Top Ten U.S. Road Biking Routes

Highway One, California
Big Sur
A windswept patch of Highway One's Big Sur (Greg Green)

Sometimes non-Californians forget that California is a coastal state. Its political, economic, and agricultural stature, not to mention the renown of its rugged mountains and sere deserts, all conspire to distract us from the sprawling 1,200 miles of Pacific surf. The seascape prism of sunset color that Easterners enjoy after a tough day of dabbling is the start of every day out west. Perhaps that is one of the reasons behind the United States' contrasting coastal cultures.

GORP editor Mark Leger has described California's Highway One as a road that "clings to the wild coast of California: a thin, pliable line outlining rugged cliffs plunging to power-mad surf. Traveling Highway One is more than a scenic drive, it's a pilgrimage; a reconnection to California's history, environment, mythology—its spirit." Who could say no to checking out anything with so much promise?

There are a number of sections of Highway One that deserve whatever time allows, but basically the whole 250-mile stretch from San Francisco all the way to Morro Bay is a gem. Plus, the directions are exceedingly simple: Just stick to Highway One. Of course, getting out of San Francisco can be a drag, but your conviction will be more than rewarded. From San Francisco to Santa Cruz is about 90 miles of stunning windswept coastal rolling. Be prepared in a couple of places for the space between you and the edge of a cliff to be guarded by nothing but the magic of adrenaline and alertness.

If Santa Cruz is as far south as you want to go, there are many area rides that can keep you busy (ask locally about the Swanton Loop ride). Otherwise, it's hilly but incomparable, windy and rocky road with plummeting views to ocean spray all the way from Santa Cruz through Monterey and into the heart of Big Sur. Pause for an evening at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park before a final press past Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument (Hearst Castle), out of the hills and into the coastal grasslands of central California.

Tackle as much as time permits. One thing to keep in mind: Prevailing winds generally blow from north to south. So, bike south, then tackle a tough backtrack or have a friend ready to pick you up and take you home. Read more about the elegant and natural collision of air, earth, and water in GORP's California Highway One.


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