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Old 12-18-11, 07:12 PM   #1
David_Strang
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Cycling in California January -- best routes?

I have a two week window in January and am thinking of possible tours in California. I have toured in a variety of countries but no experience with this area, this time of year. Would appreciate any advice!

Have thought of the following:

1) Start in San Jose, down the coast to San Diego. I know this is the rainy season, but I understand that this is a La Nina year. Does that mean the chances of significant rain are small enough to make this attractive? Or is this still too unsettled a time of year for this ride?

2) Start in San Diego, take the the Southern Tier route to Phoenix.

3) From San Diego or LA, to Joshua Tree, explore other scenic areas, return LA/SD.

Am coming from NY, would start not in great shape but mainly concerned about the weather conditions

Thanks for any advice or thoughts!
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Old 12-18-11, 07:56 PM   #2
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#2 or #3. #1 is highly likely to be rainy - and it's not just drizzle, you can get massive storms. If you were able to decide at the last minute, when you could see enough forecast to be confident, you could try the coast, but with plane tickets involved, I wouldn't. Storms often last several days to a week, so waiting them out might be an issue with a timeframe.

If you can, fly Southwest for easy to change plane tickets and a decent rate for carrying the bike.
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Old 12-18-11, 08:51 PM   #3
Niles H.
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Originally Posted by David_Strang View Post
I have a two week window in January and am thinking of possible tours in California. I have toured in a variety of countries but no experience with this area, this time of year. Would appreciate any advice!

Have thought of the following:

1) Start in San Jose, down the coast to San Diego. I know this is the rainy season, but I understand that this is a La Nina year. Does that mean the chances of significant rain are small enough to make this attractive? Or is this still too unsettled a time of year for this ride?

2) Start in San Diego, take the the Southern Tier route to Phoenix.

3) From San Diego or LA, to Joshua Tree, explore other scenic areas, return LA/SD.

Am coming from NY, would start not in great shape but mainly concerned about the weather conditions

Thanks for any advice or thoughts!
My favorite part of the coast is Monterey/Carmel to Morro Bay/San Luis Obispo. You can catch an Amtrak train from SLO to LA.

From LA you can use Metrolink to get out of the urban sprawl and into the desert. There are multiple departure times, and Union Station in LA is the hub.

LA-Palmdale is one possibility. If you have the interest, there is a wickedly impressive jet on display in Palmdale (the SR-71 was developed there). Or you can get off at the next stop, Lancaster, which is the end of the line.

Two weeks is enough time for both, and more.

Red Rock Canyon might be worth a look, and there are Joshua trees in the area.

Death Valley and Panamint Valley are also possibilities.

If you prepare well for rain and cold, you can enjoy being in both.

You'll probably find more sun out in the deserts.

Don't be afraid of the weather. It isn't that bad if you're ready for it.

You might also check out Alaska Airlines.

Last edited by Niles H.; 12-19-11 at 12:40 AM. Reason: clarification
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Old 12-18-11, 08:58 PM   #4
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You may or may not get rain on the coast. It's hard to predict this far out. Best to be ready for it though.
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Old 12-18-11, 09:44 PM   #5
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The first two days out of San Diego on the Southern Tier is a fair amount of climbing so may not be the best choice if you are starting "not in great shape."

Just so you know.
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Old 12-18-11, 10:31 PM   #6
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Quite often there are some real good deals on flights to Las Vegas. Riding in and around Death Valley would occupy riders for a good part of a 2 week holiday. If you have more time, you could then ride from Las Vegas to laughlin, and then south through El Central, and then to Yuma or west to San Diego.
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Old 12-19-11, 12:22 AM   #7
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Northern California has been very dry lately and the ski areas in tahoe are hurting from it. Southern california has been getting hit hard with some weather. You could get lucky but its really hard to tell what January will bring.
Liam in Marin
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Old 12-19-11, 10:24 AM   #8
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Southern California is more likely to be warm and dry than northern California. Amtrak will get you from San Diego to San Jose in a day, accepts full-sized bikes, and is relatively cheap. Best bet might be to arrive in So Cal and decide from there whether it makes sense to travel north or not...
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Old 12-19-11, 11:01 AM   #9
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Southern Arizona is also hard to beat in winter.
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Old 12-19-11, 11:06 AM   #10
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I toured around in the SoCal deserts a couple of winters ago (mid january - mid march).
Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Anza Borrego... had a wonderful trip (some pictures here)

Beautiful warm days, but the nights got down to freezing point in the high deserts, so bring a good sleeping bag. Once the sun came up it was fine.

