SANDAG’s Go By Bike initiative continues to expand bikeways throughout San Diego. An interactive map depicts current and future bike lanes, protected Cycle Tracks and bike paths in the region.
Some of the most interesting places to bike in downtown San Diego are along the vibrant waterfront path and up in Balboa Park. Previously, to connect the two areas, cyclists had to contend with on-street bike routes, commingling with traffic. Now cyclists can get between these areas on Class IV Cycle Tracks. Cycle Tracks are bike lanes adjacent to streets with physical barriers from traffic and can be one-way or two-way. SANDAG also went the extra mile by installing bike traffic signals and where appropriate red no-turn arrows for vehicles when the bike signals are green to prevent hook type crashes.
The multi-use paths along the San Diego waterfront are visually spectacular, although portions tend to get crowded with tourists, best visited at off-peak times. The interesting vistas and points of interest make it worthwhile though, including the Maritime Museum, Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, cruise ships, and many other highlights.
Cyclists need to detour around, or walk bikes through the popular Seaport Village complex, and in the future expect a major redevelopment project there. The harbor bike tour can be staged in many places. We’ve used Shelter and Harbor Islands in the past, but now prefer the new diverse massive Liberty Station complex (parks, restaurants, museums, grocery, etc) located up an inlet of San Diego Bay. A bike path goes under Harbor Drive and connects with the harborfont path. The harbor tour ride is described in enCYCLEpedia as ride SD4.
Currently, protected Cycle Tracks cut across downtown San Diego east-west on Beech and J streets. You can get to Beech St from the harbor path by crossing at the light at Ash St and cutting through the park to the left.
After the Cycle Track starts past Kettner Blvd the next block is India St (one-way north). The main part of the Little Italy district is to the left (north) here where you can find lots of sidewalk dining and the ped-only Piazza della Famiglia at Date St (below). We walked our bikes through here to get to Columbia St, which is one-way south, back to Beech. Grape St is another option.
On another occasion we biked here for “slices” and enjoyed some at Mr. Moto’s Pizza across from the Piazza:
The Beech St Cycle Track intersects the Cycle Track on 4th Ave (one way south) which extends south to B St but just ends there, so is not recommended from here. Next, the 5th Ave Track that starts at B St a few blocks south of here heads one way to the north. The Beech Track ends at 6th Ave, where a 2-way Track heads to the south only.
To do a loop up to Balboa Park/Zoo and the hip Hillcrest district, take the new 5th Ave Cycle Track north (1st photo, above). E-bikes have an edge here since it is an uphill journey. Once you near the top of the hill, next to Balboa Park, you’ll cross under the San Diego airport landing pattern, close overhead. To visit Balboa Park, take Laurel St to the right. It becomes El Prado past 6th Ave and crosses over a tall concrete bridge with the 163 freeway far below.
Tour around on the park roads. Our favorite route around the park is described in enCYCLEpedia’s ride SD6. The San Diego Zoo is adjacent to the north. If you’re a local, consider becoming a zoo member so you can just pop in whenever you want and visit your favorite animals.
Exit the park the same way, but look for a bike path to the right before reaching Balboa Dr and 6th Ave. It ends at Upas St. Cross 6th Ave and return to the 5th Ave Cycle Track heading north if you want to explore or dine in Hillcrest, or else go to 4th Ave and head south in its Cycle Track. There certainly are plenty of great dining options in Hillcrest, many along the Cycle Tracks.
The 5th Ave Cycle Track ends at Washington. The connection along Washington to the 4th Ave Cycle Track to head south was awkward, it needs work. You may want to cross over before Washington. The one-way southbound 4th Ave route is part Cycle Track and part buffered bike lane. Warning, you may want to stop at Babycakes bakery en route. We encountered a one-block detour onto the roadway in March 2022.
Returning to Beech St, head left on the Track to 6th Ave, then cross it and turn right onto the 2-way Cycle Track.
This is a busy section of downtown, so expect lots of stops at lights, but thankfully they are all equipped with bike signals coordinated with “no turn” signals for vehicles. This Cycle Track skirts the Gaslamp Quarter, passes the east-west track on J St (an option to return to the waterfront) and ends at L Street. Cross L and make your way to a plaza to the right to reach 5th Ave. Use the 5th Ave signal to cross the tracks, the MLK rail trail, and Harbor Dr. Go left in the Harbor Dr bike lane to the first light at Park Blvd. Cross Park and take the sidewalk on the right that leads to the waterfront path next to the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
From here complete the loop along the harborfront paths (~20 miles staged from Liberty Station). Check out the new state of the art Rady Shell venue at Jacobs Park, Embarcadero Marina Park South across from the Convention Center. Bike to the summer concert series by the San Diego Philharmonic, and others.
The passenger/bike ferry to Coronado also leaves from this area (next to Joe’s Crab Shack) but that’s the subject of another post (and enCYCLEpedia Ride SD7). Either take the ferry and ride over there, then take the ferry back, or do a ~24 mile loop around the bay via Imperial Beach and other cities.