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  1. #1
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    Considering riding from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Advice, routes, etc?

    Hey all,

    I'm planning on flying out to California in late October to see a Neil Young concert and visit some friends in LA and SF, etc. I've never been out there before, but a friend suggested maybe doing a bike tour while I'm out there, and ride to SF from LA instead of taking a bus.

    I'm having some trouble finding some tour logs online, to see what traffic is like on some of these roads (pacific coast highway, etc.). I've seen some references to a specific signed bike route, but I can't find an official map of this or anything either. I'd seriously consider doing this if I knew I didn't have to stress out over traffic or getting lost, or finding places to stay.

    If I was to do this ride, it would be a self-supported tour and I don't think I'd be spending money to sleep places along the way (Even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to afford it.. saving up for a European bike tour maybe). I have no clue if there are places on this route for "stealth-camping" or what some of the people are like, and if they'd be open to having me put up a tent in their yard, etc.

    So yeah, it's nothing I have my heart set on, but it's something that if it's worth doing, I figure I should do it while I'm out there!

    Anyways, I'd be curious to hear what you guys/girls have to say about this! Thanks!

    Mike

  2. #2
    Two Tired Traveler
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    This is a great route for touring, at least most of the way. I've lived in LA and Santa Cruz (near San Francisco), and I've done this route several times.

    You can prettymuch follow the bike lanes along Highway 1, along with the green "Bike Route" signs. There are lots of secluded areas for stealth camping, but there are also hiker/biker campgrounds at most of the state beaches along the way--they only cost $3-$5 per night, and you'll get the chance to take a hot shower and enjoy a fire without the fire of being "caught."

    There's a book called Bicycling the Pacific Coast that's got excellent maps and details about camping, avoiding heavy traffic, and the most scenic routes. You can probably find it on Amazon for $10 or less.

    The one big obstacle you'll face is the wind, which blows steadily from the north all afternoon. If you can start your trip in San Francisco and ride to LA with the wind at your back, you'll be a lot happier. But if you're riding north, plan on getting an early start each morning and stopping by noon or 1 p.m.

    Have fun Mike!
    Ride out and meet whatever limits you.

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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacobino View Post
    This is a great route for touring, at least most of the way. I've lived in LA and Santa Cruz (near San Francisco), and I've done this route several times.

    You can prettymuch follow the bike lanes along Highway 1, along with the green "Bike Route" signs. There are lots of secluded areas for stealth camping, but there are also hiker/biker campgrounds at most of the state beaches along the way--they only cost $3-$5 per night, and you'll get the chance to take a hot shower and enjoy a fire without the fire of being "caught."

    There's a book called Bicycling the Pacific Coast that's got excellent maps and details about camping, avoiding heavy traffic, and the most scenic routes. You can probably find it on Amazon for $10 or less.

    The one big obstacle you'll face is the wind, which blows steadily from the north all afternoon. If you can start your trip in San Francisco and ride to LA with the wind at your back, you'll be a lot happier. But if you're riding north, plan on getting an early start each morning and stopping by noon or 1 p.m.

    Have fun Mike!

    Thanks Jacobino.. do you have an online tour log or pictures online from your trips?

    Awesome.. this sounds good! My only previous bike tour has been across Canada, where there is lots of nothing.. so camping in the middle of nowhere is standard and worrying about being caught isn't an issue.

    This wind thing seems like an Issue. I suppose I can arrange it to do the bike ride in the opposite direction.. I'd just toss my bike onto a bus and go to SF with it first, then ride to LA. This whole early morning thing is scary.. Even when touring, I was sometimes dragging my butt out of the tent at like noon-1PM and ending right before it got dark.

    Mike

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    Jacobino covered it nicely!

    I did SF to Santa Barbara last year, last week of October. It was lovely. Definitely had a tail wind. Completely worth doing. I rode from LA to Monterey in April of 2004, and while there was a steady headwind, it was still do-able, but definitely more pleasant going south.

    There are about a gazillion tour journals at crazyguyonabike.com, just look for journals by location, you'll find it.

    Don't forget days are getting short - I was riding 60 miles/day and pushing hard to get done before dark. If you want to do any sightseeing, allow yourself shorter mileage days and you might have to get up before noon-thirty.

    ...

  5. #5
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    E-mail me through my profile if you need a free and friendly place to stay in San Francisco (actually, Berkeley, across the Bay).

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    Jacobino covered it nicely!

