cover more ground on day trips.
My guidebook enCYCLEpedia Southern California– The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides (2nd Ed, 2017) contains detailed ride descriptions through the most scenic areas, and these are referenced throughout this article. enCYCLEpedia‘s rides are geared for the average cyclist who prefers to stay away from traffic whenever possible, and avoid high speed, dangerous, or very hilly roads.
The goal of this journey is to use the train to access the most desirable areas, and skip over the parts that are overly difficult, dangerous, or uninteresting. Based on our experiences, the zen of taking a bike on the train adds to the excitement of it all. Options are also mentioned for more advanced riders who may prefer to ride through some of those areas anyway rather than taking the train past them.
You’ll find lots of accommodation options in the featured locales, and if you prefer bike camping, many of the coastal State Parks have reservable tent sites, but they fill fast at peak times, so advance planning is required. A few also have non reservable bike-in campsites, although spaces are not guaranteed, especially on summer weekends.
The northern part of our trip (San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles) is serviced primarily by the bike-friendly Amtrak Surfliner line that runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, stopping at many of the lovely locales described. To travel on the Surfliner, you will need some advance planning, since a free reservation is required to bring your bike along. The good news is it doesn’t have to be boxed like on other Amtrak lines. From LA’s Union Station and south, lots of options open up for less expensive and more bike-friendly commuter lines.
Whistlestop 1: San Luis Obispo (SLO)
Taking the Amtrak Surfliner north from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo, or SLO Town, is a world class spectacular ride, with California coastal scenery on display between Ventura and Pismo Beach, much of which is not even accessible to the public past Santa Barbara. If you arrive in SLO from the north via Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train, it is also scenic but is not along the coast, as that would mean it would be along the Big Sur coast, which can barely handle a roadway. The Coast Starlight (between LA and Seattle) is not as bike friendly, since bikes need to be boxed and incur baggage and box fees.
SLO Town is a charming university city about 13 miles inland from the coastal town of Morro Bay. While SLO Town does not have much in the way of bike trails, it does have bike friendly streets and plenty of desirable places to sleep and eat in the vital downtown sector west of the train depot. It is a good place to spend some time to explore, provision and get oriented. You can try a wine country tour, or a popular bike route to the coast at Los Osos/Morro Bay via Los Osos Valley Road.
At the coast you can explore Morro Bay, which offers some delightful coastal riding (enCYCLE Ride MB1), and lots of accommodations (reserve for best selection in summer) and popular waterfront seafood restaurants. To its south is Montana de Oro State Park (Ride MB2), a coastal gem with a couple of great easy rides on packed dirt, some more challenging mountain biking, and spectacular hiking trails. Bike-in or reservable tent camping is available at Morro Bay, Morro Strand, and Montana de Oro State Parks.
Whistlestop 2: Grover Beach/Pismo Beach
Pubic passage south down the coast from Morro Bay is blocked by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant property, so you’ll need to ride back to SLO. Continuing south from SLO you can either ride along Class II roads adjacent to Hwy 101 (or a steep route over the hills on dirt roads) or take the Surfliner to the next stop in Grover Beach/Pismo Beach. If you cycle, your next destination can be the small, quaint beach community of Avila Beach, with the last few miles along the lovely creekside Bob Jones Trail, that will someday connect to SLO, making that a must-do stretch by bike (Ride AV1). Continue riding south to the Pismo station from Avila Beach. You can also reach Avila Beach on a scenic coastal Class II bike route north from the Pismo station if you choose that option.
Pismo Beach is the southern end of our recommended exploration in SLO County, and the train station is just south of town in Grover Beach. There’s no bike trails in town, yet, so hop on the bike lanes along Hwy 1 and head north into town (Ride PB2), past several public campgrounds, and the spot where the Monarch butterflies congregate in winter. The delightful downtown has a bunch of restaurants and accommodations. At lower tides, you can ride on the compact sands of the wide beautiful beach here, our only recommended SoCal beach ride (Ride PB1). The route north of downtown (Ride PB3) is on Class 2 lanes of a fairly busy roadway, but the ocean vistas are spectacular in places. If you chose to ride all the way south from SLO, you’ll be southbound on that route toward downtown and the Pismo station. And now, back to the Surfliner for our next destination.
Whistlestop 3: Surf Beach/Lompoc, Santa Barbara County
An optional stop, Surf Beach is the loneliest Amtrak stop along the coast, located in a beach parking lot adjacent to Vandenberg Air Force Base. You can walk for miles along the beautiful beach, but signs warn against swimming here due to two fatal shark attacks. Amtrak doesn’t stop here often, so schedule carefully.
From here you can easily ride to pretty Ocean Beach County Park at the delta of the Santa Ynez River. For grub and overnight accommodations, including hotels, B&B’s, and camping (River Park), the city of Lompoc awaits (Ride LOM1). The City of Arts and Flowers with murals on its downtown buildings is reached via a flat 9 mile ride along Class II Ocean Ave (55 mph speed), an interesting stretch when the fields of cultivated flowers are in bloom in spring and summer. Lompoc is not as appealing as some of the other coastal towns, but is a good place to restock and refresh.
Those in tip top condition may consider a road trip over substantial and steep hills and windy rural roads, to isolated Jalama County Beach, where there is a beach campground and general store and grill. If you took the Surfliner northbound you would’ve gone right by it. This would make an epic weekend trip on its own from the big city.
Another option, though risky logistically, is to take the Wine Country Express bus from Lompoc to the Danish tourist village of Solvang, and explore the beautiful Santa Barbara Wine Country in Los Olivos and Santa Ynez by bike (Ride SO1). Buses have bike racks, but can take only a couple at a time. You could also leave your bikes at your Lompoc accommodation, take the bus, and rent bikes in Solvang.
Whistlestops 4, 5, 6, 7: Goleta, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Ventura
The ride between Lompoc and Santa Barbara is very hilly and/or along the 101 Freeway, only for the most advanced riders. So, all aboard the Surfliner at Surf! The corridor between the next stops of Goleta, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria and Ventura is rideable by most cyclists, so you can pick and choose where you’d like to explore, how far to ride, and when to use the Surfliner to help you out.
From the Goleta Station, ride to the coast and explore the beautiful paths along the University of California at Santa Barbara (Ride SB2).
Class I and II routes connect to the downtown and waterfront district of Santa Barbara (Ride SB1). A scenic beachfront path passes a multitude of restaurants and accommodations there, although there is no bike camping in town. The Amtrak station is in the center of town, so if you disembark there, you can easily explore the extensive Spanish-influenced downtown and beautiful waterfront.
A Class II route leads through the tony community of Montecito, then Summerland, to the lovely low-key beach town of Carpinteria, and the next Amtrak station (Ride SB1, Option 2). Find lots of great restaurants and choice of accommodations from B&B’s to bike-in and reservable campsites at Carpinteria State Beach.
Someday there will be a bike path connecting Carpinteria to the new path to Ventura, but for now there is only a 3-mile fairly hilly on-road route. If you are willing to tackle that, the reward is the new waterfront bike path adjacent to the 101 Freeway that leads to the north end of Ventura (Ride VE4). You could also access it if you take the train directly to Ventura and ride north.
The bike path ends on the Old Rincon Hwy, a popular bike route that leads to the Ventura waterfront trail system (Ride VE1). Via that path you can access the historic downtown center, enjoy the beautiful coastline and pier, and find all sorts of restaurants and accommodations. The depot is downtown between the beach and Main Street. Bike-in and reservable camping are available at McGrath State Beach nearby in Oxnard.
From Ventura consider riding up a scenic rail trail about 16 miles inland to the lovely spa resort town of Ojai, either as a day trip and lunch stop or an overnight destination (Rides VE2 and 3). Camping is available at two county parks near the route.
Ventura is the last stop for the northern part of our adventure. Cycling south from Ventura is only for very experienced cyclists. The subsequent 50-mile coastal route first passes through the city of Oxnard, while the last 35 miles is along the busy, hilly, speedy, Coast Highway to and through Malibu. The reward is that it ends up on the fabulous 22-mile Los Angeles beach trail. But you can also access that path by taking local rail from downtown, along our rail route. So, most of you will want to hop on the Surfliner in Ventura and head to downtown LA. Or, make your way across town to Oxnard and take the more bike friendly Metrolink commuter train from that route’s western terminus (weekdays only).
Whistlestop 8: Los Angeles Union Station
Historic Union Station is an attraction in itself, but riding in downtown LA is not for the faint of heart, except perhaps early on a Sunday morning. However, if you can very securely lock up your bike and belongings, or find an accommodation nearby, it is a worthwhile area to spend some time exploring on foot, with attractions such as the touristy Olvera Street, El Pueblo de Los Angeles, Chinatown, and lots more.
