The horrible Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to people around the world, while Mother Earth has been able to breath a sigh of relief as our skies and waters have been the cleanest in years.
Southern Californians have been sheltering in place since late March 2020 to avoid overwhelming hospitals with Covid-19 cases, but have been allowed to exercise out of doors in small groups. Along the coast beaches have been closed because of dangerous overcrowding conditions. Out in the desert however crowds are much lower, as the snowbirds have fled, festivals and all tourist activities cancelled, and hotels and B&B’s shuttered. For a while the golf courses were closed as well, but they were eventually re-opened with safety precautions in place.
While the golf courses were closed, many of them allowed local residents to use them as parks for strolling and biking. I rode the cart paths in the golf community where I live for the first time in my 9 years of living here, and that was pleasant. However another nearby course called Desert Willow is the most beautiful in the desert, with rolling hills of native vegetation, lakes, waterfalls, expansive lush fairways, and being the high point in the Coachella Valley, panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The colorful desert fauna, blue skies, and fresh mountain snows from an unusually heavy April snowstorm combined to make this as beautiful a place as any. Perhaps you were able to cycle or stroll on a closed nearby golf course as well?
Desert Willow is a Palm Desert municipal course that contains two 18-hole courses, the original Mountain View course and the newer spectacular Firecliff course. Golf cart paths meander around both courses, resulting in a 12-mile paved bike trail when the course was closed. Although it became a fairly popular place to walk, there were only a handful of bikes taking advantage of it and the walkers were spread out nicely on the paths or fairways and did not create much of a hindrance to cyclists.
I rode the paths 8 days straight from when I learned about the possibility to when the course sadly (for me) re-opened. It was akin to having a fantasy bike park nearby, and I rode up to 20 miles at a time, taking in the vistas and watching the wildlife including road runners, a coyote (not chasing a road runner thankfully), colorful birds like the Vermillion Flycatcher and Scott’s Oriole, California Quail, giant lizards, and lots of bunnies. It was a “once in a lifetime” experience I shall never forget. Here are some photos from the experience.
The only sport taking off faster than bicycling in Southern California is pickleball, that wacky, fun, addicting combination of tennis, badminton, racquetball and ping pong. While popular with all ages, it’s the senior citizens that are embracing it the most enthusiastically. With courts one quarter the size of tennis courts, it has a similar feel, but with less ground to cover, and the required underhand serve is much easier on the shoulder. It is more frenetic than tennis, however, and seniors have been getting injured fairly regularly, with pulled muscles and other injuries. That’s certainly not scaring too many away though, and pickleball courts are springing up everywhere to meet the demand.
Being able to combine your pickle with an easy scenic bicycle ride makes for the perfect day, especially if you bike to an al fresco lunch or brunch afterwards. It serves as a good cross training warm up for one’s muscles as well. Or, do what I do and bring your bike with you and use it as a starting point for your ride. If one of you wants to ride and the other wants to pickle, knowing which courts are close to bike rides is helpful.
Many communities with HOA’s, resorts, etc. have courts open to just their residents, but others are open to the public, some for free, some run by clubs that charge a membership or daily fee. This article highlights some of SoCal’s most popular public pickleball facilities with notable easy scenic bike rides nearby. These are mostly outdoor, although you can also find indoor courts in public recreation buildings in many cities.
The bike rides are referenced from my book enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides (2nd Ed 2017) and most of the pickleball facilities are plotted on the downloadable maps available to book owners at enCYCLEpedia.net.
The DESERTS The Coachella Valley is overflowing with senior snowbirds starting late October, peaking in February-March-April, then fading into May through the hot summer. Year round residents still play in the hot seasons, but need to either start at the break of dawn, or try one of the several indoor public gym facilities.
Palm Springs (enCYCLEpedia Rides PS1,2,3): Demuth Park is the only game in town for outdoor play, with 12 permanent courts. It’s popular most mornings, especially Saturdays, and most late afternoons as well, making pickup games a cinch. It is located along Mesquite Blvd, east of El Cielo, along the Tahquitz Creek bike loop (PS3). In fact a new state of the art path, a CV Linker that will connect to the valley-wide CV Link path in the future, runs along the south perimeter of Demuth Park (photo). There are also indoor facilities in the Demuth Park Community Gym and in North Palm Springs, with two courts at the Desert Highland Unity Center.
