California Motorcycle Travel Destinations

Pacific coast adventures await

story by Jeff Cobb, Created May. 14, 2009
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The 840-mile long California coastline may be one of the most amazing places to tour by motorcycle in the country.

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), a combination of U.S. Routes 1 and 101 skirts the coastline along a large portion, and is the route of choice for travelers who want to see all kinds of natural beauty and ride terrific roads. It runs at sea level in some places, and in others it rises hundreds of feet above. Completed in the 1930s, the PCH traverses from south of Orange County past San Francisco. It actually continues into Oregon, but people stop calling it PCH about 200 miles shy of the border.

The highway was built as though they intended it for touring, and going by motorcycle is arguably the best way to do it. It attracts riders not just from all over the U.S., but from around the world, some of whom save for years to be able to take an epic tour of the American west. To experience this majestic journey for yourself, you could ride your own bike, if possible, or you could take part in a motorcycle tour that includes a motorcycle rental.

Some riders choose the convenience of three or four-day packaged tours or pre-set routes they follow by themselves or in groups. If you are able to, setting aside a good week or two or even much longer could provide you with “a trip of a lifetime,” and you would still not have had enough time to see all you might have wanted.

You could do the traditional south to north route beginning around Los Angeles, traveling up to San Francisco, or even keep going toward the Pacific Northwest.

Or you could start around San Francisco and go north, south or east.

It basically depends on your imagination, taste for adventure, preferences for scenery and activities, available time, and budget.

Much of California is sunny 300-plus days out of the year. And though it is famous for being generally hot in the summer, it can get cool in the evenings, and when traveling at altitude. In any case, all up and down the coast, the roads, the weather, and scenery are among the best anywhere.

There’s a reason why some of the most over-the-top real estate prices in the country are for homes offering views of the Pacific Coast.

Other options include starting on a tour of the Pacific Coast, and then branching off toward spots inland, be they national or state parks, or some of California’s other unbelievably good riding roads.

You could also turn it into a multi-state tour and head toward Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, or Utah where there’s Moab, Zion National Park, and more. Again, there are tons of possibilities.

If you plan a trip, you need to ask yourself what you really want. Are you a rider who just likes to hit the road, and take in some of the coolest riding ever? Or would you like to ride and mix in lots of sightseeing off the bike, or even other activities?

And while you’re brainstorming, how do you define a cool ride?

Do you like the more sedate pace of a cruiser? Would you prefer a loaded, smooth and powerful touring bike? Or is sport touring more your speed. In fact, while purpose-made touring bikes are common, California gets ridden end to end on all kinds of bikes, each offering pros and cons. Sportbikes with saddlebags work for side trips on super twisty, scenic highways along the way. Dual-purpose bikes also work well, because there are a number of unpaved coastal roads and other detours that can make the trip more interesting.

Where ever your route, if planning to bring your own bike, you would want to be sure it is in good condition. Some routes you could wind up following would take you to the middle of nowhere.

Another factor is traffic. While in LA, weekends are actually better, especially on the freeways. As you head north on PCH, weekends otherwise see the worst traffic, especially near the most popular spots.

A lot of tours go as far as San Francisco, but the roadways are sometimes less congested further north, and some say better in several respects.

Naming all the places worth seeing for a ride along the California coast would take a short book just to list. A few highlights are worth mentioning, if you keep in mind this is only the tip of the iceberg, and plenty more great spots await.

From the Los Angeles Area

Starting from the southern end of the Pacific Coast Highway, some riders head toward Santa Monica for a couple hundred-mile loop. This could be a one or two day trip.

Destinations along the way include the Santa Monica Pier, the end point for the famous Route 66. Further up are the Malibu Inn, Neptune’s Nest, and Mulholland Highway.

You can head for the canyons, taking in the Rock Store along Mulholland Highway, where you may see hundreds of motorcycles of all kinds.

Or alternately, you could stay on the Pacific Coast Highway through to Santa Barbara, then branch off onto Highway 154. Just on the other side of Santa Barbara is the Cold Spring Tavern, which you get to by turning left onto Stage Coach Road off of 154.

Jumping back onto 154, you can head further to check out the Lake Cachuma Recreational Area, then head into Solvang. There is a cool private motorcycle museum there. You can call ahead to make sure it’s open. If not, you can ask for someone to come let you in to see all the vintage machines.

Central California

Further up is Big Sur, a higher altitude region, about 90 miles long, full of natural anomalies that has made it a haven for artists, and others who value the surreal beauty offered. Three million people per year visit this region of around 1,000 residents. Early morning on weekdays is the best time to have the road with the least traffic. There are nine state parks in the region.

Also not far away is affluent Carmel, with sea lions in the cold surf, and amazingly beautiful beaches and roads. Monterey, home of Laguna Seca Raceway, is also nearby.

Northern California

The Redwood National Forest is at the top of the state, not far from the Oregon border. This area with some of the tallest trees in the world needs no introduction.

If you are a twisty road lover, you may also want to take the 140 miles of Highway 36 from Fortuna to Red Bluff. This is one of the best curvy roads in the world.

Suggestions

Since there are so many choices, and you only have so much time, rather than reinvent the wheel, you could rely on the services of a tour company. Guided tour packages are available from spots around the state. So are pre-set route packages.

There are several motorcycle rental facilities throughout California offering a wide assortment of rental bikes and tours. While most require you to return the bike where you picked it up from, EagleRider offers a unique possibility for a one-way rental. The company allows you to pick up a rental motorcycle in one location, and then drop it off at another. They have several locations throughout California, and over 63 in the U.S. EagleRider rents Harley-Davidson, BMW, Honda, Victory, and for short trips, Vespa, as well as off highway vehicles. They even rent GPS units for those travelers who want to stay on course.

With this option, you could do an LA to San Francisco run, or vice versa. Or you could head somewhere out of state, or even back home or close to home. Or conversely, you could rent a bike outside of California, ride into the state, then leave the bike there, and get home another way, such as by airplane.

You will need to do more research, planning, and thinking about what you really want. At any rate, if you can spare the time and get to California's Pacific Coast, the only disappointment you may likely experience is if you are unable to stay long enough.

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