Definitely one of the most revered touring trips in the world, the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route offers riders the chance to get away from the grind and into the rhythm of the road. Here is a great post from our sister site that summarizes the Pacific Coast Bike Route in photos and video, including a few insider tips for great destinations along the way:
When in the Bay Area, I often find myself plotting out a bike route that takes me across the awe-inspiring Golden Gate Bridge into my favorite riding area of Marin County. Marin is full of excellent climbs and mountain-top views of the Pacific Ocean and of the San Francisco Bay, but every once in a while, the prospect of scaling Mt. Tamalpais just seems a bit much. For those of you looking for a way to take in the Golden Gate and the many charms of Marin’s waterside towns without bringing your climbing gears, this might just be the best ride out there.
Need to rent a bike for this route? Read this post on bike rentals in San Francisco!
We begin the ride on Arguello Boulevard, where between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, sits the Velo Rouge Cafe, your pre-ride breakfast provider or post-ride recap spot. You’ll find among you a smattering of neighborhood regulars, surprisingly unpretentious hipsters, and a few of your lycra-clad brethren. With offerings like Levi Leipheimer’s Breakfast Burrito and other cyclist-inspired plates, as well as various coffee options, Velo Rouge is everything a cyclist could desire in an anchor-point for a stellar ride…and stellar ride you shall have!
Beginning with a short coast down Arguello you then make a brief but steep hill-climb to the edge of the Presidio. From this point forward, beauty will be around you for the entirety of your ride. The Presidio road meanders through trees and well-kept former barracks until you reach the mouth of the bay, where you get a first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge
As you approach the Golden Gate, I must warn you that their will most likely be crowds, and the route you must follow to ride across may not always be clear. Your best course of action is to take your time making your way through this section and consider the posted signs. Currently, the side of the bridge you take will depend on the time of day and day of the week, as follows:
Weekdays: East sidewalk until 3:30pm, then West sidewalk until 9pm
Weekends: West sidewalk all day
Once on the correct sidewalk path across the bridge, enjoy the views! While you’ll find some riders flying by, the number of pedestrian tourists and slower riders, coupled with tight spaces at each support post, make it more valuable to cruise through this section and take in the spectacular sights. Weather conditions seemingly change before your eyes as fog roles in and the sun peaks in and out, so you should be prepared for significant changes in temperature as well.
Marin County – Lowland riding along the San Francisco Bay Coastline
As you reach the north side of the bridge, you can go under it and come up the other side to reach the lookout point, or spiral down the windy road to the ground-level, where your lowland bay coastline pedaling begins. One can also go from the lookout point more directly towards the towns ahead, but in recent years this road has been in bad condition or under construction and the windy route passes by the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a convenient bathroom break or stopping point of its own merit.
Continuing to pedal north along the water, the first town reached is the Sausalito. I can’t say this town isn’t a bit touristy, but they certainly do a good job of it. The main street is lined with little shops, ice cream parlors, and restaurants to suit all types and the sidewalks are usually abuzz with an interesting mix of people from all corners of the world.
Next, you’ll ride through the Bothin Marsh, where you might well see some peculiar wildlife while you enjoy a pan-flat section of bike-path that will certainly have your legs asking for “full steam ahead!”
After negotiating the William Bagley Highway crossing via the Redwoods Highway Frontage Road, you’ll reach the town of Strawberry, where you’ll begin the Paradise Loop portion of the route.
The Paradise Loop
Here, you’ll pass through Tiburon and Belvedere, home to wealthy Bay Area residents looking for great skyline views of the city from a more relaxed and quiet perch. This section also passes by the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary, so bird-lovers should plan to make a stop.
Upon turning the corner past Richardson Bay and through Belvedere Cove, you will again head north and to the backside of the loop, a still more sparsely populated part of coastal Marin. Here you’ll have the opportunity to visit Paradise Beach County Park for a breather and perhaps to walk along the pier that juts out into the aptly-named Paradise Cove. While there is little motor traffic, please keep in mind that the shoulder in this section is narrow and caution should be taken on the curvier sections of road.
After leaving the Paradise Valley Park area, one can take the Trestle Glen cut-off, as shown in the route map, or extend the route a few miles by continuing north on Paradise Road and then heading south again upon reaching Corte Madeira, but either way, the route loops back into familiar territory in the town of Strawberry. This is where you can begin retracing your steps and taking advantage of what is usually a southbound wind to carry you home.