Rancho Mirage (Ride RM2): Two very nice new courts are located in Rancho Mirage Park along San Jacinto Dr north of The River center. This is more of a BYO situation with no set play times.
Palm Desert: Freedom Park is a public facility with 8 courts located along Country Club Drive west of Washington. In peak season it’s easy to get a pick up game here in the mornings. There’s no specific enCYCLEpedia rides here, but it is easily accessed from other rides such as RM1,2 or PD2 via the Country Club sidewalks or bike lanes. Across Country Club is Palm Desert Resorter, a private club that is the largest pickleball community in the desert, most popular with higher level players. Palm Desert Community Center has a gym facility with indoor pickleball courts, available for a drop-in or modest annual fee. It is in Palm Desert Community Park, one of the highlights of Rancho Mirage/Palm Desert bike tours.
La Quinta (Rides LQ1, 2, 3): The very popular Fritz Burns Park has 8 permanent courts located at the southeast corner of Eisenhower and 52nd, a few blocks south of Old Town La Quinta, and at the base of La Quinta Cove. Even if you don’t ride to here, bring your bike and enjoy a cruise up the Bear Creek Trail afterwards, or to other La Quinta locales, with lots of Bike ‘n Brunch options available in Old Town. One day in peak winter season it was so crowded I went for a 20 minute bike ride while waiting for my paddle to come up, and still had to wait 5 minutes.
Indian Wells (Ride IW1, LQ3, PD2): The world-renowned Indian Wells Tennis Garden offers pickleball drop-in play several days a week ($5). Either ride in on the paths off of Warner Trail to the west entrance bike racks, or if that entrance is not available, such as during the National Pickleball Championships in November (participants only are allowed in that entrance), ride around on the north service road to the main entrance off of Washington to the bike racks in front of the box office.
THE COAST SAN DIEGO COUNTY
Coronado (Ride SD7): This is one of the ultimate bike ‘n pickle places, with scenic flat Coronado for great riding, and two pickleball options. The Coronado Marriott has six good permanent courts and a couple of temporary nets, with peak times Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. A $5 drop in fee gets you access to the courts and rec center locker room, with 2-hour validated parking ($10/hr after that, though that’s been inconsistent. To be safe park on the adjacent street). The waterfront bike trail passes nearby as well, about ¼-mile south of the ferry landing from downtown San Diego, so even if you don’t ride to here, bring your bike by all means. You can go for a short jaunt, a cruise down the Silver Strand rail trail, or book it all the way around the bay using the ferry to return. The other pickleball facility is at 555 6th Avenue, with 8 temporary courts put up Wednesday eve and Saturday afternoon ($4).
Santee (Ride SD12): There’s a paucity of outdoor public pickleball in south San Diego County, so Big Rock Park gets packed when its 8 temporary outdoor courts are set up. From here you can easily ride to the east entrance of Mission Trails Regional Park, west on Mission Gorge Road, without having to ride up and over the big hill to the main entrance. Mountain bikes give you the most options here. There are also trailheads at Big Rock Park itself into another section of the park, mostly for hiking though.
Encinitas: Bobby Riggs Racket and Paddle club (drop-in’s welcome ($5) has 12 courts featuring clinics, lessons and organized play. However, it is over a mile inland from the coastal route (SDC1) in south Encinitas, at 875 Santa Fe Dr, with a so-so busy class 2 road to access it by bike. You could always bring your bike, then afterwards drive to the coast for that very scenic ride. Or take your bike on the Coaster and ride to the club. https://www.bobbyriggs.net/
Carlsbad: (Ride SDC1) Poinsettia Community Park in Carlsbad has 6 new state of the art open-play permanent courts with no fee. From South Carlsbad State Beach, ride east up Poinsettia Road. After I-5 turn left on Paseo Del Norte, right on Camino de las Ondas, left on Hidden Valley Rd to the park on the left at #6600. This route is hilly but bike-friendly.
Also in Carlsbad, St. Michaels Church near town center has two popular drop in courts, 2 blocks from the ocean. Enter off Beech west of Carlsbad Blvd. $5.
