Top 5 Cycling Routes on the Pacific Coast

Oliver Marczynski

The Pacific Coast Bicycle Route covers 1,854 miles of coast from Vancouver, British Columbia to San Diego, California. Having biked the route from north to south in 30 days this past June, I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to dip their toes in the world of bicycle touring. For those without the luxury of being able to take a month or two off from work, here is a list of the top five sections of route you could easily cycle in a weekend.

Nehalem Bay State Park to Jessie M. Honeyman State Park, Oregon

Route: Nehalem Bay State Park to Jessie M. Honeyman State Park, Oregon

Distance: 163.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 8,054 ft

Time: 2-4 Days

Highlights: 

            Tillamook Cheese Factory

            Three Capes Scenic Route

            Cape Meares State Park

            Cape Lookout State Park

            Cape Kiwanda

            Devil’s Punchbowl State Park

            Newport

            Seal Rock State Park

            Heceta Head Lighthouse

            Devils Elbow State Park

            Sea Lion Caves

            Florence

            Huge sand dunes

Camping:

            Cape Lookout State Park

            Devil’s Lake State Park

            Beverly Beach State Park

            South Beach State Park

            Beachside State Park

            Tillicum Beach

            Rock Creek Campground

            Carl G Washburne State Park

            Alder Dune Campground

            Sutton Lake Campground

            Jessie M. Honeyman State Park

This stretch of the Oregon coast was by far my favorite. Although a little bit of a detour and definitely not the quickest way to get from Nehalem Bay to Jessie M. Honeyman State Park, this route takes you off the busy highway for great views of the ocean as you pass many beaches and state parks, climbing quite a few hills along the way. With many sites to see along the way, plan to take this stretch slowly as you will be getting off your bicycle every few miles for some new attraction. Although it might be tempting to take the highway for portions of this route to cut down on mileage, the views which the scenic route offers are truly spectacular and worth the extra peddling. The abundance of hiker/biker campsites in this area lets you be flexible when planning your route, knowing that a hot shower is usually only a few miles away.

Monterey to San Simeon, California

Route: Monterey to San Simeon, California 

Distance: 99.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 8,472 ft

Time: 1-3 Days

Highlights:

            Monterey

            Point Lobos State Reserve

            Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park

            Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

            Sea Lions

            Hearst Castle 

            San Simeon

Camping: 

            Andrew Molera State Park

            Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park

            Kirk Creek Campground

            Plasket Creek Campground

            San Simeon State Beach

If you love windy roads, big elevation changes, and miles of unobstructed views of the ocean, this route is for you. This route follows the Cabrillo Highway as it winds through the sheer cliffs of Big Sur National Park. With the whole park to explore, leave your bike at Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park and hike the many breathtaking trails in the area. With trails leading to beaches, bluffs, canyons, and hot springs, it’s easy to spend a few days exploring the wilderness and backcountry of the park before getting back on the bike.

Leggett to San Francisco, California

Route: Leggett to San Francisco, California

Distance: 216.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 16,204 ft

Time: 3-5 Days

Highlights: 

            Leggett Hill (a real leg burner)

            Pygmy Forest

            Point Arena Lighthouse

            Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve

            Fort Ross

            Point Reyes

            Golden Gate Bridge

Camping:

            Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area

            Westport Union Landing State Beach

            MacKerricher Beach State Park

            Russian Gulch State Park

            Van Damme State Park

            Gualala Point Regional Park

            Gerstle Cove Campground

            Woodside Campground

            Stillwater Cove State Park

            Reef Campground

            Bodega Dunes State Beach

            Samuel P Taylor State Park

Any section of this route from the origin of highway 1 in Leggett down to San Francisco is stunning and can be done independently based on time constraints. Wherever you choose to go, you’re going to have a good time. Here, highway 1 closely follows the ocean, weaving in and out of small towns, through farms, and along cliffs. Expect to bike through dense fog in the morning and sunny blue skies in the afternoons. End this portion of the route by biking across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and crossing that off your bucket list. If you plan on spending some time in San Francisco, find a host on warmshowers.com to cut down on accomodation costs which tend to be pretty steep in the city.

Bellingham to Port Townsend, Washington

Route: Bellingham to Port Townsend, Washington

Distance: 65.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,162 ft

Time: 1-2 Days

Highlights:

            Larrabee State Park

            Deception Pass

            Deception Pass State Park

            Fort Ebey State Park

            Fort Casey State Park

Camping:

            Larrabee State Park

            Deception Pass State Park

            Fort Ebey State Park

            Fort Casey State Park

Extended Route: Peace Arch Border Crossing to Clinton (121.5 miles)

Although Washington’s coastline pales in comparison to the rest of the West Coast, the ride from Bellingham to Port Townsend along Whidbey Island is quite nice. The majority of the ride is through quiet countryside roads with wide shoulders and views of the ocean or farmland. The ride can easily be done in one day, or can be split up into an overnight trip by stopping at Deception Pass State Park which has five hiker/biker campsites. Take time to stop at the many state parks along the way for views of the coast.

Santa Barbara to Santa Monica, California

Route: Santa Barbara to Santa Monica, California

Distance: 85.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,468 ft

Time: 1-2 Days

Highlights: 

            Miles of bike trails paralleling the coast

Camping:

            Carpinteria State Beach

            Emma Wood State Beach

            Sycamore Canyon

            Leo Carillo State Beach

Extended Route: Refugio State Beach to Huntington Beach (153.4 miles)

Easily accessible for anyone living near LA, this portion of the route closely follows the coast on miles of designated bike paves just meters away from the ocean. Watch surfers shred gnarly waves, stop for a swim, or sunbathe anywhere along the route as you are constantly within a stone's throw of the waves. Although this portion of the route is not remote by any means, the views are stunning and the terrain is level.

For detailed route information regarding groceries, bike shops, and camping along the route, two great resources I used and loved were the Adventure Cycling maps and Bicycling the Pacific Coast which I had on my kindle. Other riders I encountered on the route used free resources which can be found online like this cycling map of Oregon, the “cycle maps” app, and google maps.

Keep in mind that each section listed above is only part of an expansive bicycle route and can be modified by adding or subtracting a few miles to the north or south of each section to best fit your schedule.

Feel free to send any questions regarding the route or to oliver@uphilldesigns.com or post them in the comments below.

Happy cycling,

Oliver Marczynski