Remember the days are short as well, so early starts are good.

Just a suggestion:

Amtrak from LA to Barstow
Death Valley Junction
Panamint Springs
Yucca Valley (Joshua Tree)
Anza Borrego
Over to the coast
Amtrak to LA

... could be done in two weeks

If you do get to Barstow, there's a beautiful place 10 miles away, the Owl Canyon Campground at Rainbow Basin.

Last edited by imi; 12-19-11 at 11:10 AM.
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Old 12-19-11, 08:41 PM   #11
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thanks for the great advice

This has helped a lot. I'm now planning on San Diego, and to be flexible on directions but generally heading either on the Southern Tier or towards Joshua Tree and then maybe back down to ST.

A few more questions:

I would try to have an easy day or two to start, since am not riding now in the cold NE. What would be a good plan from SD -- up the coast? some other interesting ways to see the SD area without a huge effort the first days?

I get the impression that the ST route is efficient but not too interesting, a bunch of time on interstate 8. Is that right?

From the map it looks like the best way to Joshua Tree from SD is up the coast to San Juan Capistrano and then across?

thanks again
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Old 12-20-11, 01:26 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by David_Strang View Post
From the map it looks like the best way to Joshua Tree from SD is up the coast to San Juan Capistrano and then across?
That was the way I rode in January. Followed the Santa Anna river to Riverside, then through Banning.

Another, and much more scenic route from SD to Joshua Tree would be via Julian and through Anza Borrego (Google map)

Last edited by imi; 12-20-11 at 01:43 AM.
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Old 12-20-11, 01:37 AM   #13
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Thanks! I was in Gothenburg this summer and left from there on a Sweden-Norway tour, which was fantastic.
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Old 12-20-11, 02:41 AM   #14
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^^ it was quite a rainy summer wasn't it!
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Old 12-20-11, 09:42 AM   #15
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"imi", which do you think would be better, following highway 76 from Oceanside to Juliah, or heading east from Del Mar to Escondido, and then highway 78 to Juliah?
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Old 12-20-11, 10:33 AM   #16
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Can't really answer that, not having ridden 76.

What I would probably do is go further down the coast to Cardiff-by-the-Sea (nice campsite and beach at San Elijo), then from Del Mar over to Julien like this (google map) on 56, 67 and 78

... well sort of, I usually get lost quite a lot

copied this from an old thread:

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Originally Posted by fantom1 View Post

Exit the 8 near El Centro and merge onto the 78 in Brawly. While not as scenically beautiful ride as taking the 79, it will get you off the 8 faster and be a much, much quicker route to Julian (very little climbing). The ride from Brawley/Westmorland to Anza Borrego is ok- it's pretty much a flat straight road for about 25 miles. Depending on what day you're there the traffic can be sparse (weekdays) or fairly busy (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) from people going to the desert to ride ATVs. It's not the greatest ride, but to me it beats the freeway by a lot.

Or you can take S80 near El Centro to S2 and also end up near Julian. You could also continue on to the 79 near Lake Henshaw. Then maybe the 76. (If I had nowhere to really "be," this would be my route of choice. Beware though, after Ocotillo, this route is extremely sparse of goods and services)

Here's what I can tell you about the roads.

78- Pretty good quality road, moderate traffic. Some no shoulder with blind curve sections between Anza Borrego and Escondido (if you're going inland). Generally some long sustained climbs, with longer sustained descents. The scenery is generally beautiful, though not as nice as the 79. Generally avoid riding East on Fridays and Saturdays, and West on Saturdays and Sundays. Lots of RVs going or coming to/from the desert.

79- mediocre quality road, with light to moderate to heavy traffic depending on section (more traffic the closer you get to Julian). Lots of sections of no shoulder up against steep mountainsides. Very, very, beautiful scenery. Lots and ups and downs. Again, avoid the weekends- This road is fairly popular with motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts, so really try and avoid weekends.

76- (This really only applies if you're planning on heading inland). Decent quality road that is seemingly always under construction. Definitely avoid in the afternoons if you can, and especially on the weekends. There is a large casino that can bring lots of traffic. Scenery is nice, but more developed than the Eastern parts of the 78 or 79. The section from the 15 to Mission road is NOT advisable, too much traffic going too fast with no shoulder.

Lastly, keep in mind that in January, while the desert might not get a ton of rain (though it certainly can) it definitely does get extremely windy, and in the opposite direction you're going.

Last edited by imi; 12-20-11 at 10:52 AM.
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