California Favorites – Mountain and Road Biking, Hiking, and Places to Eat
We spent almost four months touring the coast of California from late November through March this year. There are lots of travel guides out there for reference info about the state, but if you’re interested, below is a list in no particular order of some favorite trails (mountain biking and hiking/running) and places to eat in California. I hope you get the chance to experience them some time! Favorite mountain biking trails out of many rides. This practically isn’t even possible, so I’ll just list a few favorites, north to south!
- Santa Cruz: UCSC/Wilder Ranch, and Nisene Marks/Demonstration Forest. While you’re in Nisene Marks, check out West Ridge on a weekday when the rangers aren’t out. (Shhh.) So close to town, so fun and flowy under giant redwoods on pristine trails. Amazing. For family fun, head north from town on the Ohlone Bluffs Trail. Pictures in my ode to Santa Cruz post.
- San Luis Obispo: Poly Canyon and Montana de Oro (thanks for the tour Cal Poly profs). Why didn’t I mountain bike in college?! Dry and rocky, with some great technical descending.
- Santa Barbara: Romero Canyon. For amazing views of the ocean, you can’t beat the top half of this ride on fast singletrack. Keep riding past the Romero Canyon descent all the way to the top, then ride the whole thing down. Then put on the full-face and pads for a rocky creekside descent that keeps your mind and body awake! (For other SB classics, this local bike shop was a great resource.)
- Los Angeles: Surprised by this one! North side of the city in the Santa Ana mountains=wow! El Prieto, Altadena, Potato Mountain area. Altadena features sharp switchbacks right along a cliff with a view of downtown L.A. I just about froze my jaw in a permanent grin coming down this one! Honorable mention to the epic views over L.A. from up above Malibu Creek State Park.
- Palm Springs: The Palm Canyon Epic. DO THIS RIDE. But go with a tour guide because it’s an adventure. Thank you Jima at Joshua Tree Bike Shop for being the tour guide for this pine-to-palms awesomeness with 6,500 feet of descending and 3,000 feet of climbing on singletrack. One of the most memorable rides I’ve ever done.
- San Diego: Noble Canyon. I’ve ridden this twice now, and it’s just as good as everyone says it is. Camp at Laguna Campground and ride the stuff at the top too, also super fun. Honorable mention goes to the northern part of Mission Trails (Three Barrels ride) for easy access and fun, fast descents.
Favorite walking/hiking/running areas (note that many of the mountain biking trails above were great for hiking too):
- Beaches: Not even possible to list all these. As my fav rapper from high school Tupac says, “it’s all good, from Diego to the Bay.” And beyond to the north, I might add. Pick a beach and explore! We were traveling through in the winter and it was oh-so-quiet on most beaches.
- Boy Scout Trail in both Jedediah Smith and Joshua Tree State Parks: two very different experiences with the same name. The first under giant redwoods, the second in the high desert with Joshua Trees.
- Prairie Creek State Park in the redwoods near Arcata – hike up Fern Canyon and into the redwoods. A great 6-8 mile loop.
- Santa Cruz: Nisene Marks, Big Basin and Henry Powell State Parks. Pick a hike and explore!
- Monterey: Point Lobos is a do-not-miss natural reserve right on the coast. Sweeping views, wildlife, great trails. Don’t skip this one.
- Big Sur: Soberanes will wow you with the climb and the sweeping view at the top. Andrew Molera Park for sheer variety and beauty. Julia Pffeifer Burns for the ridge hike with soaring condors sweeping by. Note: If you have a camper van, you can pull off the side of Highway 1 and camp there. Free two million dollars views!
Favorite road bike rides:
- San Francisco: Across Golden Gate Bridge and up into the Marin Headlands. What a scenic ride!
- Highway 1 through Big Sur: Wow. Good climbs, amazing views, and traffic wasn’t too bad…though it was January!
- Los Angeles: any of the car-free trails are so great! San Gabriel River Trail, Los Angeles River Path, Santa Ana River Trail, and others. 30-40 miles each way with maybe a couple stops the entire way and no cars. Can’t beat that in a city feared for its traffic! We did the SGRT and LARP trails as an overnight bike tour from Azusa to Long Beach.
- Oceanside to San Diego: A great 35 mile cruise along the ocean, much of it off Highway 1. We took Amtrak north to Anaheim and did a nice easy three-day bike tour south and highly recommend it! This last section was my favorite.
Restaurants and other food hot spots, especially for those in the plant-based/vegan realm (not all below restaurants fit that mold though!). Yelp was our Goddess of Dining for seeking out great places to eat, and California served up some amazing meals. A shout out to Nicole and Alex in L.A. for cooking one of the best meals we had in the entire state! Those vegan enchiladas are our new favorite, and the nacho “cheese” sauce is a big winner too. Here are the meals that come to mind:
- Julia’s in Monterey. Amazing, cozy dinner spot.
- Wild Flour Bakery in Occidental. AMAZING cinnamon rolls and bread. Do not miss this. 380+ reviews on Yelp in the middle of nowhere can’t be wrong.
- Goodlife Bakery and Coffee Shop in Mendocino. #1 place to hang on a rainy day. Good tea, pastries, ambiance. We sat and watched the world go down during our first rainy day on the coast.
- True Food Kitchen – a chain, but some of the best food we had in San Diego. Try the winter salad. Divine.
- Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz. We only went here four times! 🙂 YUM. Get here early on weekends or anytime during the week.
- Nachos in Big Sur. HUGE. The full order is a dinner portion for two.
- Eureka! in San Luis Obispo. Best veggie burgers we’ve ever had. Went back to try again and were equally impressed. And it’s a (small) franchise?! Well done folks.
- The Natural Sisters Cafe in Joshua Tree for some a-mazing vegan carrot cake. Large portions of this were eaten each time we drove through town.
- So many others! Trust the Yelp collective wisdom and explore. You can’t go wrong in California.
Hopefully these tidbits are helpful if you find yourself on the coast and are wondering what to do with your bikes or feet! California was such a good place to explore and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too. Cheers, Dakota
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