From Union Station you have a choice, depending on your timing and preferences. Logistically, the easiest thing to do is hop on Metrolink’s Orange County Line, and head south to our next stop, San Juan Capistrano. Or, if you would like to experience LA and Orange County’s best and most fabulous coastal trails, joining up with the train route further south, make the following extra trip using local Metro Rail:
Extra Trip: The Urban LA and OC Coastal Paths
LA’s world renowned beach trail runs some 22 miles through Santa Monica and Venice, Hermosa, Manhattan and Redondo Beaches (Rides LA1 and 2). Metro Rail’s new Exposition Line can get you there: Take the Red or Purple lines from Union Station to meet the Expo Line, and get off at its terminus in Santa Monica. There’s no tent camping along the coast, so you’ll need hotel accommodations near the beach communities, preferably as close to the beach as possible to avoid some dicey areas and possibly dangerous street riding
Believe me you don’t want to ride between the LA beach trail through the industrial districts to Long Beach, so head back to a Metro Rail train, either the Expo Line in Santa Monica or the Green Line accessible further south. Connect to the Blue Line southbound and get off in downtown Long Beach, a bike-friendly city. Explore the world class rejuvenated waterfront area and visit the Queen Mary or Aquarium of the Pacific (Ride LO1). There’s no tent camping but find oodles of accommodations, dining and shopping.
A state of the art bike trail runs along the beach to the Belmont Shore district, a great place to stroll and dine. Explore the canals of Italian-inspired Naples Island (Ride LO2), and ride across the San Gabriel River and into Orange County and the delightful beach community of Seal Beach (Ride SE1). Carefully navigate a couple miles on the Class II Coast Highway into the community of Sunset Beach, taking the parallel residential street when able, that leads to the fabulous 8 mile Huntington Beach coastal trail (Ride HB1). Camping along here is only for self contained RV’s, so find accommodations and restaurants in Sunset Beach or halfway down the trail in the revitalized downtown core near the pier.
From the south end of the beach path connect via residential streets to the Newport Beach coastal trail that runs along the Balboa Peninsula, where you’ll find plenty of accommodations and food (Ride NB1). Take the cute 3-car ferry across to Balboa Island to continue the ride south. An expensive tent-camping option is at Newport Dunes resort in the Back Bay, a great place to get some fun riding in (Ride NB2).
Only very experienced cyclists should do the through-ride south along the coast from here. It is indeed a scenic journey, however, perhaps warranting an up-and-back ride for the first few miles. It starts with the Corona del Mar waterfront, connecting to the spectacular Crystal Cove State Park with its blufftop oceanview bike path (Ride NB3) and option to stop at the historic Crystal Cove district for lunch on the beach. Mountain bikers may be able to access a primitive campsite in the inland section of the park. The hilly coastal highway into Laguna Beach is a busy 4 lane road. Once in town, alternate routes are available through most of it (Ride LB2), but in South Laguna there are no good options to get off of the highway until you reach Dana Point, where bike lanes widen as you pass beautiful Salt Creek Beach Park, the Ritz Carlton, and the main business district. From Dana Point you can access bike trails to the San Juan Capistrano or San Clemente train stations.
Those who prefer bike paths to busy roadways should skip the route through Laguna Beach and follow the excellent paths along Newport Back Bay (Ride NB2) connecting to the San Diego Creek path inland through Irvine (Ride IR1) and end up at either the Tustin (Ride TU1) or Irvine train stations. From either station, take the Metrolink train south to San Juan Capistrano, joining those who skipped the urban coastal section and took the train directly there from Union Station, or braved the ride through Laguna Beach.
Whistlestop 9: San Juan Capistrano
The Santa Fe Depot is in the center of the restored historic Spanish downtown that includes the popular and beautiful San Juan Capistrano Mission and the Del Rio district, the oldest neighborhood in California (Ride SJ1). Bike paths lead one way into horse country, and the other way to the sea at Dana Point, another area to explore at its harbor (Ride DP1). A coastal bike trail connects to San Clemente, and coastal tent camping is available in Dana Point at Doheny State Beach and at San Clemente State Beach, atop a bluff at the south end of its lovely beach trail (Ride SC1).
Most cyclists will want to hop on the Metrolink at San Clemente’s North Beach Station for the scenic oceanfront trip south to Oceanside. More adventurous cyclists may enjoy the ride past classic surfing beaches like Trestles (Ride SC3) and perhaps ride into San Diego County through Camp Pendleton (register in advance, subject to closure) all the way to Oceanside. Tent camping is available near the north end of the route at San Onofre State Beach’s inland San Mateo or summer-only coastal Bluffs campgrounds.