Distance: 39 miles
Elevation Gain: Approx. 3,000ft
RidewithGPS: Velo Rouge and Paradise Loop Route detailed route info
San Francisco and the Bay Area provide an almost unrivaled diversity of cycling opportunities for all types of riders. A popular starting point for touring cyclists, the Bay Area also provides endless opportunities for travelers to rent bikes and explore new areas.
If you fancy a casual ride to take in many of the best vistas of the city, it’s hard to beat riding along the bay from Fisherman’s Wharf, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and into Sausalito or Tiburon. A leisurely cruise around Golden Gate Park is a favorite among locals looking for low traffic and lush landscaping. Or, hop on a mountain bike and explore the trails of Marin County, birthplace of the MTB movement. Finally, if you’re a roadie looking to bag some classic California climbs, you’ll find Mt. Tamalpais just across the Golden Gate, Mt. Diablo across the Bay Bridge, and Mt. Hamilton to the south by San Jose; some even make a day of reaching the top of all three!
Despite the high price-tag of most things in the Bay Area, heavy competition in the bike rental market here provides comparatively reasonable daily rental rates and also look for opportunities to reserve online and save 10% or more.
San Francisco and Bay Area Rental Companies:
San Francisco Bike Rentals – Large bike rental operation catering predominantly to those looking for hybrid bikes for exploring the Fisherman’s Wharf area to the Golden Gate Bridge, or Golden Gate Park. SFBR also has basic Specialized mountain and road bikes available for rent by the hour or day.
Blazing Saddles – Chain bicycle company with the widest selection of bikes of any rental business in the Bay Area and seven locations. Amongst the many bikes available from Blazing Saddles are tandems, full-suspension mountain bikes, electric bikes, and kid’s bikes. They also offer numerous accessories such as bike racks, tag-alongs, baby seats, and trailers.
Bike and Roll – This company offers a full line of Trek bikes, from comfort hybrids to the high-end Trek Madone racing bike with five locations to serve you.
Undiscovered Country – Specializing entirely in quality road bikes, Undiscovered Country rents for very low rates and will deliver anywhere in the Bay Area for a variable fee.
Uber-Bike – If you’re looking to ride the Bay Area wine country north of San Francisco on a high-end road bike, Uber-Bike is your rental company. With offerings from Cervelo, Pinarello, and other high-end bicycle manufacturers, they provide a premium experience. Though they are based in Santa Rosa, delivery is available for a set fee based on distance from their headquarters.
Tucson is becoming a common destination for pro cycling teams and sun-seeking vacationers alike. With a mild, desert climate in winter months, Tucson presents the perfect opportunity to get some good off-season riding in and has been named to the Travel Channel’s top-ten list of cycling cities in the US.
Of particular interest is the Tour de Tucson, a large cycling event held every year on the weekend before Thanksgiving. Several thousand riders descend upon Tucson each year to take part in the 111-mile event, which covers a mostly flat route for the benefit of various charities. If you don’t happen to be in Tucson for the TdT, consider a jaunt up Mt. Lemmon, a climb of considerable gravity that is a favorite among locals and pro’s doing off-season training camps.
Tucson Bike Rental Companies:
Cycle Tucson – Cycle Tucson features a fleet of Cannondale hybrid, road, and hard-tail mountain bikes and offers rentals by the day or week, including special discounts for renting multiple bikes for several days.
Tri Sports Bike Rentals – This shop definitely seems to be catering towards the serious rider crowd, offering road bike and triathlon bike rentals from brands like Cervelo, Lightspeed, and Quintana Roo by the day or week.
Fairwheel Bikes – Known as the longest-running bike shop in town, Fairwheel specializes in high-end and exotic road bike sales, but also has road bikes from Trek, Specialized, and Neilpryde for rent, as well as Trek MTB bikes. Local knowledge has it that Ralph, the shop owner, is a great resource for Tucson cycling history.
Santa Barbara has been on the pro cycling radar for quite some time now as one of the premier spots to train in the winter, particularly among American riders and teams, and it’s no wonder. Blessed by some of the most consistently good weather in the country, with year around temperature variation between 65-75 degrees (based on monthly averages).
Santa Barbara features plenty of coastal riding, varied routes along the foothills, and perhaps most impressively, a number of climbs featured in John Summerson’s book of the top 100 climbs in California. The Santa Barbara Century, held in October each year, features 10,000ft of elevation gain, including the famed Gibraltar Road, and a descent down Painted Cave/Old San Marcos Road.
Wheel Fun Rentals of Santa Barbara – A hybrid, cruiser, and surrey option for those looking to meander along the boardwalk or up State Street.
Santa Barbara Bikes To-Go – Premium bike rental company, with brands like BMC, Cervelo, Cannondale, and Specialized. Delivery is free within the Santa Barbara area and price is on a sliding scale depending on number of days rented.
Santa Barbara Fitness Tours – Offers several bike rental options, including road and mountain bikes. SBFT also provides guided tours for those who would prefer to let a local lead the way.
VeloPro – Carrying a full line of offerings from Kona bikes, you might guess that this shop is serious about MTB riding, and you’d be right. VeloPro offers two full-suspension mountain bikes to open up the nearby downhill trails in the Santa Barbara foothills.
Open Air Bicycles – Partners with Hotel Oceana downtown to rent hybrid road bikes by the day at a reasonable rate.
Pacific Coast Route Oregon and Northern California, Days 12 & 13
Waking up to damp clothes and the prospect of a ride, followed by several hours of driving to retrieve our gear did very little to dampen our enthusiasm for continuing on. We understood that what we were dealing with was minor, and wouldn’t even change the course or distance of our bike trip. It was fortunate that the screw on our rack had failed so late in the game, because if that had happened earlier on, it might have been the end of our trip.
We took some time to blog on the hotel’s computer and ate up the free continental breakfast, which to our surprise included belgian waffles! By 10am we were back on the road with about 30 miles of Vineyard littered roads to cover on the way into Santa Rosa.
We reached Santa Rosa in the heat of the day, hungry and a little dehydrated. Maybe that’s why we did something we hadn’t done the entire trip…we ate at a chain restaurant, a fast-food chain at that. Panda Express never tasted so good, and soon after we picked up our Dodge Avenger at Enterprise and were headed back to the Anderson Valley for our gear.
It took over an hour and a half to get to Navarro from Santa Rosa, despite being tailgated into some serious speed on the 128 by gigantic trucks. We were amazed that they could manage to stay upright, regardless of the fact that they probably do that road all the time, and also a little relieved not to be on our bikes. In fact, the driving was almost enjoyable. The speed and comfort with which we travel by car from place to place on a daily basis is tremendous, and on that occasion, we had reason to appreciate it even more.
We picked up our gear, showered the Navarro store-owner with praise, bought as much food and drink as we could possibly need as a thank-you, and started making our way back through the vineyards of the Anderson Valley.
On the way back to Santa Rosa, we stopped at Roederrer winery, which is known for its bubbly wines (Roederrer is the winemaker responsible for Cristal, among other well-known champagnes). After some refreshing tastings there, we headed to Toulouse, which was Yelp’s suggestion for the best winery in town. Toulouse is hands-down, no doubt about it, my favorite winery. We sampled four whites and five reds and both of us LOVED all but one of them. That’s a very high hitting percentage, especially since we’ve lived in and around wine-country for several years now. After a quick pass through Healdsburg to get another look at their charming downtown area (we’re in love with this city!), we pushed on towards our hotel.
The last day of our trip was sort of relaxed because my friend Reuben wasn’t due back in the Bay Area with my car keys until early evening. We slept in for the first time during the trip and spent a few hours updating our blog at the hotel computer. Then, we returned the rental car and headed back out on our unloaded tandem to do the last 50 miles of our trip.
We passed through first Petaluma, then Novato, inching ever closer to our destination of San Rafael. Leftover cheetos and Red Bull were consumed, climbs were conquered, cow pastures were successfully moo-ed at; we got it done.
Pacific Coast Bicycle Route Oregon and Northern California: Day 11
We awoke, well rested, to fruit, scones, and coffee at our door today. This hotel is just what we needed coming off two hard days and facing a third. Got packed up and headed downstairs for a second course, a fresh fruit parfait and more locally produced coffee.
By the time we were finished eating our multi-course breakfast it was nearly ten o’clock, meaning we got a bit of a late start on what we hoped would be a 92 mile day. We had been feeling so strong the last few days that we decided to push past our projected campsite at Hendy Woods, just 55 miles in, and aim for Cloverdale, the next city large enough to have some inexpensive hotel options.
Riding along the coast, over very steep pitches and consistent rollers, we made our way through cow pastures and past some small enclaves of vacation homes. The ripe blackberries dangling from fences by the side of the road tempted us, but we knew we had to keep moving to make our goal for the day before dark. We rode on through Fort Bragg, stopping only for a quick restroom break and made reasonable time despite a headwind.
At about 26 miles in, we came upon the town of Mendocino, which was an ideal stopping spot for lunch and our last obvious opportunity to refill our bottles ahead of forging inland into the heat of the Anderson Valley. We took a Yelp recommendation for Mendo Burger, a local burger joint just behind the main street in town. While happy with the food, we somehow ended up spending $30 on burgers, fries, and soda…we’re definitely not in Oregon anymore! The food also took almost half an hour to get to us, with the excuse being that all their food was “made to order.” We left town mostly satisfied, but concerned about making up for the late start and lost time.
After another 10 miles or so of cycling down the coast, we finally hit HWY 128, which was to be the last turn of the day, though we were still more than 55 miles from Cloverdale. This road was flat, well-paved, and allowed us to take advantage of Eastbound winds blowing off the ocean. Our pace lifted and so did our spirits.
A few miles into our speedy ride up 128 into the redwoods, we started hearing a noise coming from the back of our bike. We had found a screw loose on the lower left connecting point of rack to frame several days earlier and initially thought that might have happened again, but as it turned out, things were about to get complicated.
After some investigation, we realized that the screw holding the rack to the frame on the right side had snapped right off, and the lower connection point of the rack was supporting itself by scratching into the frame and sitting atop the wheel skewer…NOT GOOD! The load being carried on the rear had become unstable, and the rack was starting to bend to the right.
We consider our options as we stood in amongst the giant redwoods, 15 miles from Mendocino and nearly twenty miles from Boonville (the next town on the map). We tried to lighten the load by putting the panniers on our backs, but there was no good position for them and our other items swayed recklessly on the rack with no panniers to rest upon. We put the panniers back on and decided to make for Hendy Woods, some 11 miles up the road, where we hoped to find a better solution.
Forced to move slowly to avoid the danger of a high-speed crash, we took nearly 45 minutes to travel another four miles, where we came upon the town of Navarro, which is to say we came upon the Navarro General Store, hidden amongst the trees.
After speaking to a few locals with trucks without any luck getting a ride into a bigger town, we were running out of time to make it to a city before dark. A hitchhiker who we had been leap-frogging the same route with for several days turned up and, seeing our rack problem, declared himself the winner
the likely winner of our race down the coast.
At nearly 5pm, we made the decision to ask the storekeeper to hold our belongings until we could ride into a city big enough to rent a car and come back. He accepted, only after first asking us if our bags were full of drugs, weapons, or other contraband (apparently that’s something to be concerned about in the area). The more we talked though, the more the storekeeper and the other employee warmed up to us and we felt assured they would take care of our gear. All that was left to do was ride 43 miles to Cloverdale before dark…
The first hour, we flew down HWY 128 with the wind at our backs and our bike now much more nimble, but as we reached the town of Boonville, our energy began to fade and so did the coastal breeze. It was still more than 90 degrees and we stopped for gatorades and a snack.
While I was in the store, a bicycle touring company (Undiscovered Country Tours) owner came in to re-supply as well, and after hearing our plight, he gave Jo a few cliff bars to help us on our way. Again, we were reminded of the friendly and supportive nature of the bicycling community, and especially of those who know the challenges of touring.
As would be the case for a number of days, the route followed riverbeds, like the one shown above. This made us feel comfortable that we wouldn’t be doing any ridiculous amounts of climbing, and we were generally right. Despite a slight headwind, we continued along at a strong pace until we hit Avenue of the Giants.
While maybe not quite as stunning as the passage through Prairie Creek’s grove of redwoods, the Avenue of the Giants was a very beautiful ride under the shade of trees that had been standing for thousands of years. Being inland, this kept us out of the sun, and combined with the gentle grades, we passed smoothly through the more than thirty mile section.
After reaching and continuing past Burlington Campground, we made our way towards Dean’s RV Resort and Campground, where we hoped to find accommodation for the night. A few miles outside of camp, we came upon Phillipsville where we decided to re-supply the water bottles and have some ice cream. We met a fellow bicycle tourist named Kat and her dog Moxy, who were headed in the same direction and chatted for a bit.
When we reached Dean’s Resort, we found their cabins full, their motel rooms overpriced, and their campground a little disappointing compared to where we had been camping (and at three times the cost). Indecision hit us for a few moments, but with minimal reception we had trouble exploring other options and decided to stay put for the night. Just as we were paying for the campsite, Kat came along and offered to split the tent site with us.
We set up our Big Agnes Seedhouse SL tent and Kat set up her hammock and we chatted a bit more before heading up to the hot tub to relax sore muscles. We were suprised, though, to feel as good as we did after covering 77 miles in a single day.