    I did SF to Santa Barbara last year, last week of October. It was lovely. Definitely had a tail wind. Completely worth doing. I rode from LA to Monterey in April of 2004, and while there was a steady headwind, it was still do-able, but definitely more pleasant going south.

    There are about a gazillion tour journals at crazyguyonabike.com, just look for journals by location, you'll find it.

    Don't forget days are getting short - I was riding 60 miles/day and pushing hard to get done before dark. If you want to do any sightseeing, allow yourself shorter mileage days and you might have to get up before noon-thirty.

    Thanks, I've read a few tour journals in the past hour on crazyguyonabike.. sadly not a lot of people talk about the traffic conditions. I've followed their routes on google earth and some roads seem to be double lane highways.. Before noon-thirty?! I'll have to bring my alarm clock

    Mike

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    Gotcha, I missed that that was your main interest. There are certainly some busy sections, but the small sections of 2 lane highway also have huge shoulders, and are reasonably safe (but noisy and sometimes dirty).

    The most dangerous sections are:
    -About a mile in Pacifica "Devils Slide" on highway 1, which is steep and when I rode it 10/28ish/2007 was under construction, so the shoulder was not available.
    -Maybe 5-10 miles (discontinuous) of the Big Sur area south of Carmel, b/c it's steep and winding and no shoulder. However, at the time of year you plan to ride, the traffic is light. If you can manage to ride this section on a weekday instead of a weekend, it will be completely reasonable. You just have to share the road, which means stay right and if a big RV comes up behind you and there is oncoming traffic, it might be good to get of the road. A mirror is useful. This road does not carry semi trucks. I have done this section 4 times, it is completely and utterly worth the risk. Try to camp at Kirk Creek (hiker/biker, $5, boil/treat your water) the h/b site is perched on the edge of an ocean cliff and is spectacular.
    -A hilly section coming into Lompoc (sorry, can't remember the name of the road) which had no shoulder. it was something grade road, or something hill road.
    -If you are going north, there is a 100(?) meter tunnel about 20 miles north of santa barbara, on highway 101, with a small shoulder and strong headwind, uphill. if you are southbounding, there's no tunnel, big shoulder, tailwind.

    The Kirkendall and Spring book (at least, the older version I have) has some inaccurate/confusing stuff in the San Louis Obispo area. If you get it wrong you end up on busy roads, but again, with big shoulders. I would recommend getting a city map (AAA, I think they reciprocate with canada's AAA) for San Francisco, Monterey, San Louis Obispo, Santa Barbara and LA. Everywhere else, the directions are simple: Keep the ocean on your right (left).

    I haven't ridden the section between LA and Ventura.

    Don't let fears of traffic stop you. The section from montery to santa barbara is world class touring. seriously.

    have a great ride!
    ...

  8. #8
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    I think devil's slide is still closed.
    Devil's slide was the most terrifying thing I have EVER done on a bike. And I've done a lot on a bike. I know there's an alt. route to it and I would suggest that.
    I rode from S. oregon to Monterey a few years ago then lived in big sur for about a year and a half.
    one issue is there is almost nothing between monterey and SLO, so plan accordingly. The traffic on 1 wont be too bad and fall is a beautiful time to go.
    and these guys have great maps
    http://www.adv-cycling.org/
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    i just rode from san fran to La.
    Devils slide was easy, really easy. riding up to it was a slight pain, narrow shoulders.
    this whole travel north to south thing because of the wind, completely lost me on this trip. the only time wind "helped" on this trip was when trucks got way too close, that little push was nice
    i saw a few people traveling s-n

  10. #10
    1 trick pony dogpound's Avatar
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    I should have also mentioned I rode it on a rainy day before it was closed, so I dont know what it's like now
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  11. #11
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    Another "I just did San Francisco to San Luis Obispo."

    Definitely get and use the Adventure Cycling maps. Very well-done, lists all the hiker/biker sites, and plans the route to avoid some rather unpleasant or dangerous areas (e.g. Route 1 / 101 around San Luis Obispo).

    Traffic is not a big deal. Drivers are usually going slow, it's a scenic route, it's steep and winding. It's not the Autobahn.

    You really shouldn't need to stealth camp, and it's going to be difficult to do that anyway since some pretty sizable swaths of land are privately owned (especially between SLO and Big Sur). Plus there are major fire warnings there, so I would not under any circumstances set up a campfire.

    If you're heading north, I'd estimate on 40-50 miles a day. South, 50-60, maybe even 70.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikebeauchamp View Post
    I'm planning on flying out to California in late October....
    The wind situation in late October will be different from the wind situation during most of the summer touring season. The vast majority of cyclists ride this route during the summer touring season, and so they are familiar with the wind patterns of that season, and that's what you tend to hear about.