Whistlestop 10: Oceanside
Oceanside is a transit hub, where LA’s Metrolink ends and San Diego’s Coaster and Sprinter train lines begin. Amtrak’s Surfliner also stops here. You can ride inland on the 9 mile San Luis Rey River Trail, visit California’s largest mission en route, and access camping at Guajome Regional Park at trail’s end. Oceanside’s waterfront has a bike lane along its beach promenade, a pier, and a revitalized downtown core.
Those who prefer to stay off of busy roadways should continue on the Coaster train to the San Diego stations. Otherwise, make your way down the very scenic Class II coastal highway through the lovely beach cities of Carlsbad, Encinitas and Solana Beach. We do this ride frequently, it’s one of our exceptions of road riding since it’s so much fun (Ride SDC1). Tent camping is available at South Carlsbad and San Elijo State Beaches. Advance reservations are needed at both, and they do not have bike-in sites.
Whistlestop 11: Solana Beach
I recommend for those who rode down the coast to hop on the southbound Coaster train in Solana Beach. After Solana Beach the train bipasses the next city, Del Mar, then heads inland. If you choose to cycle to San Diego, the route becomes extremely hilly past Del Mar, recommended for experienced and top-shape riders, who can make their way through La Jolla and reach the Mission Bay area.
Whistlestop 12: San Diego Old Town
This major transit center is adjacent to San Diego Old Town State Historic Park, a restored settlement and mega tourist attraction with lots of museums and Mexican restaurants in and around it. You’ll need to lock up and walk or wheel your bike through here, but it’s worthwhile to do so. From here, you can connect to the fabulous bike trails around Mission Bay and the boardwalk along Mission Beach/Pacific Beach, and also access Sea World by bike (Ride SD1). Tent camping is available at private Campland-on-the-Bay.
From the Mission Bay area you can ride to ritzy La Jolla (Ride SD2) and laid back Ocean Beach (Ride SD3). A Class II route leads to the stimulating bike trail along San Diego Harbor (Ride SD4). From there, a bike/ped ferry accesses the beautiful bike riding on the Coronado peninsula (Ride SD7: Cover photo – Hotel del Coronado). And, on-road bike routes lead up to the very European Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo (Ride SD6).
Whistlestop 13: Downtown San Diego Santa Fe Depot
The historic downtown depot, just a couple of blocks from the harborfront trail, is our final stop, and the best station to access the harbor ride (SD4), Coronado via the ferry (SD7) and Balboa Park/Zoo (SD6). More advanced riders can continue UP the hill to the spine of the Point Loma Peninsula to visit the spectacular Cabrillo National Monument at its tip (Ride SD5).
Return to your origin from downtown San Diego, either taking the Coaster, transfering to the Metrolink in Oceanside, or Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner the entire way.
Big Bear Lake sits ~7,000 feet above the urban valley floor in the spectacular San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. Long known as a year round recreation playground with winter ski resorts and summer lake activities, cycling has mostly been of the hard-core variety, with little to offer to the more casual cyclist… until now.
The long-established Alpine Pedal Path runs ~2.4 miles along the northeast shore of Big Bear Lake, connecting campgrounds to the Stanfield Cutoff that leads to town. It’s not flat, but it is easy enough, with plenty of gorgeous lake views and forest scenery. In summer 2017 it was widened during a re-paving project making it much better for bikes and peds to coexist. Still, weekdays are much preferred in that regard. Meanwhile, the City of Big Bear Lake has developed a system of bike routes through serene residential streets, leading to the quaint Village, the hub of dining and tourist shopping. There’s even a new bike path that parallels Pine Knot Ave.
Plans are in the works to make a better connection between Alpine Pedal Path and the rest of the city bike routes, but for now cyclists can carefully cross Stanfield Cutoff and hop on a sidewalk for a half mile to make the connection. Future plans also include a bike path from the Bear Mountain ski area all the way down to the lake and connecting to the existing bike routes, as well as bike lanes along treacherous Big Bear Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through the area. Several agencies, including the US Forest Service, CALTRANS, Riverside County and the City have been coordinating all of these projects.
The other option for casual cyclists with fat tires is the Sky Chair lift at Snow Summit ski resort that leads to a choice of a fire road or the new Skyline Trail east down the mountain, as well as other options, depending on ability. Unfortunately the lift cost has doubled in the last few years; still not too bad if you use it the whole day but the single ride cost is out of step.
We spent a month camped near the lake in July 2017, and enjoyed near perfect weather (high 70’s – low 80’s, sunny, with an occasional fun thunderstorm) while the valley below was baking. We rarely needed our truck; we just hopped on our bikes to explore the paths and new routes, which I mapped out for enCYCLEpedia’s 2nd Edition. We look forward to experiencing the great cycling here again when more of the master bike route plan has been completed.
