Category Archives: Southern California

Las Pilitas Road Lollipop

Distance: 49-mile lollipop (with two sticks)
Elevation gain: 4110 ft

Highway 101 runs north and south between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, two of Bestrides’s favorite riding haunts. It turns out that every small road east of that stretch of Hwy 101 is good as well. The terrain is all pretty much the same: small rolling hills covered in grass—a luscious green in spring—and dotted with magnificent oaks (the “robles” of Paso Robles). Among the hills are small valleys, meadows, family farms, horse ranches, and smalll vineyards. Every acre is eye candy. The roads skirt the meadows and ranches, follow little streams up small canyons, and roll up and over hill after hill—almost never flat, almost never straight, no long tedious grinds uphill. It isn’t the most exhilarating riding—it lacks long, thrilling descents, awesome gorges, and other big-ticket features—but it’s lovely, idyllic, and tranquil. And car traffic is almost non-existent, if you stay off the main arteries.

Here’s my favorite ride in the area. It’s a lollipop with two sticks, made up of 5 separate roads, and it’s surrounded by other good riding, so it’s easy to contract or expand the mileage, as we’ll discuss in Shortening the Ride and Adding Miles. You can also begin anywhere on the route and ride in either direction. The elevation gain total isn’t insignificant, but none of the route is flat, so you know that the climbing is mild to moderate.

The pleasure of this ride, and any riding in the area, is doubled if you can hit it after the spring rains but before the summer heat turns the grasses brown.

Start at the intersection of Pozo Rd. and Las Pilitas Rd. Ride Pilitas to Park Hill Rd. This is my second-favorite leg of the route, mostly up, and the hardest climbing you’ll do (though it’s never fierce). Like most of this route’s roads, it meanders back and forth and rolls its way up, so the pitch is constantly changing and you can rarely see more than about 1/8th of a mile of road ahead of you. Look at the oaks that surround you—each is unique, and each is a work of art. Stop and listen to the silence—it’s really peaceful up there.

Las Pilitas Road

Turn L on Park Hill and almost immediately go R onto Huer Huero Rd. (Or not. Park Hill is the straightest leg of this route, with the longest unaltered pitches, so riding it up is at times tedious. Huer Huero is steeper and more varied in contour. So my way gives you the best descending and the more boring climbing. If you go down Park Hill and come up Huer Huero you get long, straight descending and more entertaining but harder climbing. You choose.).

Huer Huero (the name is apparently a Spanish approximation of a Native American word) is on the east side of the summit, so it’s a bit dryer than Pilitas. It’s also more developed—Pilitas has almost no signs of human habitation beyond wire fences, but Huer Huero has lots of simple ranch houses. It’s also the worst road surface on our route, or it was when I rode it (4/23), with large patches of upheaved pavement and stretches of dirt and sand in the first half-mile. In fact there was a sign at the beginning reading “Road closed—local traffic only,” which I wisely ignored. There are also about 5 places where water flows over the road in the rainy season. They were about an inch deep when I was there, but it hadn’t rained in a while so this might be an issue if the weather has been wet. All this sounds like the road is a nightmare, but it’s actually very nice—good scenery and some very nice serpentine descending.

Webster Road

Huer Huero ends at Hwy 58, curiously signed here “Calf Canyon Hwy.” Take it to the L. It’s not fun. The scenery is lovely, but it’s all large ups or downs and it’s a busy road, so you’ll have cars whizzing by you at 60 mph as you grind up long pitches at 6 mph, or descend at 35 mph, which is almost worse, on the minimal shoulder for 3.5 miles.

At this point you hit the intersection of Hwy 58 and Hwy 229 running north to Creston. You’re saying to yourself, “The last thing I need is another State highway.” But 229, aka Webster Rd., is like no State highway you’ve ever seen. It’s a wide one-lane roller coaster with a great road surface through gorgeous, manicured landscapes (more rolling grassy hills, more oaks). It’s my favorite leg of the route. It has one substantial climb, which is a rip-roaring whoop-de-doo coming back down—otherwise, it just rolls gently up and down. I saw two vehicles total, out and back.

Park Hill Road

About 2 miles from Creston you pass Rocky Canyon Rd., which looks great on the map but is erroneously identified as paved in RidewithGPS (it isn’t), and Webster exits its little canyon and enters dead flat farm country. So the road goes flat and straight, and you have my permission to turn around. But the reward for riding those 2 flat miles is you get to see Creston, a true tiny California farming community—about ten houses, a cute little church, a restaurant called The Loading Chute, and another with the classic EAT sign on top.

Whenever you choose, turn around and enjoy Hwy 229 going the other way. Back at 58, suffer another 1.5 miles (almost all steeply down) to the intersection with Park Hill Rd. Go L onto Park Hill and climb it back to Las Pilitas. Park Hill is mostly up but never steep, and the pavement is good for a while. Notice Tierra Del Cielo Farm on your R. Since earth and heaven are by definition opposites, I’m not sure what they have in mind.

