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!
Enjoying a meal al fresco on a perfectly sunny desert day is a sublime experience, but incorporating it into a bike ride adds beneficial exercise and fun. enCYCLEpedia presents our favorite combinations of easy scenic bicycle rides and al fresco dining experiences in the Coachella Valley. Bike routes that include these restaurants as destinations are described in the book “enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides” (2nd edition Oct ’17). Don’t be ashamed to ride on the pretty landscaped valley sidewalks when it’s a safer option, but be extra careful anytime you cross a driveway or street. More info: enCYCLE’s website (Palm Springs area is Chapter 9). Banner photo: Escena Lounge & Grill (courtesy of Sunrise Golf).
What to wear? Most places mentioned are super casual. For the more upscale establishments like Spencer’s or those along El Paseo perhaps bring or wear a more appropriate frock. Golf course establishments typically require a collared shirt. Personally I carry a light Hawaiian shirt to wear over my tee!
1. Downtown Palm Springs
Palm Springs is THE place in the Coachella Valley to cycle on a beautiful winter’s day and find a delightful patio to savor a well deserved meal. Most of the patio restaurants are along South Palm Canyon Drive between Tamarisk and Baristo, but there are plenty others a block or two farther afield. Palm Canyon and Indian Canyon now have sharrows (bike symbols) in their left lanes between Alejo and Ramon. You can also cycle on parallel roads to the west that comprise the city’s bike routes, and just ride a block or two east to Palm Canyon to get to your patio restaurant of choice, including Cheeky’s for imaginative breakfasts, Blue Coyote or Las Casuelas Terraza for a festive al fresco Mexican experience, Lulu’s with varied menu and people-watching patio (photo), or Ruby’s family style diner, to name just a few. Or, you can pedal west on Baristo Road a few blocks to experience the fabulous outdoor patio of upscale Spencer’s. Along Indian Canyon Drive, at La Plaza are Bill’s, a pizza favorite (photo), Tyler’s, a burger favorite, and Farm for French breakfast/lunch. Wang’s Chinese restaurant’s popular Zen Patio is north of Ramon. Thai Smile for lunch and Oscar’s Cafe for breakfast/lunch are al fresco at Tahquitz Canyon, with Sherman’s Deli’s large patio another block to the east. Tropicale’s patio is fun for an upscale brunch, located east on Amado. [enCYCLE ride: PS1,3]
Gary & Elizabeth on Lulu’s patio.
Colin and Richard at Bill’s Pizza.
Steve cycles by Tahquitz Golf Course.
2. The River at Rancho Mirage
Reached via the sidewalk bike trails along Hwy 111 or Bob Hope, the refreshing pools of The River complex are not a mirage, but will revive you on a warm day, and the choice for eats here are stellar. The fabulous waterfront patio of Acqua California Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Other choices for lunch and dinner include franchises of Cheesecake Factory, Babe’s BBQ, PF Chang’s, and The Yard House, each offering an al fresco option. [enCYCLE ride: RM2]
3. Old Town La Quinta
Granted it’s a newly-built old town, but it charms nonetheless. Access it south from Hwy 111 on Washington, right on Eisenhower, left on Tampico, and right on Bermudas one block. La Quinta prefers you to ride in bike lanes or specifically marked sidewalk trails, but if you ride courteously on the unmarked sidewalk paths you will rarely if ever be hassled by the authorities. We particularly like the patio of Stuft Pizza, where they have happy hour food prices from 3 to 6 pm. I love their Napa Valley Pizza (photo). For breakfast, Old Town Coffee is popular with cyclists where tables are set out on the square (photo). A few more options can be found around Old Town including The Grill on Main and Old Town Tavern. From Old Town you can ride uphill several miles on the scenic Bear Creek bike trail (photo), with some optional easy dirt paths at the top of La Quinta Cove. [enCYCLE rides: LQ1,2,3]
The Bear Creek Trail leads from just west of Old Town, parallel to the La Quinta Cove neighborhood, gradually rising 350 feet up to the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains. It’s perhaps the best Class I bike trail in the valley, even though it’s only 2 miles long. Ride LQ1 includes this trail and an exploration of Old Town, with some options.
My personal favorite Bike ‘n Brunch reward is the Napa Pizza on the Stuft Pizza patio.
Old Town Coffee, a cyclists’ handoout.
4. Escena Golf Club, Palm Springs
A stand-alone destination, Escena Lounge & Grill at the Escena Golf Club is a popular Bike ‘n Brunch choice with delicious food served on an expansive patio with fabulous mountain views (photo below and banner photo). From the bike path along the west side of Gene Autry next to the airport (photo), pedal east on the south sidewalk of Vista Chino to the community entrance on the right, then ride another half mile to the golf club. Then try the first 2.3-mile section of the regional CV Link trail just beyond the Escena entrance along Whitewater Channel between Vista Chino and Ramon. There are also several casual restaurants with patios at Ramon and Gene Autry, including Panera Bread and Dickey’s BBQ. [enCYCLE rides: PS4, PS3]
Very scenic delicious dining at Escena. (Photo courtesy of Escena).