Oceanside (Ride OC1): Melba Bishop Recreation Center in east Oceanside is a very popular facility, with 8 courts open most mornings ($4). It can be reached from the fabulous San Luis Rey River Trail at the College Ave crossing. It’s across the river, then back to the east on North River Road. Ride to the beach in 8 miles from here, and in the afternoon, the breeze will most likely be with you heading inland to the courts.
San Marcos : Innovation Park has 4 popular permanent courts at 1151 Armorlite Dr. (No fee). Courts are open daily but for drop in try the designated mornings. The Inland Rail Trail (Ride SMR2) runs near the park, and there is a Sprinter train station nearby, which runs between Oceanside and Escondido. The rail trail is accessible from bike routes around Cal State San Marcos and the city’s bike trail system (Ride SMR1).
ORANGE COUNTY San Clemente (Rides DP1, SC1, 2, 3, SJ1): The very active San Clemente pickleball community plays at San Gorgonio Park, up a big hill, which is no biggee if you have an e-bike. From El Camino Real at the San Clemente – Dana Point border, head up Camino Capistrano, and make your way UP Vaquero and Calle Vista Torito to the park in less than a mile. Don’t miss out on bike riding here, though, as trails connect from San Clemente through Dana Point to eastern San Juan Capistrano.
Laguna Niguel (near Rides SV1, 2, 3, 4): The Laguna Niguel Pickleball Club organizes very popular drop-in play at Community Roots School with 8 courts split roughly by ability, so all are welcome every morning. It’s located up a small hill off Crown Valley on Adelanto, and then a long walk behind baseball fields to the courts. Nearby, Laguna Niguel Regional Park has four permanent drop in courts, but no organized play. Ride SV2 connects that park with Salt Creek Beach via a hilly route. SV2 also connects to the Aliso Creek Regional Trail (SV1) and Aliso Woods Canyon road and mountain bike area (SV3,4). Perhaps drop off a non-pickling cyclist at the north end of SV1 (Aliso Creek Trail) at Cooks Corner and they can cruise all the way down to meet or join you.
Irvine (New Ride IR4): The new Portola Springs Park in the Great Park district of northeast Irvine has 6 pickleball courts with no fee. By bike take Portola Pkwy northeast from Sand Canyon (side trail or bike lane) to Pearblossom. Turn left on the road or take paths up to the park. This is a fairly hilly but not daunting route, though e-bikers will be happiest.
Tustin (Near Rides IR1, TU1): The active Tustin Pickleball Club plays at a school facility 3 days a week at 1302 Service Road. The closest enCYCLE ride of note is TU1-3, the Mountains to the Sea ride, and the connection to the courts is not the greatest. From Harvard in Irvine take Class II Edinger northwest, past the Metrolink Station. Turn right on Red Hill and a quick left on Service Road.
Fountain Valley (Ride FV1): Pickleball is offered at the Fountain Valley Tennis Courts at the north end of Mile Square Park every day ($3). Also access the park via a one mile on-road connection from the the Santa Ana River Trail (SAR1) that begins at the Huntington Beach bike path (HB1).
Huntington Beach (RIdes, HB1, 2): Four free outdoor lighted permanent courts hosted by Surf City Pickleball are located at Worthy Community Park, 1801 Main Street (at 17th Street). From the fabulous Huntington Beach coastal trail (HB1), take the bike route up 17th Street for less than a mile to the park. The August annual Surf City Pickleball Tournament is located at Murdy Park on temporary courts set up for that purpose, and is not as good to combine with a cycle, although you can access the pleasant paths around Huntington Beach Central Park (Ride HB2) via road or sidewalk from there.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY Hermosa Beach: Located a few blocks from the South Bay Beach trail, the four courts here are crowded and competitive. From The Strand (Ride LA2) take 8th or 10th Streets east toward the Kelly Courts off Valley Drive. Don’t come here to just pickle with one of the best, most scenic bike trails in the country a few blocks away.
Claremont (Ride CL1, PET): About 1 mile south of town and enCYCLE bike routes, locals play at Wheeler Park’s lighted courts. Check for play times, currently Saturday mornings and several late afternoons; $3. Find bike lanes south on College and west on San Jose.
SANTA BARBARA COUNTY Santa Barbara: The active Santa Barbara facility ($5 fee) is situated adjacent to the noisy 101 freeway. From the beach trail (Ride SB1) take Cabrillo Blvd east, under the freeway and just past the ramps (caution through here!) look for a short paved path across the road and before the traffic circle that cuts up to Old Coast Hwy. Ride left on the sidewalk (or bike lane) for a mile to the first left on Park Place to the courts.
SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY Morro Bay (Ride MB1): Four very nice permanent courts ($1 fee) are located in Del Mar Park. From the north end of town, cross Hwy 1 either on Yerba Buena or Sycamore. Ride on Class II Main Street right or left (respectively) to Island Street. Ride UP the hill a couple blocks to road’s end and turn right to the park. Take the park path over to the courts on the right.
Cambria (Ride CA1): Cambria’s six excellent courts are at the Old Cambria Grammar School, 1350 Main St, between the east and west villages on the west side of the road. The venue is popular with upper-level players but all are welcome. (No fee).
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.
The 6-mile paved path along the West Fork of the San Gabriel River is a fabulous easy scenic bike ride, giving a great taste of the beautiful mountains without having to drive too far for the privilege. We recently rode a good portion of the trail on a warm June day, enjoying the sounds of the gurgling stream and the smell of the pines in the air, quite a delightful and easy escape from the LA megalopolis.
The San Gabriel Mountains tower over the heavily populated San Gabriel Valley just east of Los Angeles. Mountain streams from winter snow and rain drain into the San Gabriel River, that empties into the Pacific at the Seal Beach/Long Beach border. The urban San Gabriel River Bike Trail extends from the ocean all the way up to the foothills at Azusa. From there, the drive into the mountains on Hwy 39 is spectacular, passing San Gabriel and Morris Reservoirs, backed by mountain peaks.
After passing the junction with East Fork Road (about 7 miles from I-210), continue another 1.5 miles. Pass some parking areas on the right, drive over a bridge, and park in the lot on the left. A $5 National Forest Adventure Pass (or a National Park/Forest annual pass) is required. They are sold at liquor or convenience stores in Azusa. To get to the trail you can either use the footbridge over the river, which has stairs, or ride across the bridge to the trailhead, a locked gate labeled “Cogswell Dam.” Although the road is closed to the public, some do obtain permits to drive on it, as well as park and utilities employees. Still, vehicle traffic is very sporadic.
The route is beautiful throughout, but on warm days the first part will be full of folks up from the city splashing around in the pools created by the stream. Unfortunately some leave graffiti, and trash in this area. As you continue, however, your solitude continues to increase as you enjoy the sights, sounds, and scents of the mountain forest, next to a lush riparian ecosystem along the stream.
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.
Some of the most interesting and imaginative bridges in the western US and Canada are of the bike/pedestrian variety. Many have become showpieces and even tourist attractions. It’s a great way for a municipality to both foster recreation opportunities for residents and visitors, and to bolster its reputation as a destination and a forward thinking community.
The prime example is Santiago Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge spanning the Sacramento River in Redding, Northern California. This cantilever spar cable-stayed bridge actually forms a sundial, and its opaque decking is illuminated at night. It has become the centerpiece and main attraction of Redding, known to cyclists for its 35 miles of bike trails along the Sacramento River, and has generated millions of dollars of tourist revenue. We witnessed the Bandaloop acrobats perform on the bridge for its 10th anniversary.
Bandaloop acrobats on bridge.
Also spanning the Sacramento River along its bike trail system is this unique stress-ribbon bridge. Another stress-ribbon bridge in this region, that we have yet to visit, spans the Rogue River in Grants Pass Oregon.
Stress-ribbon bridge over Sacramento River below Shasta Dam in Redding, CA
The David Keitzer Lake Hodges Bike & Pedestrian bridge is 990 feet long, the longest stress- ribbon bridge in the world. Lake Hodges is one of the prime easy-scenic mountain bike areas in San Diego County. These photos show a difference in the area during a wet and dry year.
Lake Hodges bridge in a dry year.
The lovely Wagon Creek Bridge over the Wagon Creek inlet to Lake Siskiyou near Mt. Shasta City completed a trail system around the entire lake.
