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.
by Richard Fox Author, enCYCLEpedia Southern California
While bike lanes are always welcome on roadways, they don’t guarantee cyclists’ safety, especially on high-speed boulevards where they are not sufficiently separated from traffic lanes. All too often distracted or impaired motorists swerve into the lanes and collide with cyclists with disastrous consequences. In the Coachella Valley of the Southern California desert, cyclists that have the need for speed have no good off road options compared to other metro areas, and are relegated to ride on these dangerous byways. The CV Link regional trail, when completed, will help improve that situation.
More casual cyclists, like those who ride our enCYCLEpedia offerings, can enjoy a much safer alternative in this region. Many of the valley’s sidewalks have been designated as bike paths and are a delight to ride on, with beautiful landscaping, and in the areas with large gated communities, long uninterrupted stretches. There’s no reason for a casual cyclist to risk being hit by a speeding car on the 55-mph boulevards when there’s a perfectly good sidewalk bike path adjacent. However, bike paths come with their own set of hazards, and cyclists must ride defensively, using extreme care at every crossing of a road or driveway. Attention to obstacles is also important, especially in unfamiliar territory, and although sprinklers can be refreshing on a hot day, they can also make the path slippery in places. Helmets are also still highly recommended on any bike path.
I just added a new ride, RM3, to the enCYCLEpedia family of rides, comprised of 10+ miles of beautifully landscaped sidewalk loops around the Mission Hills Country Club area of north Rancho Mirage. Along that route alone there have been 3 fatal bicycle accidents in the adjacent roadways in recent years. That inspired me to look up other fatal bike accidents to see whether there were alternate off-road paths adjacent or safer routes nearby. Not to say that the victims would have selected to ride on sidewalk paths versus the roadways, but it illustrates that for the casual cyclist, safer options are available. I hope and pray that no additional incidents occur in the future; enough is enough. Following are some of the reported fatal accidents since 2007 where safer alternatives exist:
March 25, 2019: Alberta snowbird Paul Jackson, 67, riding along the Hwy 111 shoulder near Cook in Indian Wells, crashed into a parked minivan. What resembles a bike lane is actually just a wide shoulder with parking allowed. Sidewalk bike trails run along both sides of Hwy 111 (enCYCLE ride IW1). Bike riding on the sidewalk paths are “functionally allowed” in Indian wells (i.e. cops will not hassle well behaved cyclists). The city removed the Bike Route signs along the south sidewalk path a few years ago, most likely for liability reasons. Extending the CV Link regional path through Indian Wells would get a lot of cyclists off both the roads and sidewalks, but the city has banned CV Link within its boundaries.
March 23, 2019: This is not the Coachella Valley, but is a nearby Riverside County enCYCLE ride used as illustration: Family man and outdoorsman Brian Sabel, 52, was the victim of an early morning hit-and-run in an ample bike lane along beautiful and historic Victoria Avenue in Riverside. This road is very popular with road cyclists and seems like a safe place to ride. However, enCYCLE ride R2 uses the adjacent paved Rosanna Scott Bike Trail instead, which is much safer.
December 13, 2018: William Campbell, 32, a local avid cyclist, was struck in the Ramon Road bike lane near Rattler in Rancho Mirage. New enCYCLE ride RM3 is along a wide sidewalk path adjacent to the bike lane, although the path does not continue east past Los Alamos.
May 14, 2018: Diana Lynn Young, 61, was struck in the bike lane of Country Club Drive in front of the Marriott Desert Springs resort in Palm Desert where she worked. enCYCLE rides RM1, RM2 and PD1 all use the beautifully landscaped sidewalk bike paths available on both sides of Country Club through there. They continue for miles in both directions. I sometimes rode in the bike lanes through here to get a good sprint going, until this incident.
April 2, 2018: BC Snowbird Peter Harvey, 74, was hit in the bike lane on Bob Hope Drive near Ginger Rogers in Rancho Mirage. New enCYCLE ride RM3 is along the pretty designated bike/golf cart path along the west side of Bob Hope between Gerald Ford and Dinah Shore.
June 26, 2017: Larry Lee Ortner, 81, hit a parked landscaping truck when gliding down the Avenida Bermudas hill in La Quinta Cove. While this seems to be a safe road to ride on, always watch out for what is in front of you, even in a bike lane. We prefer to ride both up and down the paved Bear Creek Trail (enCYCLE ride LQ1) in The Cove instead to avoid vehicular traffic and enjoy the great scenery in both directions.
February 7, 2015: Todd Barajas, 52, was struck while riding late at night on Hovley Lane near Corporate Way, where there is no bike lane. However, there is an ample sidewalk path along the north side of the road. This is an alternate route to Country Club when riding enCYCLE ride RM2.
January 6, 2015: Rose Peters, 73, a cycling enthusiast who’d ridden cross country several times and was using a hand-cycle because of hip replacements, was broadsided while riding in the Hwy 74 bike lane in Palm Desert by a vehicle turning left onto Mesa View, which is one of the routes to The Living Desert. enCYCLE’s ride in that area (RM2) uses Hwy 74’s frontage road and corresponding paths rather than busy Hwy 74, but that still involves side street crossings that require extra caution because of turning vehicles.
November 30, 2012: Corey Holley, 38, was struck along South Palm Canyon at Palmera (near Stein Mart). This road is not safe. Much better alternatives now exist along South Belardo Rd to the west between downtown and South Palm Springs, or through the Deepwell District (enCYCLE rides PS1, PS2).
June 2, 2012: Gerald Weiss, 52, a well respected physician and family man, was hit on very dangerous Fred Waring Drive west of Eldorado, in traffic lanes after dark. Indian Wells lost a lawsuit because the road was determined to be unsafe, and as a result erected signs banning bikes along there. It’s not an enCYCLE recommended stretch because the sidewalk alongside Fred Waring between Eldorado and Cook is narrow, though it still is rideable. We detour south, down Class II Eldorado to the 111 sidewalk paths, and back up on the Cook sidewalk path to avoid this stretch that CV Link would otherwise bridge if not banned in Indian Wells (rides IW1, RM2).
April 8, 2012: Donald McCluskey, 49, was on Da Vall waiting at the red light to cross south past Ramon in Rancho Mirage when a minivan heading north blew through the red light, was hit by a westbound vehicle on Ramon, and overturned onto McCluskey and the vehicle next to him. Our new ride RM3 uses the east sidewalk of Da Vall at that location on both sides of Ramon, which would have been out of the line of fire in this case. However, in situations with sudden catastrophic vehicle crashes, cars can just as easily end up on a sidewalk or bike path, so vigilance at all times can’t hurt.
December 4, 2010: Joseph P. Szymanski, 56, was the victim of a hit-and-run midday while riding westbound in the ample bike lane on 54th between Madison and Jefferson in La Quinta. It would seem like a safe road to ride on, but I guess not. We use the pretty landscaped sidewalk along the south side of 54th for enCYCLE ride LQ2, and pay careful attention if sprinklers make the sidewalk wet and slippery.
March 7, 2007: Athlete Kim Raney, 26, on vacation from Washington, fell off her bike and was hit by a truck while riding on Hwy 111 in Cathedral City. enCYCLE feels Hwy 111 is too dangerous to ride on. All of our rides that encounter Hwy 111 are either on sidewalk bike trails alongside it, or via alternate routes. This includes PS1 – PS4, CC1, RM1, and RM2. The CV Link path will add some great alternatives to riding along Hwy 111 for all cyclists, although it is hindered by its boycott by the cities of Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells.
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, 3rd Ed 2021) guidebook "enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides."