I am thinking of a week touring from SF to LA or vice versa. What is the main coast highway like? Any good alternative routes? ANy other comments or suggestions or links to useful sites of people who have done it?
1984 Raleigh Kodiak Touring, 1992 Scott MTB, 2004 Fuji Touring
One of the classic rides...you won't regret it.
As mentioned before on this forum, north to south is the smart way to travel--less headwinds.
The only negative is that Pacific Coast Highway below Malibu to Santa Monica becomes very dangerous--no shoulder, fast impatient drivers. Big Sur also has some teeth-clenching sections, but the scenery is so spectacular, you won't mind. Be sure to wear bright clothing and bring a strong blinkie.
Camping is the best way to go on this route. There are hiker/biker sections at the campgrounds. Try to go during the non-summer vacation months for less crowds. April/May or September/October would be nice.
A dated book, but still the best--essential!:
Bicycling the Pacific Coast: A Complete Route Guide Canada to Mexico
by Tom Kirkendall, Vicky Spring
The above poster is correct, there are some problems traveling South to North, although it can be done. Big Sur is definitely a problem as there is no shoulder on the "hill" side. I traveled N-to-S and still managed to get pushed off the road by careless RV types, scary when you're on the cliff side.
Malibu is managable, especially since the ride from Santa Monica to Leo Carillo State Park is only around 15 miles. All in all, it's do-able, but look forward to points of unpleasantness. This is contrasted by the sheer beauty of the ride itself. Enjoy!
One advantage to going north->south is that you can look right down to the ocean with nothing blocking your view.
I rode this in July many years ago. Summer is fog season, whereas September & October usually have sunnier and warmer weather. I recall biking in and out of fog & sun, and I often had to stop to put my jacket on or take it off, because the temperature varied wildly.
A week is rushing it. Santa Cruz, Monterey/Carmel, the Big Sur coastline, Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo, & Santa Barbara, are all worth a visit.
Speaking of weather - November thru March are rainy - April is iffy - and this year is a year of record rains so be sure to check on facilities - some parks may not be able to open campgrounds due to flood damage - and slides may temporarily close sections of the highway well into the summer.
I never was very wild about riding on winding two lane roads, that have a lot of traffic. By the number of bike tourists, this doesn't bother many of our ilk. If you want the same kind of experience, but more peaceful, go to Europe( England if you drink beer, anywhere else if you eat food).
That's funny. I just noticed that you're in the UK. No offence, steak and kidney pie is wonderful stuff. And as you know, you don't have to stick to the beer, I still dream of the cider that I had in Cornwall, all these many years ago...
Did SF to Mexico first, then Portland to SF, then Portland to Vancouver, and used the book almost all the way. I was too intimidadted to do the ride all at once.
The book served as a daily planner.
Besides the logistics, it has nice elevation maps, so you know how to plan each day and know when the big hills are coming.
I would say that minus a few hills getting out of SF, the obvious Big Sur, and a little action into Lompoc and over to Santa Barbara, it was flatter than I expected.
There is also the route the AIDS Lifecycle ride takes (http://aidslifecycle.org - I did 2 under the Aids RIde name), which takes the Salinas Valley to King City from Santa Cruz, then Paso Robles, before going back to the coast.
I prefer the coastal road all the way. Navigation is also easier.