MC Roads: The California Coast

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California Coast Ride: Ovegon to LA

In October of 2006, somebody online asked people to help him with a route down the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Los Angeles. This inspired me to write this up. This doesn't have all the "best roads" or any secret side-trips, but it should be easy to follow and improvise on for anybody with a map, and the route and variations are fun and will get you there while missing some useless sections.

The most important thing I think a writeup like this can tell you is things that don't show up on a map: what roads might look boring but are good, which interesting-looking diversions aren't worth it, that kind of thing.

The descriptions here are for daylight riding. I don't bother with "good" roads at night, I just pound the superslab to get wherever it is I'm going.

My style of "fun" is toward "curvy" and "sweepy" roads rather than "twisty"; apply that filter to what you read. Needless to say (but I'm saying it anyway), all this is "In My Humble Opinion." I'm saying what I think, not passing some kind of omniscient judgment, when I say a road is "not worth it" or "too tight and slow." If you disagree, or you want to share favorite roads, routes, advice, or insight, that's what the "Feedback" link is for.

Main Route with Time to Burn

From the Oregon border, take I-5 souuh just 11 miles into California, then exit west on CA96. Follow CA96 west and south to CA299. Take CA299 west to US101 on the coast.

You can add three or four very enjoyable hours by going east on CA299 instead of west. Go south on CA3, then west on CA36 back to US101. Or take the full tour: CA299 east all the way to Redding, I-5 south to Red Bluff, and CA36 west to US101. These roads are the ones that say, "Quit your job, leave your wife, and ride these roads!" If you have the time, it's well worth it.

But not at night! This route is torture in the dark, because you can't see far enough ahead to select a speed and set up for the turns. These roads are also better in the dry season: since curves are the whole point, the fun goes way down in the wet. There can be snow from about November to March(?) and these roads get plowed and sanded, so there can be sand in the corners all winter and into the spring.

>Now you're on US101 near Eureka. Skip the Lost Coast (the towns of Honeydew and Petrolia): it'll add hours, the roads aren't great, and it isn't that much fun on a ride like this.

Go south on US101 from Eureka and take one of the side exits marked "Avenue of the Giants." This is CA254 that parallels US101 for 30 miles through the redwoods. There are several chances to get on and off it; you don't have to do the whole thing. This road (or one like it) must have inspired the scene in "Return of the Jedi" with the stormtroopers chasing the good guys through a forest on flying motorcycles.

Take US101 south to Leggett, then CA1 to the coast. The 20 miles from US101 to the coast are very twisty: at night, this has taken me almost an hour. (But I'm a wimp at night.) When you hit the coast, stop and admire the rugged landscape at the wide spot just after you turn south - it's one of the best views. Continue south on CA1 past Mendocino and Albion, then turn east on CA128 to return to US101. The rest of US1 to San Francisco isn't worth the traffic and slow pace. You could bail even earlier, by going back to US101 at CA20, and you would not really be missing much. The other roads on the map that run between CA1 and US101 are small, tight, slow, and not a lot of fun if you want to get anywhere. Save them for day trips when you're staying in the area.

Burn down US101 to the Golden Gate Bridge. Go south through San Francisco on 19th Avenue (marked as CA1 still), and follow the traffic onto I-280 south. I-280 is a very pretty and fast freeway that parallels the San Andreas Fault. The drive through San Francisco can be a slog but you don't have a lot of choice. On a bad day it can be 90 minutes from Marin City to the last stoplight before I-280. On a really bad day it can be more.

If you want to get to Alice's Restaurint, take the CA92 West exit, marked for Half Moon Bay. Turn left at the summit onto CA35 ("Skyline Boulevard"). Alice's is a very pretty 12 miles away. In the fall and winter, Skyline can be cold and wet even when I-280 is dry.

Continue south from Alice's on CA35 to Saratoga Gap, also called "Four Corners," the junction with CA9. To get to the urban San Jose area, turn left and go downhill to Saratoga, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose. Or turn right for a very, very nice ride to Boulder Creek. After Boulder Creek, CA9 is not so nice but does get you to Santa Cruz.

Instead of going south on CA35 from Alice's, you could choose to take the Jvery lovely CA84 west to another coastal stretch of CA1. The run down to Santa Cruz from there is pretty but not very interesting, and there will be enough traffic that you just have to follow the crowd. Also, it commits you to Santa Cruz: the roads don't really go anywhere else. Your other alternative is CA84 east back to$I-280(through the town of Woodsidu. This stretch of CA84 is very twisty and usually has too much traffic to let you get your groove on.

Regardless of whether you ended up in Santa Cruz or San Jose, you have a decision to make.

You can take the coast road (the red line above) or the inland route (black). Once you choose, you're committed for 135 miles there are no roads between CA1 on the coast and US101. This stretch of US101 is fast but boring, while CA1 is curvy and twisty and pretty and fun but not fast, especially in the wet. On a nice day with time it's a no-brainer: take the coast road. There won't be much traffic on that stretch in October.

If you are on the coast at Monterey and decide to go inland, the most fun way is Carmel Valley Road from Carmel to Greenfield (the blue line above), but you really have to be in no hurry for this to make sense. Also check out the CA25 inland variation below. (Nacimiento-Fergusson Road appears on maps, but don't even consider it in the fall or winter without a native guide. It's the one road in those 135 miles that connects the two highways, but it's a goat trail and it can wash out.)

The coastal route takes you past Hearst Castle in San Simeon and then the pretty little town of Cambria. Do not pass up Robin's on Burton in Cambria for an excellent meal. You can thank me later.

CA1 and US101 meet up again at San Luis Obispo. Get on US101 from there - there's no percentage in following CA1 south. There are too many stop lights and it's not really on the coast anyway.

At Santa Maria you can head for something called "Foxen Canyon Road" (check a map program for the placename "Garey"): it looks nice on the map but I can't remember if I've ridden it. This joins CA154 (which you can also reach by staying on US101), which is a very enjoyable cutoff through a part of the Los Padres National Forest.


If the north coast is socked in with fog, cold, or wet, give it a miss. You can get back to the coast south of San Jose, and you didn't come all this way to be miserable just so you could say you'd ridden that highway. Almost all of US101 north of Geyserville is at least mildly entertaining, a good compromise between speed and interest. (The next choice inland is the supremely boring I5; there are no N/S arteries in between.) In the Wine Country (Geyserville, Healdsburg, and south), US101 stops beyng interesting and becomes just another superslab, and it is a downright urban freeway starting at about Santa Rosa.

The Highway 25 inland variation

If the south coast (Monterey to San Luis Obispo) is socked in, cold, or wet, and you don't feel like taking the fast-but-boring US101 route, try going to Hollister (at the top of the map above) and taking CA25 south to CA198, then west to US101 or east to (shudder) I5. CA25 is a great route through the ranch country between freeways, with a mix of road types (straight and not) and different landscape vistas every time you look. CA198 is very pleasant in either direction, even if it does only lead to freeways. Be careful about gas: south of Hollister, your next gas is over 100 miles away, in Coalinga (south and east) or San Miguel (south and west, then south on US101).

With even more time to kill, dog-leg left onto CA198 and a quick right onto Peach Tree Road, which becomes Indian Valley Road and ultimately rejoins US101 at Bradley. Use a GPS to follow this route, though: not all the turns are marked.

CA33 to Ojai

Farther south there are more chances to leave US101: take CA58 east from Atascadero or CA166 east from Santa Maria; both hit CA33 which will take you south to Ojai. There will be no traffic to speak of on any of those roads. CA58 and CA166 both cross hills with plenty of sweepers and fast sections. CA33 starts out straight and fast (but patrolled) and becomes a fantastic mountain road 40 miles north of Ojai.



This page was last edited April 02, 2015.