    I've both lived along this route and ridden it, and it is quite true that there are often (usually) *strong* winds from the north/northwest during the summer season. They often kick up around noon.

    I've never ridden it in late October, and wasn't keeping track of the winds when I lived there; but there should be some good information available somewhere online. During some months the wind patterns are very different.

    I have ridden both north and south during winds, and those strong headwinds slow you down more than you might imagine. It's one of those things that many people don't quite believe until they've experienced it.

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    Rode SF to SB last week in october last year, had great weather and consistent tailwind.
    ...

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    Okay, flight booked!

    Thanks for the help and encouragement everyone! I've gone ahead and booked the flights, and I think the plan is making sense on paper.

    I ran into a friend today on the road and told him I was considering doing this little trip, and he told me I should do it. So I looked into everything, and worked out most of the details. Booked the flights, etc!

    I'll be flying from Detroit to LA, then taking the bike up to SF (I'm thinking greyhound.. they allow bikes). I'll kick-it there for a few days with a friend, then ride down to Saratoga to meet up with a bunch of people in Saratoga Springs camp ground for a few days. The route from SF to Saratoga won't be on the coast highway obviously, but on city streets. I've looked at some maps (http://bikemapper.mtc.ca.gov/BikeMapper/index.jsp) and it seems like I'll be able to get there almost exclusively on bike lanes or signed routes. From Saratoga, we're all going to the bridge school benefit concert in Mountain View (i'll be able to stash my bike in someone's car at the camp site, and we'll be taking a shuttle to the concert itself). After that on October 29th, I'll head towards the coast and then ride down to LA. I've given myself like 15 days to get there, which should be plenty of time. Every day I get there earlier is another day to see LA and hang out with a relative I haven't seen in a long time.

    Since this is a fairly short tour, and it seems like the populated areas aren't too far apart, I might try to do this trip with just 2 panniers (as opposed to the 4 I used going across Canada). I'll have to figure out exactly what to bring and do a test-packing of course.

    Mike

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    Mike, you can do it in 8 and stay in hotels the whole way if you want to. It would be really easy to blow off cooking, and just camp/eat cold food/restaurants.

    Don't take Hwy 9 or 92 to the coast. better options: 84/old la honda road or south of hwy 17, at the lexington reservoir, you can pick up a short dirt bike path, ride around the south side of the res. then get on old santa cruz (or maybe old san jose??? name?) road, and connect up to skyline, turn left, then down soquel-san jose road right into the little town of soquel, which is very close to camping at new brighton beach, or if you have time camp a little further south in manresa. try to get a burrito at tacqueria vallarta on 41st, or fancy beautiful pastery at Gayles in capitola, off Park (very close to new brighton beach).

    Also, greyhound is a huge pain in the butt, with the box and all the stopping and waiting, and the scary people. try craigslist.org's ride share if your timing is a little flexible, or rent a car or uhaul one way. train is also a possiblity, but you still have to deal with the box.

    have a great ride!
    ...

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    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    Mike, you can do it in 8 and stay in hotels the whole way if you want to. It would be really easy to blow off cooking, and just camp/eat cold food/restaurants.

    Don't take Hwy 9 or 92 to the coast. better options: 84/old la honda road or south of hwy 17, at the lexington reservoir, you can pick up a short dirt bike path, ride around the south side of the res. then get on old santa cruz (or maybe old san jose??? name?) road, and connect up to skyline, turn left, then down soquel-san jose road right into the little town of soquel, which is very close to camping at new brighton beach, or if you have time camp a little further south in manresa. try to get a burrito at tacqueria vallarta on 41st, or fancy beautiful pastery at Gayles in capitola, off Park (very close to new brighton beach).

    Also, greyhound is a huge pain in the butt, with the box and all the stopping and waiting, and the scary people. try craigslist.org's ride share if your timing is a little flexible, or rent a car or uhaul one way. train is also a possiblity, but you still have to deal with the box.

    have a great ride!
    I do expect to do it in around 8 days yeah, I gave myself 15 to make sure I don't miss my flight home and have some time to relax in LA (since I"ve never been there either!).

    I wouldn't want to stay in Hotels... Too pampered for me (and too expensive) I'm considering just the cold food thing, but bringing my cooking stuff is pretty damn small.. but yeah, those might end up staying at home.