At the east end of Los Angeles County, at the junction of Pomona, San Dimas and La Verne, lies Puddingstone Reservoir, a flood control and groundwater recharge facility that for decades has been a draw for its fishing, boating and swimming. It is surrounded by Frank Bonelli Regional Park and the huge Raging Waters water park, while the LA Fairgrounds (Fairplex), and Bracket Field small plane airport are adjacent.
East Shore RV Park (some tent sites too) has some 500 sites, although 300 of those are long term. Built in the hills above the lake, many sites have panoramic views of the lake and the San Gabriel Mountains.
At the lower, or “Unit F” Loop, two trailheads lead to our main attraction, a fairly easy bike route around the reservoir, with only a handful of manageable hills. It is a combination of paved lakefront promenades along the north and south sections of Bonelli Park, a scenic novice mountain bike trail, and a long easy scenic cruise across Puddingstone Dam. It is a 5-mile loop, or 8-9 miles if you opt to cycle on Class I/III roadways around the airport, perhaps stopping at Norms Hanger cafe for breakfast or lunch, a popular thing to do with cycling groups.
Bonelli Park has a lot of trails throughout, and much of it is more challenging mountain bike singletrack. For those who like to stick to roadways, there are both easy and difficult hilly options around the lake. East Shore RV Park is expensive, and is full well in advance most weekends. We take advantage of the 3-for-2 weekday special.
By Richard Fox, Author, enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides
It was hyped as the biggest music festival since Woodstock, and this baby boomer who grew up on Rock and Roll and just barely missed Woodstock (my parents wouldn’t let my older brother take me at 12 years old to the venue that was 60 miles away) was reeled in hook line and sinker. My partner Steve and I live in Palm Desert, and have resisted going to Coachella and Stagecoach over the years, but I couldn’t pass up this amazing lineup, even though I had seen them all before so couldn’t call it a “bucket list” event. I purchased reserved seats for Weekend One when they went on sale in May at $1,100 (incl. fees) each. Although not general admission, they were the “cheap seats” in the grandstands, compared to the $1,700 seats closer up. General Admission tickets were around $400, but we didn’t want to have to arrive early and wait in the hot sun to get a good seat, which were all inferior to the reserved seats, the stage being just a blip in the distance for them. All summer I wondered if I had made a mistake and been a victim of hype spending so much money on one concert festival. As it turns out, it was all worth it, as we had the most enjoyable weekend in recent memory.
Logistics of getting to a massive event (70-80,000 folks expected) was a concern, but as avid casual cyclists we decided to try and ride our bikes to the event. The venue maps that came in the Desert Trip box with the tickets (along with the 3D view master) showed designated color-coded routes and bike parking areas; it looked simple. On Day 1, we visited friends that live near the northeast corner of the venue, left the car there and biked in. It was a nice and flat ride, only a couple of miles. However none of the many people directing traffic knew where to direct bikes. There was supposedly a “Yellow Path” starting near Madison and 49th, but we never found it. Instead, we rode with cars through the very dusty dirt Platinum lot, for those that had purchased the $1,700 tickets. We were told to lock our bikes to a fence near the venue entry, and we went in with the VIP ticket holders, a short distance from the main venue. Security was tight, with no liquids allowed, similar to airport security, only empty bottles with water fill up stations inside. They had metal scanners and guards with wands. I was glad for the extra security, as this event would seem to be a high profile target.
Once inside we saw a row of diverse food stands, all with long lines. We got large slices of Spicy Pizza for $7 each, which were delicious and turned out to be one of the best values in the venue. Our seats were in the north grandstands, about 2/3 back and 1/3 up in the giant structure. I was disappointed that the floor section was so wide that the grandstands were much farther from the stage than in a typical arena. Even those with $1,700 grandstand seats were not that close. However, we liked our position being able to see the stage, all the giant screens, fireworks that erupted at the end of each night’s performances, and across to the entire venue, the psychedelic lit carousel, desert sky, and the moon after dark. We needed binocs to see the performers in person, although they were shown on the giant screens, except for Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd show, where all the front screens were reserved for special effects; only the screens facing the general admission section showed the performers. The sound was great, loud but not deafening, and the seats were padded with backs and fairly comfortable.