Las Pilitas Road’s oaks

The return ride down Pilitas to your car is surprisingly wonderful. The scenery is terrific, the road contour is always changing, and (except for one noticeable 1/2-mile of climbing after the bridge near the end) you can use your descending speed to charge up the frequent small risers, so you never work. Delightful. Perfect if the pavement were a mite smoother.

Shortening the ride: One’s natural inclination is drop the two lollipop sticks and just ride the loop, but if you do you’ll be riding the worst part of the route. So I would do the opposite, and ride either Hwy 229 and Las Pilitas Rd. or both, as an out-and-back. Hwy 229 is sweeter; Pilitas is more work and more thrilling.

Adding miles: Basically, from here you can ride forever on good stuff. From Creston you can ride north on what is first called Creston Rd., then Geneseo Rd., then Linne Rd. all the way to Paso Robles, where you can connect with all our Paso routes. From our starting point, Pozo Rd. is good in either direction. You can even go straight on through Pozo itself and circumnavigate Santa Margarita Lake. If you’re set up for dirt and you want to get adventurous, at Pozo you can jump on the other end of Hi Mountain Rd. (discussed in the Adding Miles section of the Huasna Rd. ride) and ride it to all our SLO rides.

Cabrillo National Monument

Distance: 30 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1300 ft

For a general discussion of San Diego riding, see the introduction to the Mission Bay to La Jolla ride.

This ride has a lot in common with the other two San Diego rides in Bestrides, Mission Bay to La Jolla and the Bayshore Bikeway (discussed in the Adding Miles section of the Mission Bay to La Jolla ride). It’s mostly along the water, it spends much of its time riding through old-SD beach neighborhoods, and it’s mostly flat. What makes it stand out from the other two is the unique ex-hippy-meets-beach-town of Ocean Beach, the spectacular vistas of San Diego harbor from Cabrillo National Monument, a great cliffside hike, the best tide-pooling in the region, and an actual hill, a rarity in San Diego. The panoramic view of the harbor is one of the best destination vistas in Bestrides, almost as good as Tunnel Road/Claremont Ave. Loop and Grizzly Peak Blvd to Redwood Rd.

Even if you don’t do the hike you’ll want to do some walking around the Cabrillo National Monument, so I encourage you to shove a pair of walking shoes or flip-flops up the back of your jersey. And bring your National Park pass if you have one and ID, to save yourself the entry fee at the Monument, which is $10 (yes, even for cyclists).

RidewithGPS gets twitchy on this route, so I’m going to talk you through it in more than usual detail. Begin at Mission Bay Park, which is the same starting point as the Mission Bay to La Jolla ride—see that ride for parking info. There is nothing spectacular about the first miles of this route, and if you want to start in Ocean Beach I won’t think less of you.

Ocean Beach Pier

Ride south from Mission Bay Park along East Mission Bay Drive, go R onto Sea World Dr., and continue on SWD and through the interchange to the bridge over the San Diego River. The road is big and open, easy riding despite traffic, but if it bothers you there are separated bike paths on your right for much of the route—just keep an eye out for them. The views are of Mission Bay and the marsh surrounding—nothing to write home about. Don’t expect grand views of Sea World—distant tops of a few roller coasters is all. The ride across the bridge is effortless thanks to a separated bike lane. Views of the river are moderately interesting. Fact: the river used to spill into San Diego Bay, but the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t want all that silt filling up the bay, so they rerouted it to flow into Mission Bay, and now straight to the ocean.

On the far side of the bridge keep R onto Sunset Cliffs Blvd. and take the first R onto West Point Loma Blvd. We now follow our San Diego cycling habit of staying as close to the water as possible. Work your way up the shoreline, following our map’s dizzying number of zigzags.

Ocean Beach downtown

My route has you riding only momentarily on Newport Ave., but this is the heart of Ocean Beach and I encourage you to check it out before continuing. It’s a delightful cross between Haight-Ashbury in the 60’s and SoCal Beach Town. Lots of interesting places to eat. Once you’ve experienced the scene, return to our route and ride on.

Eventually our zigzagging bails out on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. Take SCB to the R and ride it to its end. You ride along Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, a long string of picturesque cliffs worth a look or a stroll (it’s not the hike I mentioned earlier, which is at the turn-around for the ride). You’ll have a lot of company—it’s popular.

Rosecrans Cemetery, north Catalina Island, and downtown San Diego

At the end of SCB, turn L, as you must, up Ladera St. and ride it one short block to its end at the intersection of Ladera and Cornish. Now ignore our map. RideGPS refuses to acknowledge what you’re about to do. To the south you see a sign reading “Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.” To its L is a wide, straight, sandy path angling slightly away from the water. Ride it 1/8 mile to its end (it’s signed for bikes), where you’ll see a short flight of stairs. Climb them and emerge on Lomaland Dr. We are now back on our route.