Gene Autry bike path next to Aviation Museum
5. South Palm Springs
This very popular district is fun to cycle around on its residential streets lined with classic Palm Springs homes. Your brunching options are the scenic patio at South Course Restaurant of Indian Canyons Golf Club along Murray Canyon, or try some choices along Hwy 111 east of Sunrise. Manhattan In the Desert (east of Barona) has a delectably huge deli menu that spans all three meals, and a tempting bakery counter. A detour north up South Palm Canyon from Belardo/East Palm Canyon brings you to popular El Mirasol for Mexican food. Koffi is a local hangout for coffee and light fare at El Camino Real and 111. [enCYCLE ride: PS2]
6. El Paseo, Palm Desert
Cycle here either via Indian Wells Hwy 111 shoulder or sidewalk, or from the bike-friendly sidewalks in Palm Desert. From the north, Monterey, Portola and Cook intersect El Paseo. As in downtown Palm Springs, it’s best to ride on the less crowded parallel streets to the south and hop into the town for grub. Some popular patios in this area are California Pizza Kitchen, Daily Grill, Pacifica Seafood, Tommy Bahama’s, Café Des Beaux-Artes, or Wilma & Frieda in The Gardens. Palm Desert’s Manhattan in the Desert is tucked away at the east end of El Paseo. To the west of Monterey, Westfield Mall offers Stuft Pizza and Bobby Mao’s Chinese kitchen, each with a large mountain-view patio. Louise’s Pantry for breakfast/lunch is along the 111 frontage road across from Palm Desert’s new location of Bill’s Pizza, for fabulous pizza on a patio.[enCYCLE ride: RM2]
Uncrowded very early morning.
The median of El Paseo is adorned with modern sculptures.
7. Desert Willow Golf Course, Palm Desert
The beautiful half-mile long sidewalk trail leading up the hill from the Desert Springs (ie Ralph’s) Shopping Center northwest of Cook and Country Club leads to the clubhouse of Desert Willow Country Club, an upscale city-owned golf course. Its Lakeview Terrace has a wonderful outdoor view patio and serves delicious food, perfect for your mid-ride meal. If you hanker for Chinese food, the patio at City Wok in the Ralph’s center is popular. [enCYCLE rides: PD1, RM1,2]
Along the path to the clubhouse restaurant.
Beautiful paths at a high point in the valley overlook pretty Desert Willow Golf Course and mountains in all directions.
8. Restaurant Row, Rancho Mirage
Cycle the bike sidewalk along Hwy 111 between Frank Sinatra or Country Club, or from Palm Desert, head west on either of those boulevards to the end. Las Casuelas Nuevas has a very popular patio for Mexican cuisine and an elaborate Sunday brunch, and Fisherman’s is the spot for an al fresco fish lunch or Sunday breakfast. We love to go to The Palms Cafe II for al fresco breakfast, especially when we sub a giant banana nut pancake for toast. [enCYCLE rides: RM1,2]
9. Highway 111, La Quinta – Indio
A sidewalk path is now continuous along the south side of Hwy 111 from Indian Wells all the way through La Quinta to the Indio border so that you can extend your rides in La Quinta or Indian Wells to access plenty of al fresco dining options. Most are actually on the north side of the road, where the sidewalk has a couple of breaks. Choices start with Broken Yolk for breakfast and festive Las Casuelas Quinta at Washington. Across from In ‘n Out Burger at Simon is Pokehana for a healthy poke fix, Panera Bread, Chipotle and Habit Burger past Adams, and Pho Vu Vietnamese and IHOP after Dune Palms. Mimi’s Cafe at the Costco entrance road has a small outside patio. For one of the finest garden patios in the desert follow the north sidewalk past Jefferson to Jackalope Ranch. [enCYCLE rides: LQ3, IW1]
10. Indian Wells
If you ride on Indian Wells’ sidewalk path (once a designated bike path as shown in the photo) west adjacent to the south side of Hwy 111 toward the towering mountains you will reach Cook Street, across which is Eureka! Their semi-covered and fanned patio is the perfect stop along your bicycle exploration to enjoy fabulous gourmet burgers like the Fresno Fig (photo, below, shown next to enCYCLEpedia), salads and crafted brews. Continuing a bit farther west leads to El Paseo (#6 above). There are also lots of restaurants, some with patios, along Hwy 111 in the El Paseo area that you can access via frontage roads. And those up for something more upscale can venture into some of Indian Wells’ resorts along the route, including Vue Grille at Indian Wells Golf Resort featuring a Sunday brunch splurge.[enCYCLE rides: IW1, RM2]
The pretty Indian Wells bike trail along Hwy 111 is a great connector between Palm Desert and La Quinta.
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."