Bob Dylan started on time, much to the chagrin of many who were caught in gridlock traffic on the first night. Even some of the shuttles were stuck for hours, with people missing part or all of the Dylan show. Neither of us are big fans of Dylan’s voice, although I respect his songwriting and poetry as one of the all time greats. I was hoping he wouldn’t do the set list of his current tour, which included Sinatra covers, and he didn’t. Instead he gave us many of the classics including Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (and yes the smell of pot wasn’t uncommon in the venue). Interesting black and white videos were displayed on the three huge building-sized screens behind the stage, showing 60’s scenes, cars, highways (to Highway 61) and lots of birds. He never spoke to the audience, and just left the stage when he was done, although those in front realized what was happening and generated enough applause to call him back for a Masters of War encore (the lucky Weekend Two people got Like a Rolling Stone instead, but not with Mick Jagger, a duet that was on my wish list and even seemed like a requirement for this event! The Stones did a great version of it on their Stripped acoustic live album). During the first break between acts, I was glad that Golden Voice had provided enough high end air conditioned bathroom trailers so that there was no waiting. Food lines were once again long, but soon enough we had spent $27 on a couple of tacos and bowl of chile verde from the Jackalope Ranch stand, putting our food total for the evening at $41.
The Rolling Stones came on next with a flurry of flashing lights and “Ladies and Gentleman the Rolling Stones!” announcement. Mick Jagger was in top form and the show proved to be phenomenal. I melted hearing the cowbell intro to Honkey Tonk Woman, and was blown away by the back to back Gimme Shelter with an amazing female vocalist pitching in, and Sympathy for the Devil, with Mick in his smoking jacket backed by a huge devilish pulsating video screen. Encores included a choir singing the intro to You Can’t Always Get What You Want, and of course Satisfaction. I went away thoroughly pleased with our first day of Desert Trip. We exited easily, hopped on our bikes, and rode through the parking lots, along the closed lanes of Monroe, and back to our car in our friends’ driveway. The ride back was much easier and less stressful since we knew where we were going and didn’t have a concert deadline. We were then caught in about 15 minutes worth of traffic backups in the car getting out of the area, not too bad.
On Day 2 we decided to ride our bikes directly from Lake Cahuilla Regional Park, where we were staying in our RV. (Featured photo, Steve with Desert Trip T-shirt getting ready to leave). We reserved a spot as soon as rumors of the festival emerged, as this camp books solid during festivals, and even has a shuttle stop. Although 5 miles away and not as convenient as staying in the RV on site, the cost of $120 for 4 nights contrasted to $1,000+ for staying at the venue with electric hookups. Lake Cahuilla is a public park, whereas most of the private campgrounds in the region gouge for Coachella festival weekends. Tent campers, however, can stay in a 10’x30′ spot at the venue for tent and car for $100, although you can’t take your car out for the 4 days and have to rely on shuttles (or bike!) to get around the area or use the venue’s general store for supplies.
It was 98F on Saturday when we rode in to the festival around 4-5 pm. We rode slowly, mostly on safe sidewalks along Madison Street with shade, and it worked out well, we weren’t drenched in sweat upon arrival. The “Green” ped/bike route to the venue starting at Madison and 52nd was easy to follow, although the route was on packed sand and grass, fine for our Townies but no picnic if you had a skinny-tired bike. We had to take our bikes through a preliminary security checkpoint (water, food and alcohol allowed since it’s the security level for the campgrounds), then continued riding. We locked our bikes to a row of bike racks located where they were labeled on the venue map, and started walking. After a while we saw a sign that said “Bikes This Way.” It turns out the bike parking area for the Green Path was just outside the main venue entrance. We could have saved about a quarter mile of walking had we known from any of the employees that watched us lock our bikes there, or if the map had been labeled properly. After the concert though, the way was so packed with pedestrians that we would’ve had to walk our bike much of the way anyway.
We wandered around the grounds. There was not a whole lot to do besides buy food or merchandise, ride the ferris wheel, or visit the giant rock and roll photography exhibit tent, which had a long line to get in. Since the food stand lines were fairly short around 5:30, we spent $26 on a Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich and a way overpriced bowl of fried rice.
Neil Young’s show started 30 minutes later than the advertised 6:15 start time. Neil and his band Promise of the Real were incredible. Neil was in top voice as he played a mix of classics, especially from the Harvest album, a thrilling 22 minute superjam to Down by the River, and several newer well done socially conscious songs, ending with Keep on Rocking in the Free World. During intermission we had another slice of Spicy Pizza (food total now $40 for the evening) and got together with a childhood friend that I used to go to lots of concerts with in the 70’s, and his wife. I hadn’t seen them in 25 years but had recently re-connected via Facebook. It was apropos and fun to reminisce about old times during this monumental celebration of classic Rock and Roll, really adding to the total experience of the weekend.