Lomaland climbs very steeply to the R (you can see the pitch) and only steeply to the L, so go L unless you want the challenge. This short pitch touches 11% and is quite a shock after all that flat riding. You’re now riding through the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University—hence the unusual architecture. Turn R on Savoy St. when the hill ends and follow it to Catalina Blvd. The navigating is over—you stay straight on Catalina (which becomes Cabrillo Memorial Dr.) to the turn-around point of the ride.

Cabrillo National Monument Visitor Center viewpoint—click to enlarge

Catalina is a very big street, but there’s plenty of room, and for the first while there’s a separated side road just for you. Soon you leave the neighborhoods behind, but you’re not in backcountry—rather you pass an intimidating set of gates and enter Point Loma Naval Base. You stay on military land until the National Monument. So expect lots of guard stations, security gates, and an enormous military cemetery (Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery). The road is wide two-lane with plenty of room for you, and the cars are well used to cyclists.

Soon on your L you’ll begin to see why you’ve come—amazing views of Coronado Island’s North Island Naval Air Station, the community of Coronado, the Silver Strand spit running south from Coronado, the entirety of San Diego Bay, and all of mainland San Diego behind. Framed behind the National Cemetery’s rows of headstones, it’s quite moving.

Road to the tide pools and Coast Trail, with Mexico’s Los Coronados Islands

Continue on the Cabrillo National Monument, which consists of a Visitor Center, a lighthouse you can walk through when it’s open, some historical stuff about World War II installations, and a road down to famous tide pools. Come prepared to visit all of it. Walking shoes aren’t absolutely necessary but will make your visit a lot easier. The gatehouse charges cyclists $10 to enter (boo), so bring your lifetime National Park pass and ID if you have one. When I rode in the ranger waved me through for nothing (yay).

The Visitor Center has the official vista point overlooking San Diego, with a nice placard identifying the highlights of what you’re looking at. You’re at a mere 400 ft elevation, but still this is one of the finest vistas and one of the most satisfying destinations in all of Bestrides. The Center also has bathrooms, water, a nice little museum about Cabrillo and Spanish California, a gift shop, and a movie theatre that shows a great little free film about Cabrillo’s voyage. There’s a drinking fountain but the Center has no food other than snacks out of a vending machine.

Coast Trail

The lighthouse isn’t always open, but don’t miss it if it is. Inside you can see two floors of furnished rooms and climb the wonderful circular staircase up to the fresnel lens.

A small radio shack near the lighthouse (easy to miss) has an interesting exhibit of the 16-inch guns, the biggest guns the Navy ever had, that once defended the bay.

Our route isn’t over. Take the side road toward the ocean just inside the entrance gate, indicated by a sign reading “Tidepools” but marked less obviously by a road sign reading “Cabrillo Rd.” Take the spiffy little drop down to the tide pools and, if you have shoes and the time, walk the Coast Trail along the grandly eroded cliffs. Near the north end of the trail there’s a rock jutting from the cliff face that’s packed with cormorants and pelicans, and they’ll fly right by your face when they take off. If you’re there at low tide, the tide pooling is apparently outstanding—so outstanding that a couple of miles from the Monument entrance gate you pass a sign reading on one side “20-Minute Wait From Here” and on the other “Tidepool Parking Full.” I was there on a Monday in February and the place was crawling with people.

Turn around and enjoy the .7-mile, 8-10% climb out—just long enough and hard enough to make you say, “Oh yeah, I remember hills” if you’ve been in San Diego for a while.

Lighthouse stairwell

You can ride home the way you came, but for me the zigzag through the neighborhoods is something I only need to do once a day, so I take the straight route home: Catalina > Point Loma Ave. > Sunset Cliffs Blvd. It’s all fast and surprisingly mellow for city riding.

Shortening the route: Lop off as much of the start of the ride as you want. Most extremely, you could start on Catalina Blvd. and do a 6.5-mile ride.

Adding miles: Since you’re starting where the Mission Bay to La Jolla ride starts, you can add on that ride effortlessly. The Adding Miles section of the Mission Bay to La Jolla ride discusses how you can add on the Bayshore Bikeway ride as well.

Mission Bay to La Jolla

Distance: 22 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 660 ft

Cycling in San Diego is backwards. Usually when I’m in a city I can’t wait to get out of town and into the surrounding hills. But I’m not excited by the hills to the east of San Diego—the road contours are monotonous and the scenery is scrub. And riding in the burbs is endless big, straight, flat roads past gated communities. But the riding in town along the water is very good. City riding tends to be frenetic and dangerous, but not so here. Traffic is light, the roads are hospitable, bike lanes and bike boulevards abound, and the beach communities are cozy and charming. Bestrides discusses three of those ocean-hugging routes, all of them chestnuts to the locals: the ride to Cabrillo National Monument, the Bayshore Bikeway (in Adding Miles below), and this one. Since they hug the shoreline, all three rides are flat or nearly so, are slow-paced, and are perfect to do with your non-rabid partner on their e-bike. Comparing the three, this one is the slowest, Cabrillo has the climbing and the grand vista, and the Bayshore Bikeway has the solitude.

This is one of those urban adventure rides like the San Francisco Wiggle Route. It’s about poking your nose into interesting little corners of the city. It changes its personality every couple of miles, and it doesn’t have a boring moment, if you like SoCal beach culture and residential architecture, which I do.

Take your time on this ride. You’ll spend as much time watching seals frolic, assessing the skills of the surfers along the route, and sampling the fish tacos in a seaside taco shack as you do riding. This 22-mile ride took me about 4 hours. And even though it’s in the heart of a busy city, it’s 99% on neighborhood streets or sidewalks (!), so it’s almost car-free. I can’t think of a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon lazing about on your bike.

Our route starts at Mission Bay Park, where Clairemont Drive crosses the San Diego Freeway. Parking is plentiful—if you can’t park in the lot at the intersection, there are several parking lots to the north and south, and there is abundant curb parking in either direction on Mission Bay Drive. Ride north on Mission Bay Drive, an open, tranquil boulevard near the water’s edge with good views of Mission Bay and the grass fields and public beaches along its lip. From here on, with few exceptions, you just stay as close to the water as you can.

Pacific Beach

Soon you cross the cute little Mike Gotch Memorial Bridge over the Rose Inlet and your park boulevard becomes a street, Pacific Beach Drive. PBD is large and badly paved, but few cars use it. On your L is the Kendall Frost Mission Bay Marsh Preserve. The large stick mounds you see dotting the marsh are the nests of Ridgway’s Rail. The nests are tethered to the marsh grasses and float up and down with the rising and falling tides.

You can take PBD straight west to the ocean if you’re short on time, but our route takes a detour by staying close to the water and riding the perimeter of Crown Point, a peninsula that juts south into Mission Bay. Take Crown Point Drive, a large and open street, to the L. You can stay on it if it makes you happy, but I prefer the small paved trail that takes off soon to the L and continues between the street and the water, the Bayside Walk (weekend pedestrian traffic may make it unrideably crowded). It goes all the way to the southern tip of the Mission Beach peninsula, but before then we bail and take surface streets back to Pacific Beach Drive and take it L to the water (ignore the odd little jog south RidewithGPS invented).

Secluded beach spot south of La Jolla

Ride west until you’re gazing at the ocean and standing on the sidewalk fronting the beach. You’re now in Pacific Beach—not to be confused with Mission Beach just to the south and the more famous Ocean Beach on our Cabrillo Monument ride. The sidewalk you’re standing on is called Ocean Front Walk, and on a busy weekend day it may be nearly impassible with pedestrians, but you’re welcome to ride on it, and you should make the effort, because it’s a classic SoCal beach community scene—surfers in the water and prepping on the beach, girls in bikinis, customers drinking at the outdoor beer stands and watching the aforementioned surfers and girls, grass-roofed taco stands. Take Ocean Front Walk R/north and stay on it until it ends.

From the end of Ocean Front Walk you could take main streets all the way to La Jolla: Mission Blvd., La Jolla Blvd., and Prospect Street. They’re all wide, busy, and boring. We’re going to do the opposite and try to lose ourselves in the intriguing warren of beachfront streets to the west of them There is an almost infinite variety of routes available, and you can’t really go wrong or get lost, since you have the ocean on one side and the big streets on the other—just make sure you keep heading north. You’ll have the best time if you always choose to a) stay close to the water and b) take the smallest street that isn’t a cul de sac.

House south of La Jolla

The rewards here are architectural. From Pacific Beach to La Jolla, every house seems to be unique, charming, beautifully maintained, and insanely expensive. Navigating is fun, especially since every street name seems to be some combination of playa (Spanish for “beach”), sol, arena (Spanish for “sand”), marina, vista, mar, and camino. Playa Del Sol? Vista Del Mar? Camino Del Playa? Playa Del Vista? Camino Del Vista Del Playa Del Mar? How many combinations can there be? You will also pass some sweet off-the-grid beach access spots if you want to dig your toes into the sand.

Arriving in La Jolla, you’ll find excellent shopping and eating, but I’m only interested in the shoreline. Your first stop is Children’s Pool Beach, where for much of the year you (along with a throng of others) can watch the mama seals teach their new babies how to swim. Heartwarming. Continue north along the water 1/4 mile to Point La Jolla, where you may see seals surfing the swells and leaping clear of the water before the crest breaks. Amazing. Just past Point La Jolla is La Jolla Cove, with more seals, caves, and dramatic coastal views.

Mom seal teaching baby to swim at Children’s Pool

You can continue on north as far as you want (see Adding Miles). Turn around when you’re ready and return to Pacific Beach. Retrace your route or discover a new one through the neighborhoods.

