The bike route from San Francisco to Los Angeles is truly iconic. This was my first time doing it but I know people that have done it multiple times, some even starting from Los Angeles and working their riding north. This particular route starts from San Francisco but deviates Big Sur because of a massive landslide that happened the same year. If you plan on going through Big Sur there are plentyyyy of bike campsites you can choose from and I highly recommend that you do. This route is very similar to the AIDS lifecycling route, which happens once a year at the end of May.
The Strava Route from camp to camp is located at the bottom of the page. I’ve also included a list of things you should try to bring on your trip.
Bike touring with good friends who are open minded plays a big role into making long distance riding so fun. Most people wouldn’t consider even doing such a long ride, let alone trying to enjoy it.
The two other fellows that graced me with their presence are good friends I’ve known and toured with before. Bike touring with other cyclists means that you’re stuck with the group for the entirety of the trip. My recommendation is to ride with people who have a great attitude and can get over small petty issues that may arise. The goal is to always finish together, it makes it that much sweeter at the end.
Drum and Nick …
Bike touring from San Francisco to Los Angeles will take you through some of the most scenic roads known to man. Before you embark on your journey make sure you’re comfortable with your bike, you’ve double checked all of your supplies and you’ve put together a route to your final destination.
The list of campsites we stayed at and map link is located at the end of the article if you’d like to take the same road…
Day 1 .
Our ride kicked off from Ocean Beach with a mighty tailwind that carried us quickly through the southern part of San Francisco towards Los Angeles. There’s a few climbs as you’re getting out of the city but nothing too overwhelming, just the usual San Francisco neighborhoods. Eventually you drop down to Pacifica and have your choice of taking the PCH 1 corridor or the hiking/bike trail (check last DIRECTORY for details on this section).f
There have been a substantial amount of land slides that have been happening along the coast line so be very careful if you plan on taking the fire access road that goes around the highway tunnel. We’ll touch a little more on the current landslide situation later in the directory. If you’re reading this after 2018 you’re clear to take Highway 1 through Big Sur.
We decided to take the highway corridor this time around because we didn’t want to lose so much time on the old hike/bike trail. (super fun if you have time and tires bigger than 32s). After we blasted out of the tunnel we quickly reached Half Moon Bay and stopped at New Leaf Market to fuel up on food. From there we continued to our first campsite, Butano State Park.
Upon arrival we we’re immediately placed in the bike site and the usual commenced; food, drinks and sleep. Just a fair warning, Butano State Park can get loud on the weekends because of all the families and children that scour up the campgrounds. As I mentioned before, try to land here on a week day if you’re trying to enjoy some silence.
Day 2 .
The next morning we embarked towards Sunset State Beach. We quickly reached Davenport where we stopped for coffee and breakfast. Davenport is a good stop because you can easily watch your bike from any one of the establishments as almost all of them have patios. Once we reached Santa Cruz, we scouted a few spots for lunch and narrowed it down to SurfRider, another great establishment with a patio and plenty on the menu to satisfy your taste buds.
Eating habits become very important on these types of trips. The reason I say this is because everyone’s body is different.
Always keep your body supplemented with energy, bars, nuts, fruit, etc. Try to eat before you get hungry and drink before you get thirsty. More often than not the crew is eating breakfast at camp, lunch at a local establishment, and dinner at camp. Considering that you’re riding 7-8 hrs straight and burning upwards of 3000-5000 calories a day, a big lunch is a must. In between main meals I can go through 2-3 bars at a time and up to a liter of water.
We also drink a lot of beer … but not when we’re riding.
We reached Sunset State Beach Park roughly around 6:30PM that day. We were lucky enough to land the last bike campsite tucked in the corner adjacent to the strawberry fields. (get some!) The beach was only a few pedals away and the water at this time of the year was just warm enough to give the old muscles a nice shock.
The original plan for this tour was to rip all the way down Pacific Coast Highway 1 through Big Sur. After an abundant amount of rain following the longest drought in California we were forced to deviate our route due to several major landslides that occurred, the last one being one of the biggest in California’s history. We had hopes that we would be able to get around the first two landslides but just a month before our trip another occurred burying the PCH 1 under 45 feet of land.