Steve and I had seen McCartney in 2002, which was one of the biggest concert thrills ever, it was like being at a Beatles concert. This time though his voice had weakened significantly. It was still great to hear the master Macca do his songs from A Hard Days Night to Blackbird and Band on the Run, sing along to Hey Jude, and watch all the special graphics and the explosions to Live and Let Die, but the highlight was when Neil Young came on stage to duet on A Day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance and Why Don’t We Do it in the Road. This was the only collaboration during Week One, despite rumors of guest stars like Eric Clapton and Bono. Guest stars weren’t needed though, the shows were great just as they were. Weekend two attendees were treated to Rihanna singing a duet with McCartney.
By the time we had walked all the way to our bikes and gotten out of the venue and onto Madison Street heading south, it was past 1:00 AM. I was concerned about riding in the bike lanes at that hour on a Saturday night, so I stuck to the sidewalks, which was a bit of a challenge at night, but doable with my bike light. Steve got fed up and just rode the bike lanes. We found it a “moment of zen” to have just ridden our bikes back and forth to the show with no vehicles, although we were very tired after the long day/night and not a lot of sleep the night before.
On Day 3, we spent the day with my childhood friends, having a lovely brunch at Lulu’s in Palm Springs. Temps were the warmest yet, near 100F, helping sway our decision to forget the bikes and just carpool with our friends from their AirBnB rental in Palm Desert. They had found easy access to Lot 2A (free with admission) by going south on Jefferson and turning left on 50th Street, and we got in around 4:00pm with no traffic. The walk from there along the Red Path was long, but a good way to burn off some calories. For those not up for walking, bicycle cabs provided rides along the path. Once inside, the line to the photography exhibit was very long once more, but then someone came by and said “There’s no waiting if you go in the side entrance.” So we did. It was an extensive and fascinating exhibit of all the performers from the 60’s to the present.
We explored the food booths behind the General Admission area, which were even more interesting than those behind the grandstands. Lines were about 10 minutes long, and we had a delicious chicken aoli sandwich and date bacon whole wheat flatbread ($27).
This was my favorite day of music. The Who played all greatest hits including several songs in a row each from Quadraphenia and Tommy, most of my favorite Who album, Who’s Next, and a bunch of 60’s oldies. Roger Daltrey hit almost all of his trademark notes, and Pete Townsend was in a feisty mood, playing a mean guitar as well. I enjoyed this performance much more than in 1997 when I saw their Endless Wire tour show at the Hollywood Bowl. Intermission was once again spent reminiscing with my old friends, leading up to the highlight of the weekend for both of us, Roger Waters’ Best of Pink Floyd set. The venue rumbled with surround sound of a beating heart, helicopters, trains, sirens, alarm clocks, and beautiful spacey music, while amazing graphics displayed on the giant screen, including the Animals album cover stadium sized factory with smokestacks and steam coming out of them. They played most of the albums Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and selections from The Wall (with kids singing on Another Brick in the Wall) and Animals, including an over the top condemnation of Donald Trump as a giant floating pig, which angered some in the crowd, like the man in front of us who shouted a few “What about the Lies?” (ie Hillary) before he stormed out (g’bye!). Waters’ band has a David Gilmour sound-alike singer and two Sia-looking backup singers who wailed on The Great Gig in the Sky.
They concluded with the Dark Side of the Moon finale Brain Damage/Eclipse, followed by Vera and Bring the Boys Home, a Roger Waters Poem and one of my favorites, Comfortably Numb. Meanwhile the moon had moved across the sky from one side of the venue to the other. It was a stellar end to a stellar weekend. Weekend Two folks were treated to a super full moon under which to enjoy the Dark Side of the Moon spectacle, but hey, we got see the actual dark side of the moon the previous week! We were on such a (natural) high, not wanting the evening to end, that we went to the nearest 24 hour restaurant, IHOP, for more laughter and reminiscing with our old friends. There were a lot of people with concert wristbands in there, as well as other restaurants across the valley throughout the two weekends, indicating the economic impact these festivals have on the local economy during the shoulder seasons. Concert goers had to leave their wristbands on throughout the time of the festival.
It took a day or so for this 59 year old to recover from the excitement of the event, the amazing music, camaraderie, late nights (4AM the last night) and little sleep, however, I don’t feel like an “Oldchella” person by any means. If anything this experience revitalized me, and the energy of the performers proved that they are going to rock ’til they drop.