Before turning L onto Pacific Beach Dr., continue south on Ocean Front Walk and explore the community of tiny beach houses that begin at PBD and go south down the Mission Beach peninsula. They’re packed in between Ocean Front Walk and Mission Blvd., rows and rows of adorable bungalows separated only by walkways just wide enough for your handlebars. These “streets” are so small most maps don’t show them—as many as 7 or 8 in a normal city block—and they have names as colorful and imaginative as the cottages themselves: Zanzibar, Windemere, Yarmouth. It’s a private world, like the Berkeley Hills or Sausalito’s houseboat communities, one you can only gaze at and fantasize about the life within.

Bungalows south of Pacific Beach

When you’re done, return to Pacific Beach Dr. and retrace your steps home. If you don’t need to see Crown Point twice, just stay on PBD and you’ll be home in minutes.

Shortening the route: it’s already short and easy, but if you must, the uniquely San Diegan part of the ride is from Pacific Beach to La Jolla, so park near the west end of Pacific Beach Dr. and ride from there.

Adding miles: You can keep riding north. I haven’t done it, but I am assured that the riding along the coast remains rewarding at least as far as Encinitas and probably all the way to Oceanside, where the Coast Highway deadends into Hwy 5.

Our Cabrillo National Monument ride begins and ends where this ride begins and ends.

With little trouble you can ride East Mission Bay Drive south from our starting point and continue on it (later called Pacific Hwy., then Harbor Dr.)) to another iconic San Diegan ride, the aforementioned Bayshore Bikeway. Once called the Bay Route Ride and supposedly renamed to avoid confusion with possible bike rides in Lebanon (truly), this favorite ride of non-cyclist tourists is described in detail in numerous websites of Things to Do in San Diego, so I will be brief. It begins with a ferry ride from the downtown Navy Pier to Coronado Island ($7 one way, leaving every hour on the hour) and follows a well-marked course along the southeast edge of Coronado, past the Hotel del Coronado, and down the Silver Strand, the spit connecting Coronado Island to the south end of the bay. It’s a separated bike path almost all the way and it’s dead flat, so you will see a lot of tourists on e-bikes. Coronado is charming in a big-money way, the Strand itself is prettily desolate (your path is on the east side of the highway, so you don’t see the ocean), there’s some interesting history and one State Beach along the way, and the south end of the bay is an interesting marsh with a bird sanctuary.

But there’s a trap. The Bikeway advertises itself as a loop and invites you to continue on northward up the east side of the bay. This I wouldn’t do. It’s ugly industrial, with bad road surfaces and occasional dangerous traffic, a poor patchwork of bike paths, sidewalks, main streets, baffling interchanges, construction sites, and parking lots. At one point the Bikeway’s own route signage directed me down a separated bike path along a major artery, a path which without warning turned into a sidewalk and then ended in dirt. So ride the Bikeway to the bird sanctuary, turn around, and retrace your steps.

Round Mountain Road

Distance: 32-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1730 ft

Every town has The Ride, the one everybody does because it’s good training and it’s accessible and it’s about the right length and toughness. Depending on the town, The Ride can range from great to tedious, and you can always expect a lot of cycling company. Round Mountain Road is Bakersfield’s go-to ride, and it’s a good one. It’s got a moderate but not excessive amount of climbing, it’s never steep (so you can do it on back-to-back days if you want), it has some grand views of rolling grassy hills and a nice sense of isolation (briefly), and it takes about 2.5 hours, which is most people’s idea of a nice weekend stretch of the legs.

This being Bakersfield, RMR also has some drawbacks. After all, this is the town where the high school sports team calls itself the Drillers. About a third of the route goes through oil fields, which you may find fascinating or repulsive or both. Astonishingly, when you summit Round Mountain itself (the road goes right past the peak), after several miles of climbing in unspoiled isolation, you discover the entire top of the mountain is consumed (some would say, ravaged) by an enormous oil drilling operation which you ride smack through. You also spend about 5 miles on China Grade Loop, one of the ugliest roads I’ve ever ridden. Later, in Shortening the route, I’ll show you how to avoid it.

This is another of those loops where I can’t say which direction is better. I’ve mapped it counterclockwise, but most locals seem to ride it the other way. As I was stopped by the side of the road, a rider came along in my direction and I said, “Am I riding this the wrong way?” She said, “No” and rode on. So that’s settled. After I describe my route I’ll discuss pros and cons.

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37975021

Begin in Oildale, a suburb of Bakersfield, at the intersection of China Grade Loop and Manor. Parking can be both sparse and dangerous around here, but on the NE corner of our intersection is a huge housing development that offers lots of curbside parking and standard suburban safety. Pick a tidy looking house, park in front of it, and note your location so you can find it again.

China Grade Loop

Ride east on China Grade Loop, the most misnamed road you’ll ever see. There is nothing Chinese in sight, there is no grade, and it’s not a loop (the actual loop is nearby where we’re not riding). It’s also a horror—dead flat, dead straight, and heavily trafficked so you’re confined to the shoulder, and that shoulder is full of glass, debris, lumber, road signs, and dead animals, and it’s constantly crossed by frost-heave-style cracks, each its own mini-speed-bump (I’m not making this up). And you’re riding through fields of oil wells. Some technology I find rather beautiful. Oil wells are at the other extreme. All that is why we’re doing it first, to get it over with.

Looking north from the climb

Pretty soon (though not soon enough) everything changes: the road begins to meander and roll gently as it follows the contours of the Kern River. Now the road is bordered by expensive hobby-farm mansions, traffic is insignificant, and the road surface is perfect. This is tranquil, sublimely pleasant riding. Somewhere in here the road changes its name to Round Mountain Road, though I didn’t see a sign saying so until it was a long-ago done deal.

About 9 miles in, the road turns up and climbs steadily for about 4.5 miles, to the summit you can eventually see in the distance, on a stretch of road you have to love if you like climbing at all. The pitch is just enough to make you think, “Hey, I’m climbing well today!” and the road surface stays glass. The McMansions fall away and you have the place to yourself (and the other cyclists), and the views (of where you’ve been to the south and uninhabited rolling hills to the north) keep getting better. It’s an utterly barren landscape that may not be to everyone’s taste (see photos), but I found it transporting.

You can see there are buildings on the mountaintop, but you have to get there to see the extent of the construction. It’s a mini-city up there, like one of those “mining colonies” you see on alien planets being stripped of their minerals in sci fi movies.

Then it’s down. The descent in this direction is about twice the length of the ascent, hence half the pitch, so it’s actually a fairly tame affair. At the bottom you T into S. Granite Road (clearly signed) and take it L. A 3-mile climb, noticeable but never threatening, on the shoulder (really the gutter) of a shabby highway takes you back to Oildale and its oilfields. There is some navigation needed in the end, but the easiest route is simply to take every L you can that’s an obvious major street. That will eventually deposit you back on Manor and your car.

Which way to go?: As usual with loops, it’s all about whether you prefer climbing or descending. In my direction the climbing is steeper (though never approaching steep) and the descending less exciting. In the other direction it’s the other way around—even easier climbing, more exciting descending. The only other factor is the wind: Bakersfield has a westerly habit, so if the wind is up you’ll have it at your back during the climbing and descending if you go clockwise.

Shortening the route (and avoiding China Grade): About half of this loop isn’t all that good—Granite Rd. and China Grade. To ride only the good stuff, drive to the east end of China Grade where the road gets good, start there, ride to the intersection of Round Mountain Rd and S. Granite Rd., and turn around and ride back. This gives you c. 22 miles but of course you end up doing the climb twice—easily doable, I promise. You can start at the other end if you don’t mind doing the harder climb second.

Adding miles: You can take S. Granite Rd. north (I don’t know what it’s like) and in a few miles run into Woody Road aka Hwy 155, a good ride all the way to Isabella Lake. From China Grade Loop you can take Alfred Harrell Hwy and soon connect with Breckenridge Rd, a grand and challenging climb that drops you off on Caliente Bodfish Rd just north of the stretch that’s a leg of our Caliente Loop.

For other possibilities, see the Adding Miles section of the Caliente Loop ride.

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. The descents from the summit of the little hill are wonderful in both directions, definite Best of Bestrides descents if they weren’t so heartbreakingly short.

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, a gyro stand, a fish taco restaurant, 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.

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37934096

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 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—there’s a sign to Huasna as you approach the intersection 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.

For the first 4 miles you’re riding through small agricultural operations—pleasant enough but not particularly special—but then you get off the valley floor and into the trees, and 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 4-7%—in other words, just enough to open up your legs. If you’re saving yourself for harder days, you can spin the entire hill without effort.

The descent down the backside is perfect—easy slaloming at 25-30 mph through lazy, banked esses on glass. 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 about like 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.

Shortening the ride: I know the ride is already short, but there is a sensible way to make it shorter: drive the first 4 miles of Huasna, to where the road enters the canopy and begins to serpentine.

Adding Miles: Thanks to the fact that almost every road southeast of San Luis Obispo runs through pretty, gently rolling farm country, the opportunities for extending the Huasna ride are plentiful.

From our turn-around point, Huasna Rd. continues on past Huasna Valley, now smaller and much less developed. 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 and wild. Back in Huasna, there’s a sign reading “End county-maintained road 14 miles ahead,” for what that’s worth. When I was last there (4/23), there was a sign at the beginning of the road saying “Road closed,” but I assume it’s tongue-in-cheek. But perhaps not. The winter of 2022-2023 tore up nearly every dirt road in California, so I wouldn’t venture out anywhere into the outback without a reliable report on road conditions.

One of the joys of riding around SLO are the people. While I was riding this leg, I stopped a car and asked the driver if the road was in fact closed ahead. She said, “I don’t think so. You can go for a really long way. There’s almost no one up there. It’s so pretty in there. You’re the smart one. You go and enjoy yourself.” I’m not making this up.

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.

From the start of our ride there are a several attractive options:

1. Ride 3 miles up Lopez Dr. (toward Lopez Lake), turn L on Orcutt Road, and ride Orcutt for 8 miles, then turn around. Orcutt is a perfect example of what I think of as open-country riding. It meanders peacefully up and down along big meadows, by small creeks, and past tidy family farms and vineyards. It’s not twisty or thrilling, but there’s a surprising amount of contour and the scenery is SLO rural at its best.

2. Ride 8 miles up Lopez Dr., past Lopez Lake, turn R onto Hi (not High) Mountain Rd. and ride it 6 miles to the end of the pavement. HMR is a mini-Huasna, less gorgeous but with a similar flavor. Reportedly, locals ride Hi Mountain’s dirt all the way to Pozo. From what I saw of the dirt it’s in excellent shape, though I asked a local (in 4/23) if the dirt was good all the way to Pozo and she laughed and said, “Usually, yes; right now, no.” Lopez Dr. itself is a popular bike route that rolls through pretty country, so you won’t suffer riding it, but it’s a bit big and a bit busy and I would only choose to ride it to connect better stuff.

4. If you want a real challenge and adventure, just a stone’s throw down Hi Mountain is Upper Lopez Canyon Road, an absolute ball-buster of a ride. It’s a rough, narrow road, little more than a track, and it’s nastily up and down pretty consistently. Oddly, it’s covered by Streetview, so you can preview it. I tried it and quit.

5. If you turn L on Lopez Dr. instead of R from our starting point and head away from Lopez Lake, you soon hit Corbett Canyon Rd., a local favorite that parallels Orcutt and seems similar in ambience.

Orcutt Road

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 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 Road to Avila Beach

Distance: 30 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 3270 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, a charming village at the turn-around—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 village of Avila Beach, a perfect spot for getting off the bike, having a bite, whale watching, and all the other things one does at the beach. The last time I was there, the humpbacks where coming out of the water to feed just off the beach.

For a 30-mile ride, it’s a bit of a workout. Most of the 3200 ft of climbing you do in 4 miles—the two miles on either side of the summit. RidewithGPS says you’ll touch 12% on the ride out and 11% on the return.

If you want to see green hillsides, the window is small. I am told that the SLO spring is very short-lived—two weeks or so. Apparently I was supremely lucky to first do this ride in mid-April, when the wildflowers were flourishing and everything was green. But I’ve also done it in the fall and was similarly smitten.

This ride has possibly the grandest vistas in Bestrides after the Santa Rosa Road Wall and the Mt. Tamalpais ride. On a clear day from the summit you can see much of SLO spread out below you 10 miles to the east and Morro Bay and Morro Rock on the coast 10 miles to the west. Since much of the specialness of the ride is in the vistas, try to find a day with immaculately clear skies.

There’s no reason not to do the ride starting at the other end. It just means you hang out in Avila Beach at the end of the ride instead of at the turn-around.

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37966387

You can start where Prefumo Canyon Road leaves huge Los Osos Valley Road, but it’s shoulder riding through generic residential/apartment complexes, 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 pretty oak riparian woods. Then it gets better, and better, and 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, the landscape opens up, and the vistas start. By the time you get to the hilltop summit, the view is unimpeded to the west, north, and east. If you like to complete things, there are short views to the south as well.

Looking north from the summit of Prefumo Road, with Cerro San Luis Obispo (?) in center

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. On the back side of the summit, the road surface, which has been unproblematic, goes to hell, but it doesn’t matter because it only lasts for about 1/4 mile and then you’re on dirt. I’m not big on dirt, but this is rideable (25 mm tires are a good idea), 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. Near the end of the dirt a dirt road goes off to your R at a large gate and a road sign tells you Prefumo Canyon Road is ending and See Canyon Rd. beginning, but it’s easy to miss.

Pismo Beach and Pismo Rock, left, from Prefumo summit

When the dirt ends, you begin two miles of descending that is very different from the slope on the north side of the summit. This is relatively straight, therefore fast, with just enough bending to keep it from being boring (and one big esse curve to catch out the inattentive). It feels good, after all that work, to relax and let the bike rip. Once off the slope, you have 4 miles of effortless riding over easy rollers through a garden-pretty little canyon with oaks on one side and often old apple trees on the other. See Canyon apple cider is a local thing, and I encourage you to stop at one of the apple stands and sample the cider. I recommend the See Canyon Fruit Ranch. They’ve been making cider since 1894, so they’ve gotten really good at it.

See Canyon Rd. dead-ends at San Luis Bay Drive. Take it R for 1/2 mile until it dead-ends on Avila Beach Drive (unsigned). Take it to the R and ride the mile or two to town. When you get there you won’t be alone—Avila is the turn-around point for lots of local cycling routes.

As an alternative to San Luis Bay Drive, just before SLBD dead-ends at Avila Beach Drive it crosses the Bob Jones Trail (hard to see, heading off to your LEFT surprisingly), a paved rec trail that will take you straight into Avila if you want to avoid the sometimes-busy Avila Beach Drive. It’s very back-water, with informational plaques on the local geology, kids playing on their BMX bikes, a trail-side stream, and lots of root-broken pavement. It’s fun but not exactly road riding—I did much of it at 8 mph. For me it’s a do-it-once sort of thing—others swear by it.

On the ride back, the first few miles of See Canyon Rd. are dreamy, but the last 2 miles before the dirt are an unaltered, mostly straight grind at a pitch steep enough to make you work. It’s the only leg of the route I can’t say I enjoy. After the dirt, the short climb to the hilltop is murder—very steep on a bad surface—but, as I said, short. You can see the summit up ahead of you, which is a comfort.

The descent from the hilltop is at first a bit too rough, a bit too steep, and a bit too full of speed-scrubbing hairpins for aggressive riding. Mistakes can be costly. I overcooked a turn and crashed straight into a rock wall—if it had been an outside turn instead of an inside one, I might still be falling. Instead of maximizing speed, relax and take in the ambience, which is transporting. Once past the 2 miles of steep, the descending is great—descending 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. Even in the road’s busiest season, traffic wasn’t at all bad.

Shortening the route: Ride to the summit and turn around, from either end. If you do this, I encourage you to come back the next day and do the other side.

Adding miles: From Avila Beach Drive the Pacific Coast Highway (the surface road that parallels Hwy 101, not Hwy 101 itself) runs north (toward SLO) and southeast (along the coast). Both directions have their charms and are worth riding. East is better. That way takes you to Pismo Beach, another charming village built around its pier, the Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Preserve (unmissable on your R), and ultimately Grover Beach with its easy access to beachfront at Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve. There’s extensive exploring to be done among the seaside cottage cul-de-sacs and village side streets along the way, and I encourage you to do lots of it.

From Avila Beach, Avila Beach Drive continues for another mile or so and dead-ends at Harford Pier, a charming, bustling wharf with sport fishing, an active pod of seal lions, and two fun restaurants, one at the end of the pier with a patio over the water. Much less touristy, more blue-collar, than Avila Beach.

Avila Beach

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 highlights every ridable road in the area, though of course it doesn’t rank or grade the rides. See if local bike shops have copies. Downloadable maps of the area are at https://bikeslocounty.org/resources/maps/.

Pecho Valley Road, which runs from Los Osos through Montana De Oro State Park and dead-ends, is a car drive down Los Osos and is a particularly charming stretch of road, all up and down and back and forth through great scenery. Half of it is through a striking eucalyptus grove, half through open rolling hills with grand views of the shoreline. But it’s short (10 miles round trip, 1140 ft of gain), connects with no other good riding, is routinely plagued with motorists, and has no shoulder and little passing room. The road actually continues on the other side of a gate, but it’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant land and I don’t think trespassing would be smiled upon.

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 and probably the easiest, a charming, pretty ramble that includes a particularly joyful 6-mile stretch of rollercoaster.

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.

This ride is equally good done another way, so be sure to see the Alternate route discussion below.

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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 (Adelaida, Peachy Canyon) and a ride in Cambria (Santa Rosa Creek Road), 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 the way, as the Mandalorian says.

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.  As with all dirt riding, I wouldn’t attempt this ride if the ground is wet.

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Caliente Loop

Distance: 44-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4320 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

If you’re like me, you think Bakersfield is 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 the jewel in the crown.

But there’s a problem: I can’t decide which direction is better.  I rode the loop counter-clockwise.  Most locals ride it clockwise.  I’ll describe my ride; then we’ll weigh pros and cons of the two directions.

The loop (called Lion’s Trail by the locals) is essentially three different rides: a gentle meander through a small, rocky creek canyon; a flat and rolling leg across a wide valley dotted with horse farms and sagebrush, and a descent of epic proportions with vistas of the canyons on both sides of the road.

Caliente Creek Road in October

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 high run-off water flows right over the roadway.  I’d expect to find a “road closed” sign and ford some streams any time before the dry season.

Summer poses its own problems.  Bakersfield in the summer is hot and often windy, and the middle leg through Walker Basin is totally exposed.  On a typical summer day I’d start early enough to get through Walker Basin by 10 AM.

One more word of warning: you will notice the road surface is sprinkled with the remains of dried cow patties. Cows put them there.  This is open range, and you may meet cows standing in the middle of the road at almost any point.  
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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 most cars 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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