The best example of incorporating art into a bike/ped bridge is in Tacoma, Washington. The city’s rising star is reflected in its waterfront reconstruction and commitment to improving bicycling infrastructure. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass is a 500-foot-long bridge linking the Museum of Glass to downtown Tacoma and its cultural corridor. While more practical for peds, bikes are allowed on it as part of a fabulous tour of the Tacoma waterfront. For those interested in glass art, the walls and ceilings full of glass sculptures and free-standing pieces make this a world class attraction.
Works by some of the best glass artists on display along the bridge.
The ceiling is a seascape.
A railroad trestle is a mainstay along many a rail trail, and the wooden Kinsol Trestle near Lake Cowichan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia was restored beyond its original glory as part of the Cowichan Valley Trail. At 144 ft high and 617 ft long, it is the one of the largest structures of its type in the world. Also in BC, the Myra Canyon trestles (not shown) near Kelowna are part of an iconic bike ride along the Kettle Valley Railroad rail trail.
The Pacific Electric regional rail trail in SoCal’s Inland Empire parallels historic Route 66, and the designers took full advantage of that fact by refurbishing this former railroad bridge with Route 66 designs. Cities from Claremont to Rialto have joined in to make this 21-mile path a successful regional feature.
Another refurbished railroad bridge in Folsom, CA, that connects to the American River regional trail, evokes the old-west heritage of the town.
The Phoenix area is criss-crossed by canals and other aquatic infrastructure, and the municipalities have been generous about constructing bike trails along them. Shown here are the new Tempe Town Lake Bike and Pedestrian Bridge, and an interesting bridge at the “Scottsdale Waterfront” that spans a canal. Paved paths along the Scottsdale Greenbelt, Tempe Town Lake and several canals enable fun fabulous off-road cycles in this area.
Recently constructed bike ped bridge over the west end of Tempe Town Lake.
Riding across Tempe Town Lake.
Interesting bike ped bridge at the Scottsdale Waterfront near Old Town Scottsdale.
This fabulous bike bridge along the south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho is a highlight of the spectacular 72-mile paved Trail of the Coeur d’ Alenes, that follows the former route of the old silver mining trains.
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This former railway bridge now carries bikes ‘n pipes across the Columbia River as part of the scenic Wenatchee bike trail system that spans both sides of the river.
And finally, the construction of the sleek Mike Gotch Memorial Bridge over Rose Creek Inlet in San Diego in 2012 was literally a life saving project, taking hordes of cyclists off of a dangerous road and onto less crowded streets and pathways around Mission Bay.
Once a year in September, Tacoma, Washington closes the eastbound lanes of 7.5 miles of its lovely waterfront to vehicle traffic so that recreation users can have it to themselves. The event is called Downtown to Defiance. In addition, the adjacent 5-mile scenic loop of Point Defiance Park is closed to vehicle traffic every weekend until 1pm, and weekdays until 10AM. A pathway connecting the two is under construction, and in the meantime an on-road connection is available. So all in all on this day you can do a fabulous 25 mile ride with minimal disturbance from cars. This video depicts the September 11, 2016 event, and since it was cloudy until noon, also shows how the route can look on a sunny day. Tacoma has lofty plans to complete bike trails along the route that is simulated by this road closure. Currently to stay away from cars, cyclists need ride on sidewalks for much of the way,
Cambria is an upscale jewel of a coastal community near the north end of San Luis Obispo County, and is the gateway to San Simeon, home of the fabled Heart Castle. Its historic downtown is located inland, east of Hwy 1, a popular destination for shopping and dining. The spectacular coastline is accessed along Moonstone Beach Drive, a short bike ride from the downtown. The coastal Fiscalini Ranch Preserve contains some welcome open space and provides a mile-long bike cruise on a fire road, or some hilly singletrack for mountain biking. A very pleasant ride on trails and low speed limit roads will take you to all of these Cambria highlights. Those who feel comfortable with rural road riding can amble inland up scenic Santa Rosa Creek Road to the Stolo Winery and Linn’s Fruit Stand, famous for its Olallieberry pies. The perfect way to explore the town nicknamed “Pines by the Sea” is via a two-wheeled cruise, as described in the book “enCYCLEpedia Southern California- The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides.”
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."