I do recommend biking to the festivals at the Polo Grounds if possible. However the problem with taking your bike may be where to park your car if you’re not staying within reasonable biking distance. If you have friends who live in the vicinity who don’t mind you parking at their place, that’s a good option. Or, if you are staying in an accommodation in La Quinta/Indio /Indian Wells, you can find bike routes leading from there. Keep in mind you will be riding home late at night in the dark, so make sure to have the best bike light possible and ample rear light, and take them with you into the venue to prevent theft. I don’t trust drivers on the road late at night, so I will always stick to the sidewalks. Try to notice any sidewalk hazards along the way when you ride to the show in daylight so you can avoid them when it’s dark. It goes without saying, don’t drink too much! It’s unsafe, and actually illegal to bike drunk, so if you plan to drink, consider Uber /Lyft or buy a shuttle pass (in advance) instead. In the future the CV Link Bike Trail will run through the region along the Whitewater River, and I hope festival promoter Golden Voice participates in creating a safe route from the trail to the venue, about 3 miles south of its closest point. A connecting path along the Coachella Canal may do the trick, and while they are at it they can continue that path to Lake Cahuilla!
Cape Disappointment State Park is a gem, situated at the southwest corner of Washington State near Long Beach, where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean. A jetty built in 1917 to aid in shipping navigation resulted in the formation of most of the land comprising the lowlands of the park, including the campgrounds and the beautiful sandy ocean beach. Dramatic Cape Disappointment and North Head lighthouses stand sentinel over the entrance to the Columbia and the region known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific” because of the over 2,000 shipwrecks that have occurred in this area.
This very popular park near the resort area of Long Beach contains a large campground for RV’s with hookups or tents. We explored the park by bike, riding along the firm sands of the beach, then up past “Waikiki Beach” and several installations of the Confluence Project, which features structures replicating those used by Native Americans. The return ride is through the idyllic park road for a total of about 5.5 very scenic and flat miles.
Following is a video of our experience from May 2016.
Those wanting more of a challenge can ride on the hilly roadways to the two lighthouses.
Nearby is the 8.5 mile Discovery bike/hike Trail, that runs mostly behind sand dunes and through forest between Ilwaco and Long Beach, skirting the State Park but not connecting to the park’s flat coastal section. We will be exploring that trail on our next visit to the area. In the meantime, here is a nice description of it: http://outdoorsnw.com/2012/escapes-long-beach-wash/
Perhaps the most popular cycling route in San Diego County is the coastal highway between Oceanside and Del Mar. On weekends and holidays hordes of cyclists zip up and down the roadway, enjoying the ocean vistas and breezes. Riding southbound, the blue Pacific is ever present on your right and wide bike lanes make the route fairly safe. The terrain is mostly flat except for a view manageable grades. Navigating through the coastal cities is a bit trickier, but they have all installed either bike lanes or sharrows to help you along, and you can often escape down side streets to get off the main road. We also tend to duck into the two State Park campgrounds that run for long distances parallel to the roadway.
Steve and I started the New Year by cycling from Oceanside to Encinitas, a casual 14 mile ride. We started by following the Rail Trail route, a 44- mile work in progress as a combination of trails and on-road bike routes. It served us well through Oceanside, however in South Carlsbad we opted to stay along the coast rather than heading inland to follow that route. We stopped at the South Carlsbad State Beach campground and watched from the seaside cliffs as dolphins surfed the waves next to the humans. Weather was sunny and brisk but perfect for cycling.
Dining choices are endless as you cycle through Carlsbad, South Carlsbad, and Encinitas, each with its own train station which is handy if you’d like to do a one-way ride. We love train travel, so it adds more fun to our bike trips. Farther along, Solana Beach has a station, but after that the next coastal station is downtown San Diego. Certain Amtrak Surfliner trains stop at all stations, but a free reservation is required to take your bike along. The local Coaster line welcomes bikes on all of its trains. Look for a car with a bike insignia, which indicates it has spaces for two bikes. The fare between Oceanside and Solana Beach is only $4 since it is considered one zone. Weekend and holiday schedules are reduced, so some advanced planning is required.
We met friends for an al fresco lunch at Lobster West in Encinitas, and started the New Year with their delicious lobster rolls. We then boarded a Coaster train and returned to Oceanside in about 20 minutes, in time for a spectacular sunset at the beach there. What a fantastic way to start the New Year!
The easy scenic cycling adventures of Richard Fox, author of the 2014 (2nd Ed 2017) guidebook "enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides."