Cycle point to point down California's most pristine stretch of coastline. Nothing I have ever done cleanses the mind and soul as well as bicycling the California central coastline. As one rides along Big Sur and gazes at the oceanic assault on the rocky shore out over the seemingly endless sea, ALL worries evaporate. Limited human access to this rugged coast and its abundant wildlife forces one’s mind to dispense with pettiness in favor of pondering and acknowledging our coexistence with nature. This tour is definitely worth the moderate physical price of admission.
Day 1: Skyline Views to Santa Cruz
Don’t be afraid of the mileage: 40+ of those miles are either flat or down. We pick you up mid-morning (9:30-10:00) at your hotel in the San Francisco area and transfer to Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Blvd., where the towering Redwood trees are interspersed with spectacular views of both the Pacific and the South San Francisco Bay area.
We do a warm-up and bike-fitting ride down to the coast, along which we cruise to the Cruz. On the way we have the opportunity to tour the nation’s 2nd tallest lighthouse at Pigeon Pt., prop for a few well-known films. We continue through coastal farmland for a short ways down to Año Nuevo Island and State Reserve, a mating ground for the Elephant Seals and continue south past Waddell Creek, one of the world’s premier windsurfing spots, and through the historic whaling town of Davenport and on into the delightfully quirky resort town of Santa Cruz, my home base.
Upon entering here we will ride past the mis-named Natural Bridges State Beach (the arches collapsed in the winter of 1982) and if the Monarch Butterflies are nesting we shall visit them there. Then we’ll roll along West Cliff Dr. past that surfing Mecca, Steamer’s Lane and, should you wish, check out the surfing museum in the lighthouse before arriving at your seaside hotel to relax and freshen before dinner. Then it’s off to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for a ride on that other star of the silver screen, the Giant Dipper roller coaster.
Dinner: Today “dinner” begins with lunch, since the midday repast will feature wares from “world famous Duarte’s Tavern.” After all, one cannot ride this area without verifying Duarte’s self-pronouncement’s worth. I believe you’ll find their bravado justified. For our actual dinner, your preference will determine whether we enjoy fresh seafood on the wharf below the hotel, or go into town for the freshest of Mexican food.
Lodging: The Sea and Sand Inn, gracing the cliff overlooking Steamer’s, the wharf, and Monterey Bay, is a delightful local establishment with an emphasis on charm and comfort.
Day 2-3: Monterey, 17-mile Drive & Bixby's Bridge
We ride across the Pajaro River plain through the strawberry fields and out to Elkhorn Slough where we snack on some just-picked strawberries. We then continue on through Castroville, the “artichoke heart of the world,” and on across the fertile Salinas River flood plain. This includes the Monterey Bike Path, which takes us along the sand dunes into Monterey, and to our sumptuous picnic of recipes from a local fish market and samples from the fields we’ve just rolled through.
Exhilaration? Euphoria? Even the best words don’t quite capture the joy I feel, and think you will too, when riding this stretch of nature’s glory. You'll ride 17 Mile Drive and visit its several natural points of interest—particularly The Lone Cypress and exploring Pt. Lobos, of which the descriptive quote “the most beautiful meeting of land and sea on earth,” is ascribed to both Robert Louis Stevenson and landscape artist Francis McComas (another day, another wildlife reserve).
Not only is this leg of the Big Sur coast dramatically beautiful; it’s also not too hard of a ride, with the only major hill being a 500 ft. rise from Bixby Bridge (the really famous one) up to Hurricane Point. Besides, at the crest you are treated to a spectacular panorama and a downhill stretch that will make you laugh like a soaring bird. From there it is a short ride around Point Sur and into the valley. There we make our home for the night, and can relax or hike to Pfeiffer Overlook or the Big Sur River and a soak in a swimming hole.
Lodging: Our charming Inn in Monterey is an easy stroll to both the rocky coastline and the shops and restaurants. Then at Big Sur Lodge amongst the redwoods
Dinner: Italian anyone and dinner at the lodge .
Day 4-5: The Dramatic Coast
Most great roller coasters begin with a tone-setting ascent, and this ride holds true to that form: a thousand feet over 2.2 miles. (Fear not, of the people I have taken on this ride over the past fourteen years, all have conquered Big Sur Hill—and if you don’t want to do it, there’s always the van.) But of course what goes up, must come down—an axiom which will be verified a few times today with two added clauses: it balances out in the end, and what curves in past steep canyon waterfalls returns out to panoramic promontories.
Due to the dramatic contour of this stretch where the Pacific collides with the cliffs, there isn’t much in the way of society’s encroachment besides the highway. Thus I can’t give many landmarks, just a brief attempt to portray the grandeur of the wilds. With that said, we’ll have the opportunity to drop by the esoteric Henry Miller Library and Gallery if you wish, and lunch is at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where McWay Creek falls 100 ft. to a secluded cove (you have probably seen photos of said spot.)
We then continue along the most dramatic section of the roller coaster past Kirk and Willow Creeks, Gorda (named after the offshore rock interpreted as looking like a woman who eats too much) and its Sea Otters-in-residence, and on up and down to the cliff side park at Ragged Point. If the group includes a “rock hound” or two, we can stop at Jade Cove and scan for Jade and Serpentine.
Day 5 we transfer back up to San Francisco.
Lodging: 3-star along the sea
Dinner: Wonderful coastal outdoor cafe