Some times mother nature happens, she can taketh and she can giveth. In this instance she taketh our route, but luckily nobody was hurt.
This is the big reason we deviated away from Big Sur and took almost the same route as the AIDS lifecycle ride, which oddly enough was only a week away from our own tour. Sunset Beach State Park was our first point of deviation and from there our plan was to take the 101 and a few other smaller highways that connected us back to the coast.
After a good night’s rest we began our journey towards King City. The landscape in these parts consists of beautiful farm lands and golden California fields everywhere you look. We ripped through these parts as the wind heaved us towards our destination. We quickly reached Salinas and settled for lunch at Salsa Mexican Restaurant. In these parts, you don’t have to be too picky when it comes down to food, the Mexican restaurants are some of the best I’ve had; and that’s coming from an Arizona native. It only makes sense considering that nearly all of the food we consume is coming from this valley.
Continuing from Salinas we reached King City and found another Mexican restaurant that seemed promising, Huarache King. Apparently you can’t go wrong out here because we had another damn good meal and then very very slowly made our way to camp.
San Lorenzo Park campsite is not the most eye appealing campsite due to the fact it’s situated in the city, but it was fairly easy to find and there were plenty of spots to set up camp.
The next day, Drummond wanted to show us the river, so we went and saw the damn river, surely enough it was a beautiful river.
Our next stop was Franklin Hot Springs in Paso Robles.
That morning we decided to take Jolon Road instead of getting back onto the 101. I recommend you do the same, because the ride was incredibly beautiful and traffic was minimal.
Along the way we decided to make a pit stop at St. Lukes Episcopal church for a quick refuel. The church grounds we’re empty so we made sure to respect the premises as we used some of their water to clean up and top off our bottles.
Jolon road is the same route that the AIDS life cyclists take in order to avoid a major portion of the 101. Eventually it wraps back around towards the 101 where you quickly get back on and then take the exit for Bradley. From Bradley you’re taking farm backroads towards Paso Robles.
In Paso Robles, we decided to stay at Franklin Hot Springs, a privately owned man-made hot spring. It’s a donation based hot-spring so you donate some money and find a camp site, which consists mostly of random patches of land and a paintball field infested with breeding ear wigs. Don’t forget to zip up that tent!
We woke up to some light rain in Franklin Hot Springs so we quickly broke down and began our ride towards Pismo Beach.
Out of all of the days this had to be my favorite. We quickly got onto State Route 46 and began to make a sensational descent through groves of trees and skull shattering canyons. Once you reach the bottom you do a little climb that takes you up to sweeping views of the Pacific.
At this point, we we’re on our way to Pismo with half of the trip already behind us.
Bike touring in California is plentiful and the sport is growing so you never know who you’ll meet on the road. In Pismo, we talked to a self-proclaimed meth head for over 30 minutes who was keen on selling us a pair of the finest Italian sunglasses, luckily all of us we’re outfitted with a pair of shades so it was easy to decline.
We picked up groceries at the local Safeway and quickly found our way to the Coastal Dunes Campground. We we’re hoping it was a little more coastal but it ended up being mostly an RV park with tent sites. Luckily this location had showers so the boys had an opportunity to clean up.
Darkness fell quickly as we attempted to keep the fire going. Feeling a little under the weather I decided to call it quits around 9. As I was heading into my tent, a lone soul rolled into the bike campsite. An older gentlemen, by the name of Stephen Swift. On the road for over 5 years his story was that he was riding for Cancer Awareness and was making his way back down to Ventura. Stephen was completing a 20,000 mile tour from Oregon to Nova Scotia and back. While camping in Ventura somebody attempted to hi-jack his bike from his campsite. The altercation turned into a scuffle and some blows we’re exchanged leaving Stephen with several injuries. Unfortunately, the culprit got away with his bike but that didn’t stop Stephen. He quickly managed to get himself a bike together in order finish the tour. Truly a living inspiration. Ride on Stephen!