    THanks for the route recommendations, I WAS considering taking 9. Why would that be a better route? What about just taking highway 17 (Santa Cruz Highway)?

    I will try to follow your directions on the map though and see what it looks like. Forgive me for being mildly stubborn about directions, but one thing I've learned from bike touring is to never blindly take directions from someone without verifying them on a map first. Also, are these roads you recommend paved? I will be doing this on 700x32 slicks.

    As for the bike to SF thing, greyhound is a pain, I know. I will check craigslist rideshare for sure.. the renting a car and uhaul thing aren't options, since I don't have a licence.

    You've been quite a help thus far, I really appreciate it!

    Mike

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    Glad to be of help!

    RE: hotels/cooking, I was just indicating the availability of services along that stretch -- plenty.

    Here's my background: I lived in Santa Cruz for 13 years, and rode all of these roads (except 17). So, the deal is you have to get over the Santa Cruz mountains. The ridge rolls along about 1500-2200 feet above sea level, from SF to San Jose. You should take whatever route you feel best about, I'm not trying to convince you of anything, but there are a lot of ways through there, and many of them have something wrong with them.

    The roads I recommended are the best blend I can think of of moderate grade and low traffic volume. There are even quieter roads but they are very steep, and might not be fun on a loaded bike.

    Here's a link to my recommended route, Los Gatos - Lexington Reservoir (Alma Bridge Rd) - Old Santa Cruz Hwy - Summit (I said skyline before, that was a mistake) - Soquel/San Jose :
    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&hl=e...6593&z=12&om=1

    This has about 2 miles or less of dirt path, which is quite flat, just getting to the reservoir from Los Gatos. (sorry, no good map for this, & I went the other direction, and it just kind of dumped me onto the path, and then all of a sudden I was in Los Gatos) The rest is paved. I rode that route in the reverse direction from Santa Cruz to Menlo Park in spring 2004, on a fully loaded touring bike with 28mm road tires. After you get past the res., it is for the most part a small road through a redwood forest with very low traffic volume. It doesn't have any communities that use it as a commute corridor, unless highway 17 is closed. It's pleasant riding.

    Highway 9 has some communities that contribute commuter traffic to it. It is much more heavily traveled that Old Santa Cruz Highway. It has some places with very little shoulder. It's the 2nd best alternative in that area. The total ascent on 9 is similar/ slightly more than on Old Santa Cruz. The descent down 9 on the west side is quite fun, and would be world class if it carried less traffic. You can do a side trip (and camp if you want) on 236 to Big Basin State Park.

    Highway 84, my northern recommendation, is a small tree lined road with little traffic. It dumps you out on the ocean pretty far north of santa cruz, and you might get to sail a fat tailwind to SC. Roadies ride this road for fun all the time, it is beautiful.

    Highway 92, in that same area, is less climbing but carries commuter traffic to/from the Half Moon Bay area, and joyriders up to skyline. I have ridden it down from skyline to the bay, but would certainly not choose to ride it if I had any choice -- twisty, poor shoulder, low visibility.

    Highway 17, while legal, is DEATH on a bike. I am not kidding. It is essentially a freeway, 2 lanes in each direction, 0-2 feet of shoulder, very twisty, with heavy commuter traffic. Even in non-commute hours, it is very busy. Speed limit is 50, but people go up to 75. This is the major corridor carrying semi-truck traffic to supply the santa cruz/monterey area. Do not ride this road.

    Have fun!

    Anna

    (writing bike tour advice is sooo much more fun than working.... and I'm not allowed to ride my bike today or tomorrow, i'm resting for a 4 day tour.)
    ...

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    Glad to be of help!

    RE: hotels/cooking, I was just indicating the availability of services along that stretch -- plenty.

    Here's my background: I lived in Santa Cruz for 13 years, and rode all of these roads (except 17). So, the deal is you have to get over the Santa Cruz mountains. The ridge rolls along about 1500-2200 feet above sea level, from SF to San Jose. You should take whatever route you feel best about, I'm not trying to convince you of anything, but there are a lot of ways through there, and many of them have something wrong with them.

    The roads I recommended are the best blend I can think of of moderate grade and low traffic volume. There are even quieter roads but they are very steep, and might not be fun on a loaded bike.

