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Orange County’s Top 10 Bike ‘n Brunch Rides – Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides to Al Fresco Meals

By Richard Fox

Updated January 2019

Getting behind on your exercise routine?  instead of driving why not ride your bike to some delightful dining experiences? These are enCYCLEpedia’s favorite combinations of easy scenic bicycle rides and enjoyable al fresco eats in Orange County, California. Bike routes to these dining destinations are described in the book “enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides” by Richard Fox.

Laguna Beach has perhaps the most scenic dining patios, but riding there is mostly on busy streets with no bike trails or even bike lanes, so it didn’t make the cut. If you select an upscale establishment consider bringing or wearing a more appropriate frock. Personally I carry a light Hawaiian shirt to wear over my tee!

Feel free to comment with your own favorite Bike ‘n Dines. More info: Book’s website (Orange County is Chapter 5, the book’s largest); Book’s Facebook page.

1. Newport Beach

Newport Beach Back Bay
Castaways Park, Back Bay area

A wide variety of easy scenic bike routes combine with an equally extensive choice of dining options to make this area OC’s premier Bike ‘n Brunch destination. Cycle the fabulous loop around the ecologically vital Back Bay area, stopping at Back Bay Bistro at Newport Dunes Resort for a tasty al fresco lunch or a brunch splurge. Pedal along a paved path next to Newport’s wide sandy ocean beaches (best on uncrowded beach days), and choose from several patio restaurants en route, most centered around the Newport and Balboa Piers. Or, try Newport Landing overlooking the ferry stop to Balboa Island. On the island savor several patio restaurants along Marine Avenue including popular Wilma’s Patio. Upscale Bayside at 900 Bayside Dr is between The Back Bay and Balboa Island. A bit off the beaten bike path near Lido Peninsula are the waterfront patio delights Woody’s Wharf, The Cannery, The Dock, and Bluewater Grill.

2. Huntington Beach

Surf City Beach Trail near Dog Beach
Surf City Beach Trail near Dog Beach

The 8-mile Surf City beach trail is the premier scenic bike trail in Orange County. Your dining reward comes around the pier area, where you can grab a burger at a beach stand, or try the bustling beach patio at Sandy’s (below Duke’s). Climb up to Coast Highway (PCH) and Main Street for it’s many casual al fresco patio restaurants including Sushi on Fire, dog-friendly Zimzala at the Shorebreak Hotel, Sancho’s Tacos, Sugar Shack Café, Spark’s Woodfire Grill, and others. The Hilton and Hyatt resort hotels just south of downtown offer some great view patio dining. At the north end of the beach trail, Secret Spot in a strip mall across PCH from the Jack-in-the-Box offers breakfast items.

3. Dana Point/San Juan Capistrano

Los Rios Historic District, San Juan Capistrano
Los Rios Historic District, San Juan Capistrano

Pedal around Dana Point Harbor, perhaps stopping at the waterfront patios of Wind ‘n Sea or Harpoon Henry’s. Ride along Doheny State Beach, where the inviting seasonal Boneyard Cafe awaits on the main beach (header photo). Take a jaunt up the San Juan Creek Trail to historic San Juan Capistrano, which can be reached by Amtrak or Metrolink. In San Juan, Trevor’s at the train depot has a fabulous dining patio. Ramos House Café in the Los Rios District across the tracks is pricey but delicious, and the more casual Hummingbird House offers Greek fare. Mollie’s Famous Café en route (east at Del Obispo) is a popular breakfast/lunch spot.

4. Crystal Cove, Newport Beach

A stop at Ruby's Shake Shack, Crystal Cove State Park
A stop at Ruby’s Shake Shack, Crystal Cove State Park

Cycle to Crystal Cove State Park via the side streets of Corona del Mar and a short trip in the PCH bike lane. A fairly short but very scenic bike trail along the beach bluffs leads to the Crystal Cove Historic District and the Beachcomber Café with its prime beachfront patio. On top of the bluffs is Ruby’s Shake Shack, where you can grab a burger and date shake and take it down to the beach – now that is dining al fresco!

5. Orange

Lunch stop at Felix Cuban Cafe in the central square.
Lunch stop at Felix Cuban Cafe in the central square.

Santiago Creek Trail is one of OC’s newest, offering a nice creekside ride between the Mainplace Mall/Discovery Science Center area and Villa Park. From Hart Park, detour a few blocks to antique central at Old Towne Orange where outdoor options include Felix Cuban Café. You can also access Old Towne via Metrolink.

6. Irvine

Northbound from Newport's Back Bay on San Diego Creek Trail.
Northbound from Newport’s Back Bay on San Diego Creek Trail.

This master planned community has its fair share of bike trails connecting various parts of the city. As you pedal along the east-west segment of San Diego Creek Trail you will be riding parallel to commercial centers, including the Target Center at Culver where there are several Asian restaurants with outdoor tables set up, and a California Fish Grill. Other routes combine a hillier ride in the Turtle Rock/Shady Canyon area with dining options near UC Irvine.

7. Anaheim/SART

SART at Yorba Linda
SART at Yorba Linda

You’ve heard of OC’s bicycle highway, the Santa Ana River Trail. Our favorite segment is between the new ARTIC transport terminal in Anaheim (serviced by Amtrak and Metrolink) and SART’s east end in Yorba Linda. You can gain back some of the calories you’ve lost at the Lazy Dog Café via a detour east on Katella, where your pooch is also welcome on the patio, or other restaurants along the route.

8. Saddleback Valley

Biker's favorite Cook's Corner has outdoor seating and good food.
Biker’s favorite Cook’s Corner has outdoor seating and good food.

The Aliso Creek National Recreation Trail connects the Aliso and Wood Canyons mountain bike park in Aliso Viejo with the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, where you’ll find Cook’s Corner, a favorite of both motor and pedal cyclists for a burger or even a salad. Along the route are several other places to hop off the trail and catch a bite.

9. San Clemente

Al fresco dining on San Clemente Pier
Al fresco dining on San Clemente Pier

The city’s new beach trail (reachable by Metrolink and Amtrak) was a missed opportunity as far as a bikeable trail goes, but it is doable and very scenic if you don’t mind walking your bike through several zones in summer. The reward can be Fisherman’s patio on the pier, or a couple of restaurants across the street from it. Other options are downtown up the hill on Avenida Del Mar, also reached by a confusing bike route that winds from North Beach through the city’s streets. At North Beach several restaurants are a short distance up El Camino Real. You can also ride from here to Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano, and then take the train back.

10. Fullerton

Fullerton's Laguna Lake Park along bike route
Fullerton’s Laguna Lake Park along bike route

Another prime rail stop via Amtrak or Metrolink, you’ll find plenty of dining choices in the historic district near the train station, including patios at Brownstone Café and Café Hidalgo in the historic Villa Del Sol courtyard. Then you can make your way on side streets west of Harbor to the trailhead for the mountain bike loops near Brea Dam and Laguna Lake, including the popular Fullerton Loop and easier options.

Top 10 Bike ‘n Brunch Rides – Best Patio Destinations from Palm Springs to La Quinta for 2018

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]

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]

Sidewalk path along Hwy 111 passes the Acqua California patio, other restaurants and a winter ice skating rink.

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]

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]

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]

View from South Course Restaurant at Indian Canyons Golf Course (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]

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]

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]

enCYCLEpedia-inspired cyclists Karin and Bryan at Jackalope Ranch.

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]