In regards to locking up your bike, use your best judgement; if you’re at a campsite buried into a National Park, a random bike thief is unlikely, but if you’re camping at a site within city limits, keep your bike close and lock-it up. If you don’t feel like carrying a lock, a trip rope is always good, jus tie a rope to your wheel and the other end to your tent pole. The best thing you can do to avoid these types of situations is to be ready, aware, and never give away your daily destination to the randoms you meet on the road. Once again, use your best judgement, the judgement that will get you to your final destination alive.
The next morning, I woke up feeling like a bag of goo. It may have been the combination of allergies and a cold shower but I felt like I was coming down with something. Luckily, I had a good night of sleep and Master Chef Drum whipped up some mean egg sandwiches. On every tour I obviously bring my First Aid kit, but I also load it up with 4-6 Dayquill and Nyquil pills. In situation’s like this, there’s nothing more clutch than having a Dayquil to help you get through a 70 mile bike ride.
That night in Isla Vista we found a field to camp in, I took 2 more Nyquil pills and the whole spell curtailed by breakfast the next morning.
We grabbed breakfast at a local spot called CAJE near the University in Santa Barbara, it had exceptional coffee and service.
Day 7 took us along the coast lines through Ventura where we stopped for a quick burrito at Taqueria Vallarta.
After Ventura we began our approach towards Point Mugu State Park. This portion of the ride provided for beautiful descents and climbs along California’s tethered coast lines. With every stroke of the pedal we were pulling in our final destination.
We decided to camp at Sycamore Cove, which is on the east side of PCH 1 tucked away into the canyons away from the howling winds.
Just like that we came to day 8, the final day of our journey. It was a foggy morning as we began our descent onto the warm beach cities of Southern California. Per usual, the traffic began to pick up near Malibu but we were hastily moving towards the final point. We reached Santa Monica around 2PM and concluded our trip at a Mexican restaurant with several margaritas.
Just like that we covered 560+ miles and 18,000 feet of elevation gain over an 8 day period. One thing to remember is that this can be done over a longer and shorter period of time. Find your pace and take it one day at a time.
I hope this directory gives you some confidence to plan your own long distance tour.
Links to sites and our route is located below.
Strava Route Links
1. San Francisco to Butano State Park
2. Butano State Park to Sunset Beach Campground
3. Sunset Beach Campground to San Lorenzo Campground, King City
4. San Lorenzo Campground to Franklin Hot Springs, Paso Robles
5. Franklin Hot Springs to Coastal Dunes Campground, Pismo Beach.
6. Coastal Dunes Campground to Isla Vista, we camped in an empty field next to the university because there weren’t that many campgrounds to choose from so we just went guerilla on this night. This might be a good night to get a small motel room before the final stretch. The route will lead you to a cafe in Isla Vista where we had breakfast.
7. Isla Vista to Sycamore Campground, Point Mugu State Park.
8. Point Mugu State Park to Santa Monica.
Websites for each site we stayed at.
- Butano State Park – Pescadero County
- Sunset State Beach- Watsonville
- San Lorenzo Park Campground- King City
- Frankling Hot Springs – Paso Robles
- Coastal Dunes Campground – Pismo, Oceano, Beach
- Isla Vista – Unmarked Spot, some field next to University of Santa Barbara.
- Point Mugu / Sycamore Cove – Campground
List of items you should try to bring …
- First Aid Kit (Nyquill, Dayquill, Ibuprofen, Bandaids, Alcohol Solution, wound wrap kit)
- At least 2 tubes and a patch kit.
- Multitool kit with chain breaker and extra chain links.
- Pump, do not bring CO2 tanks, it’s a waste and you can run out real quick.
- Room for at least 3 bottles of water
- Sleeping bag, 2-3 season minimum.
- Emergency blanket just incase the temperature dips or you end up sleeping in a gulch.
- Start each day with at least 3-4 bars and some fruit for the ride.
- Sunscreen – lots of it.
- Cooking devices, boiling pot, small stove, gas tank, forks and swiss army knife.
- Waterproof compression sacks for clothing and food.
- Camera – of course!
- Extra battery charger.
- GPS unit.