    Here's a link to my recommended route, Los Gatos - Lexington Reservoir (Alma Bridge Rd) - Old Santa Cruz Hwy - Summit (I said skyline before, that was a mistake) - Soquel/San Jose :
    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&hl=e...6593&z=12&om=1

    This has about 2 miles or less of dirt path, which is quite flat, just getting to the reservoir from Los Gatos. (sorry, no good map for this, & I went the other direction, and it just kind of dumped me onto the path, and then all of a sudden I was in Los Gatos) The rest is paved. I rode that route in the reverse direction from Santa Cruz to Menlo Park in spring 2004, on a fully loaded touring bike with 28mm road tires. After you get past the res., it is for the most part a small road through a redwood forest with very low traffic volume. It doesn't have any communities that use it as a commute corridor, unless highway 17 is closed. It's pleasant riding.

    Highway 9 has some communities that contribute commuter traffic to it. It is much more heavily traveled that Old Santa Cruz Highway. It has some places with very little shoulder. It's the 2nd best alternative in that area. The total ascent on 9 is similar/ slightly more than on Old Santa Cruz. The descent down 9 on the west side is quite fun, and would be world class if it carried less traffic. You can do a side trip (and camp if you want) on 236 to Big Basin State Park.

    Highway 84, my northern recommendation, is a small tree lined road with little traffic. It dumps you out on the ocean pretty far north of santa cruz, and you might get to sail a fat tailwind to SC. Roadies ride this road for fun all the time, it is beautiful.

    Highway 92, in that same area, is less climbing but carries commuter traffic to/from the Half Moon Bay area, and joyriders up to skyline. I have ridden it down from skyline to the bay, but would certainly not choose to ride it if I had any choice -- twisty, poor shoulder, low visibility.

    Highway 17, while legal, is DEATH on a bike. I am not kidding. It is essentially a freeway, 2 lanes in each direction, 0-2 feet of shoulder, very twisty, with heavy commuter traffic. Even in non-commute hours, it is very busy. Speed limit is 50, but people go up to 75. This is the major corridor carrying semi-truck traffic to supply the santa cruz/monterey area. Do not ride this road.

    Have fun!

    Anna

    (writing bike tour advice is sooo much more fun than working.... and I'm not allowed to ride my bike today or tomorrow, i'm resting for a 4 day tour.)
    Thanks Anna!

    Yeah, I've been staring at those Santa Cruz mountains on google earth for a few days now, pretty afraid. Everyone says "but you got through the rockies" to me, but I'm still afraid.. it all looks beautiful though. And thanks for getting me off the idea of taking highway 17, which is what I would have done (by blindly picking it off a map). I'll definitely look into the other routes for sure, and make notes, etc. I'm in no rush as I indicated earlier.. I'll have 14 days to get to LA from Saratoga Springs camp ground.

    I'm really excited about this trip.. It's pretty "spur of the moment" for me. Thanks for the info about how many places there are to grab food along the way.. I still may bring cooking gear, because buying a bag of pasta at a grocery store and boiling it up is pretty darn cheap.

    Is my idea of using that link (in my last post) to find a bike route from SF to Saratoga ideal? If I pick roads that appear on that bike route map, will my ride be okay that day, or should I bother someone such as yourself to suggest a route through the bay area for that day as well?

    I think this is all the questions I have for now..

  19. #19
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    That map looks bad to me. There are better ways than El Camino Real (huge busy street). I would try to get a copy of the Krebs map for the area: http://www.krebscycleproducts.com/T2.html

    Or go to a local bike shop with a AAA map of the the bay area, and have them run a highlighter over it for you. SF to ?? to bike path to Canada (pronounced Canyada) Road, then there are a lot of options heading down the peninsula, basically something like this:
    Junipero Serra - Foothills Expressway - Saratoga/Sunnyvale - Saratoga/Lost Gatos Road

    This guy's route
    http://www.mapmyride.com/ride/united...atos/473387281
    has alot of the roads (don't do the loop into the hills.
    On the north end of his route, look for body of water at the 280/92 interchange, the little road you see next to it running N-S is Canada.
    get to his route at marker 40, follow to his 45/15, follow thru his 5 to his start, that gets you to downtown Los Gatos, -- look at this map, i think you can pick up Lexington Res. Park. road to get to Alma.

    this is the lexington to Summit road
    http://www.mapmyride.com/ride/united...atos/671194227

    Unfortunately, it's a really big megalopolis, and there are good ways thru it, but the good ways aren't always easy to describe in a few turns. i would really recommend getting detailed paper maps.

    Or just take caltrain to Mountain View if you are out of time / it's too messy. You can pick up public transportation right in the SF airport, and take a bus or train as far south as you want.

    Ok, that's all i got...
    ...

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