Biking: Monterey to Santa Barbara - Guided Multi-Day
Overview - Monterey to Santa Barbara via Big Sur Guided Bike Tour
Cycling down the California coast from Monterey to Santa Barbara via Big Sur on a bike tour avoids much of the urban biking and the less scenic agricultural areas of longer bike tours down the California coast. The first part of a Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour focuses on the hilly, but spectacular Big Sur coast, with its rugged coastline and towering redwoods. South of Big Sur, cycling through San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County offers a diverse palette of marine wildlife viewing, historic missions, winery areas and surfers plying the waves of the Pacific Ocean off sandy beaches.
***ALL CENTRAL COAST OUTDOORS BIKE TOURS ARE PRIVATE***
“Thanks for your thorough planning and support during our recent trip to the Central Coast of CA. As veterans of many, many cycling trips we can certainly attest that your service was top notch. You left nothing to chance and no detail was overlooked... You both were super.”Joyce and Harry Graham Solon, OH
Quick Links to Page Contents
- Standard Itinerary
- Custom Bike Tour Questionnaire (Start here for booking a tour)
- John's Tour Thoughts
- Adding Layover/Rest Days
- Mileage Calculator for Alternate Itineraries
- Traffic, Road Conditions and Terrain
- Overview Map
- Different Routes within the Zone
- Start and End Tour Transportation
IMPORTANT: Due to heavy rains over the winter 2016-17, many sections of Highway One down the Big Sur coast were heavily damaged. During the repair phase (which may take as long as the rest of 2017) portions of the highway are likely to remain closed to through traffic, and this will impact any Monterey to Santa Barbara biking itinerary on the days scheduled for that stretch of coast. