Category Archives: Southern California

Huasna Road

Distance: 20-mile out and back
Elevation gain: 1410 ft

Most of the rides in Bestrides are fairly taxing, not because I need to be taxed, but because most really good scenery goes up and down. But there are a blessed few rides that offer ample rewards without requiring work (consult the nearly-flat rides list on the Best of the Best page). Huasna Road is one. A mere 20 miles of mostly imperceptible climbing or descending, with one 1-mile moderate hill near the turn-around, it’s perfect for a recovery day or a day with the non-riding spouse, yet the road contour is so seductive (gentle rollers, no long straights) and the scenery so gorgeous (oat-dotted grassy hillsides, riparian oak canopies) that I guarantee even the most hardened of hammerers will be charmed. A perfect ride for the day after you do the thrill-fest that is Prefumo Canyon Road.

A side benefit of this ride is that it motivates you to go to the town of Arroyo Grande, where it starts. Admit it, you’ve never been there. It turns out to be a bustling, sweet little village with oodles of charm, an ice cream parlor, and a patisserie, well worth a post-ride stop.

Two words of caution. 1) I did this ride in April, when the hillsides were green and the wildflowers lush. It might be a bit less stunning in the dead-brown grass of California’s summer. 2) The prevailing wind in this area is westerly, and it can snort, so I would consult the weather with a particular eye on the predicted winds, and plan my ride so I’m not doing the 10-mile return leg into the teeth of a gale.

A number of rides in Bestrides follow Huasna Road’s profile: park at the intersection of a main artery and a small, untrafficked road. Ride the untrafficked road through an agricultural valley, follow the valley until it turns into a narrow creek canyon, follow the creek up a gradually increasing pitch until it turns into an actual climb, ride to the end of the pavement, return. This profile always gives you a nice mix of flat, rolling, steep(er), open, wooded, inhabited, and isolated.

Do not begin at the beginning of Huasna Rd.—it’s big and busy. Drive down Huasna to where Huasna goes off to the R and Lopez Dr. continues straight. A sign at the T tells you that “Lopez Lake” is straight ahead. A sign on the R points to Huasna. Park before the turn, in a handily large dirt turn-out. Ride down Huasna. You will need to negotiate 3 intersections where you might have doubts—follow the signs to Huasna Valley in every case. Notice especially the second, at the intersection of Huasna, School, and El Rancho, where you go R—it’s signed in this direction, but when returning you get signs for School and El Rancho but none for Huasna and you have to take the unnamed fork.

The scenery is generic at first, but it gets better the further you ride, until you get off the valley floor and into the trees, and then it’s downright grand for the rest of the ride. You’re climbing, but so gradually you won’t notice until you ride it going the other way. About 8 miles in, you hit the one and only hill, about 3/4 mile at 4-6%—in other words, just enough to open up your legs.

The descent down the backside is perfect—easy slaloming at 25-30 mph through lazy, banked esses on glass. Way too short. Off the descent you debouche into Huasna Valley, which is very pretty, and Huasna itself, which is about 4 simple ranch houses. The road splits into two in the midst of “downtown,” and you turn around.

The climb back up the hill is just a smidgen harder and longer than the climb up the front side. Then the descent is just as sweet as the descent on the outbound leg was. The rest of the return ride is that sort of 2% descending where you don’t think you’re descending, you just think you’re on the best day of your life. Assuming you’ve timed it right and the winds aren’t bad.

Adding Miles: There isn’t a lot of good riding nearby, to my knowledge. Huasna Rd. continues on past Huasna Valley, and apparently cyclists ride a lot of it, but it’s only paved for two more miles, and that pavement is only tolerable chipseal. The first mile is highly recommended, because the scenery is as good as what you’ve been through but it’s much more isolated. Go for the solitude. After that, the road climbs briefly to a summit and you can get an idea of what lies ahead of you if you continue. It looks pretty desolate. Back in Huasna, there’s a sign reading “End county-maintained road 14 miles ahead,” for what that’s worth.

The other road out of Huasna is Huasna Townsite Rd. It runs for about 3 miles until it dead-ends, and the scenery seems fine, but the road surface is a particularly nasty kind of chipseal that seems to be pebbles instead of gravel. If you’ve dreamt of riding Paris-Roubaix, here’s your chance. I hated it.

Back at the start of our ride, at the intersection of Lopez Dr. and Huasna, Lopez Dr. is a popular bike route that runs a few miles to Lopez Lake. I haven’t done it, but it looks to be fairly big, pleasant, open, and largely unexciting.

If you want to look further afield, the SLO area is particularly blessed with route resources, thanks mostly to the SLO Bicycle Club website. There you’ll find a list of favored local rides, though the some 40-odd rides detailed there aren’t evaluated for quality or character. I have a paper ride map of the SLO area called the San Luis Obispo County Bike Map, and it’s a beauty. See if local bike shops still have copies. Downloadable maps of the area are at https://bikeslocounty.org/resources/maps/.

When Huasna Road isn’t in the canopy, it’s still pretty

Prefumo Canyon Road/See Canyon Road

Distance: 25 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2910 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

I’m delighted to add this ride to Bestrides for two reasons, beyond the obvious one that it’s great: a) it’s in an “under-represented” area of California—San Luis Obispo had no rides in Bestrides before this (there are now two, this and Huasna Road); and b) I was tipped off to it by a reader who told me I had to check it out, which is always my favorite way to discover a ride.

It’s a marvelous ride, full of everything we ride bikes for: beautiful woods, grand vistas, some easy rolling, some moderate climbing, a little tough climbing, some thrilling descending—even a bit of rideable dirt. I didn’t put it in the Top Ten best of the best list, but I was sorely tempted. It’s a high-energy thrill-fest, along a creek through dense, magnificent riparian oaks, then up to a mountaintop where you can see forever, then down the back side through more oak canopy to the outskirts of Avila, a beach town that is a perfect spot for getting off the bike and exploring.

You might worry that 25 miles won’t give you a workout. Fear not. It’s harder than the numbers suggest, because most of the (recorded) 3200 ft of climbing you do in 4 miles—two on the climb up to the summit and two on the return from Avila. Mapmyride says you’ll do some 12-13% on the ride out and touch 14% on the ride back, and I won’t dispute those numbers. The rest of the route is moderate to easy rollers.

Timing matters on this ride. I am told that the SLO spring is very short-lived—two weeks or so. Apparently I was supremely lucky to do this ride in mid-April, when the wildflowers were flourishing and everything was green. Try to time your ride accordingly. Similarly, much of the specialness of the ride is in the views from the hilltop, so try to find a day with immaculately clear skies.

You can start where Prefumo Canyon Road leaves huge Los Osos Valley Road, but it’s generic residential/apartment complex, so I drive the 1/2 mile down PCR to Castillo Ct., park curbside on Castillo and ride from there. The first 3 miles are mellow ascending rollers, so you can warm up on them before doing anything hard. The scenery here is solid bush and OK but not spectacular. It will get much, much better.

From mile 3 to the summit (at c. 4.5 miles) you will work, but you won’t mind because there’s a lot going on. The road is never straight and never climbs at one pitch for long, so you get constant breaks and variations, and the landscape is first pretty riparian oak woods, then open hilltop with steadily improving vistas overlooking the SLO valley to the east and the land to the north. Eventually you can see the ocean and Morro Rock to the west. Possibly the grandest vistas in Bestrides after the Santa Rosa Road Wall.

The first few miles of Prefumo Canyon Rd. are a monument to the tar dribbler’s art

Roll across the hilltop for a short mile (with several mega-mansions for company), then begin the obvious descent down the back side. Of course you can turn around at the summit if your climbing legs are toast, but you don’t want to, because the rest of the road is really, really pretty. Instantly the road surface, which has been unproblematic, goes to hell, but it doesn’t matter because very soon it disappears and you’re on dirt. I’m not big on dirt, but this is totally rideable (I had 25 mm tires, but you don’t need them), it only lasts a bit over a mile, and the oak canopy on the dirt leg is the best non-vista scenery on the ride. Somewhere in here the road changes its name from Prefumo Canyon Rd. to See Canyon Rd., but I don’t know where.

When the dirt ends, you begin two miles of fast but not very interesting descending (mostly straight, mostly monotonous)—my least favorite part of the ride, in either direction. Once off the slope, you have 4 miles of effortless (in both directions) riding over easy rollers through a garden-pretty hillside with oaks on one side and often old apple trees on the other (See Canyon apple cider is apparently a local thing).

I’ve ended the route at the end of See Canyon Rd., but I encourage you to ride the two additional miles to Avila, one of the most charming of the many coastal villages in this area.

The ride back has only one surprise, which is how hard the climb back to the dirt is. The road is still straight and monotonous, but now it’s that at 5 mph. I didn’t enjoy it. The oaks are still pretty. After the dirt, the short climb to the hilltop is murder, but, as I say, short.

The descent from the hilltop is at first a bit too rough, a bit too steep, and a bit too full of speed-scrubbing switchbacks for ideal riding, but the situation you’re in is so amazing that you’re transported anyway. Once past the 2 miles of steep, the descending is pretty ideal—dropping rollers through pleasant esses at comfortable and controllable speed on unproblematic pavement. Castillo Ct. comes all too soon.

The rewards of the dirt leg

You’ll see some cars at the two ends of this route, and the hilltop is a popular place for nature lovers and their cars on weekends, but I didn’t find it to be a problem. Passing lines are good, and much of the route is almost deserted. I did the ride at the road’s busiest season, and it wasn’t at all bad.

Adding Miles: Save the few miles to and just past Avila Beach, there isn’t any prime riding at either end of this route. It’s possible to loop the ride by returning on the frontage road running along the lip of Hwy 101, but it’s not rewarding.

Looking north from the hilltop on Prefumo Canyon Rd.

If you’re looking for rides further afield, the SLO area is particularly blessed with route resources, thanks largely to the SLO Bicycle Club website. There you’ll find a list of favored local rides, though the some 40-odd rides detailed there aren’t evaluated for quality or character. I have a paper ride map of the SLO area called the San Luis Obispo County Bike Map, and it’s a beauty. See if local bike shops still have copies. Downloadable maps of the area are at https://bikeslocounty.org/resources/maps/.

Prefumo Canyon Rd: Dropping off the edge of the hilltop on the return to SLO. Downtown SLO is barely visible on either side of the mound at 1:30

Adelaida Road/Chimney Rock Road

Distance: 23.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1980 ft

The country west of Paso Robles is a network of sweet, meandering roads with mostly vineyards for backdrop.  This route is the best loop ride in the area, a charming, pretty, fairly easy ramble that includes the best 6 miles of road in all of Paso Robles, and as joyful a 6-mile stretch as any ride in Bestrides.  But you must ride the loop in our direction—going the other way reduces the 6-mile stretch from magnificent to merely very good.

Adelaida is a fairly major artery through the Paso wine country, so traffic is an issue.  You’re going to meet a lot of cars if you ride during rush hour or on a weekend.  I drove it at 9 am on a weekday and had to pull over frequently to let mobs of cars pass.  Then I rode it at 11 am on a weekday and pretty much had the road to myself, seeing only the occasional farm or service vehicle.

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Santa Rita Road/Cypress Mountain Road

Distance: 45.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4860 ft

This ride has a lot of dirt—the only largely dirt ride in Bestrides.  I don’t do dirt, and my bike wasn’t made for dirt, but this is doable dirt as long as you have 25 mm tires, and the pleasures of the route make the dirt worth enduring.   Beyond that, Bestrides has two rides in Paso Robles and a ride in Cambria, and it would be lovely if there was a way to ride from one to the other without the grim tedium of Hwy 46.  This is that way.

The route involves two pretty, deliciously isolated stretches of dirt road, both of which climb up and over a summit, one short tough pavement climb, a nice descent on one of Paso Robles’s classic wine trails, and some of the most spectacular vistas in all of Bestrides.  There is one mile of smooth but steep dirt climbing (10%+).

The loop can be started at any point, so just decide where you want to end up and start there.  But don’t go counterclockwise—Cypress Mountain Dr. is much tougher going that way, and the climb on Santa Rita much longer.  And don’t attempt this ride if the ground is wet—the roads will be impassible.

This ride can easily be cut in half if you aren’t up for a long day—just ride what’s above or below Hwy 46, whichever half appeals to you, then return via Hwy 46, which is big, boring, and relatively easy.  Santa Rita Rd. is prettier and easier; Cypress Mountain Dr. has the views.  If I was doing the Cypress Mt. half, I’d ride out Hwy 46 and back on CMR.  If you’re saying, “I can do 45 miles standing on my head,” remember that dirt is twice as tiring as pavement, climbing on dirt even more so.

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Caliente Loop

Distance: 44-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4320 ft

If you’re like me, you think Bakersfield is hot and flat, which is what you see driving through on Hwy 5.  But a Friend of Bestrides wrote in to say I had to overcome my prejudices and try the area.  It turns out that Bakersfield, while it is smack in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, is at the Valley’s southernmost tip, so it’s surrounded closely on 3 sides by mountains like the Tehachapis, and there are good roads in those mountains.   The Caliente Loop is considered one of the local gems.

The loop is essentially three different rides: a meander through a small, rocky creek canyon; a mostly flat roll across a wide valley dotted with horse farms, and a thrilling series of switchbacks through thick foothill shrubbery.

Why I didn’t ride (that and the 20-mph wind, and the cows)

First, a mea culpa: I haven’t ridden it yet—the only ride in Bestrides I haven’t done.  The one day I set aside for it, the fog on the course had visibility down to 100 ft, my wipers were going a mile a minute, the road was a slimy morass, the wind was 20 mph, mostly in the rider’s face, and free-range cows were wandering the road (in the fog) during the 9% descent that ends the ride.   I thought of my wife and children and drove the course, photographing from my car.  But Bestrides needs to recognize Bakersfield, so I’m putting the loop in.  I’ll get back and ride it, I promise.

Before you get on your bike, you have a decision to make: Which way to go?  See the vigorous debate about this in the comment section, with me on one side and everyone else on the other.  And check out the elevation profile.  The facts: clockwise gives you a 7-mile climb up a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks, then a steep 3-mile descent, then a 9.5-mile mellow climb, then a 22-mile medium descent; counterclockwise gives you the reverse: a 22-mile mild ascent, a 9.5-mile easy descent, 3 miles of 9+ climbing, then a 7-mile descent down a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks.  My route goes counterclockwise.  Wind direction is also a factor, since the middle 13 miles is open and fairly flat.

This is a ride you want to time correctly, and the window is small: ideally you’d ride in the spring, when the creek you’ll follow for the first 20 miles is babbling and the grassy fields of the second leg are green.   But spring means spring run-off, and any significant run-off closes the road, because Caliente Creek Rd. has several places where flash flood gullies flow right over the roadway.  I’d ask about road conditions at a local bike shop.  And expect to find a “road closed” sign and ford some streams any time before summer.
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Parkfield Grade

Distance: 19 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2770 ft

This is another of those rides that has location going for it.  What else are you going to do if you’re stuck in Coalinga?   It’s a classic climb from the lip of the Hwy 5 corridor up 10 miles through hardscrabble hills of grass, rock, and oak.  The scenery is quite lovely in its way.  It’s at its best in spring when the grassy hills are green.    Grand vistas of the San Joaquin Valley below abound.  The road surface is sound (which is all you can ask, since no one uses this road save the rare ranchers who run a few head of cattle on the hills), and, while the pitch is a tad monotonous, the back-and-forth contour is constantly stimulating.  It’s a fair amount of vert (2000 ft in 6 miles), but it’s just a steady moderate effort, never steep enough to be a grind.  The road turns to dirt at the summit, which will keep cars and most bikes out of your playground.  All in all, a thoroughly rewarding little outing.

Avoid this ride (and Hwy 189) during periods of hot sun—it’s fully exposed.  In summer, ride only in early morning.
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Tepusquet Road

Distance: 30 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 3170 ft

What is more delicious than discovering a great ride where you thought there was none?  Tepusquet Road, surely one of the better road names in Bestrides, was suggested to me by a Friend of Bestrides who has local knowledge of Santa Maria.  It’s a delightful surprise.  Rising out of the flat, dry, dusty agricultural fields, it climbs easily and steadily up through lush, shady canopies of riparian oaks to a pass, then makes a joyous little descent into the valley on the other side.   Rewards include grand vistas, lots of banked switchbacks, and a ton of solitude.  Not a life-changing ride, but a very good one, made all the more pleasant by how little you were expecting (or did I ruin the surprise now?).

This is an excellent ride for through-riders, because there’s good riding on either end—see Adding Rides below.

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Maricopa Highway

Distance: 44 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4900 ft

This road goes by several names: the Maricopa Highway, the Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway, and Highway 33.  The road contour isn’t fascinating.  It’s a “motorcycle road,” designed to be exciting at 60 mph but at 12 mph is fairly tame.  This ride is mostly about the scenery and the solitude.  It’s a remarkably isolated, stark, and rather grand high desert landscape, with varied and striking rock formations and large vistas, land that seems untouched by Man and so harsh that you understand why.

You can do this road several different ways.  You could ride the entire road as an out and back, starting at Meiner’s Oaks on the outskirts of Ojai and turning around at the intersection with Lockwood Valley Rd., giving you a 70-mile day with about 8000 ft of vert—big but not undoable by any means.   But the southern 13 miles, from Meiner’s Oaks to Rose Valley Rd., are a grind going up and not particularly exciting going down—by far the least rewarding miles on the road (about a mile north of Rose Valley Rd. there’s a small overlook where you can see several miles of what you’re in for).   There’s one moment of interest, Wheeler Gorge, a small rock crevasse bisected by two tunnels, that you’ll be missing if you skip it.  You could ride the entire road one way from south to north, which starts the ride with a 30-mile climb and leaves you with the problem of shuttling back to your car.   You could ride the entire road one way from north to south—certainly better than south to north, because it minimizes the climbing and turns the southern 13 miles into a painless downhill—but you still have the shuttle problem.  The best route is the way I’ve mapped it: start at the Ozena Fire Station just south of the Hwy 33/Lockwood Valley Rd. junction, ride to Rose Valley Rd. and turn around.  This gives you all the good scenery, one good, short climb and one good short descent, and a lot of moderate rolling.  And that’s why they pay me the big bucks.  Of course this does leave you with the problem of how to get to the intersection of Hwy 33 and Lockwood Valley Rd, so the second best route is my route starting at the southern end, which involves you driving 13 miles from Ojai to Rose Valley Rd. and back.  Every route has its own inconveniences.

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Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

Distance: 53 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4720 ft

( A Best of the Best ride)

This route is covered thoroughly in words and pictures at toughascent.com.

This is the best ride in California and Oregon.  It’s a long way from anywhere, so you’re going to have to go out of your way to get to it, and it goes from the middle of nowhere to a blank spot on Hwy 1.  This is all to your advantage, because it means you’ll pretty much have the road to yourself (see update below).

It’s one of those rides where you just ride the road, from its start to its finish, then ride back.  In the process you’ll ride through four distinct ecosystems and experience four distinct kinds of riding, each a perfect example of its type: first, easy rollers through a valley full of golden grass and magnificent oaks, then gentle climbing along a pretty creek as it ascends a small riparian canyon, then vigorous climbing as you leave the creek and ascend to a saddle through oak forest, and finally a steep plunge down a steep, twisting road to Hwy 1 with views of the sea and coastline that are simply astonishing.  The riding on the return is different but just as wonderful: a challenging 7-mile climb up from the ocean, a flat-out slaloming descent, an easy roll along the creek, and finally the oaken valley.  It’s all just perfect—you’ll swear Disney built the course.

Update 5/17:  Highway 1 is currently closed south of NFR thanks to two large mudslides.  I’m not sure how much traffic on N-F will be increased by this.

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Glendora Ridge Road

Distance: 43 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4930 ft

Our Southern California ride list has three rides that are all big, chest-thumping rides up a mighty mountain: Mt. Figueroa, Gibraltar Road, and Glendora Ridge.  Of the three, Glendora Ridge is the most monotonous climb, both in pitch and scenery.    But it also has the best ridge ride, a rollicking roller coaster, often along the precise ridge spine (see photos below).  All three rides are detailed in toughascent.com, and I encourage you to familiarize yourself with his write-ups.

Despite the title, the ride is actually two very different rides, a long steady climb up Glendora Mountain Rd., then a roller along Glendora Ridge Rd. to the ski town of Mt. Baldy.    My computer recorded 5930 ft of vert, which puts it in the same category as Figueroa and Gibraltar, but it felt easier and I’m guessing the pitch is less intense.  Or I was having a very good day.

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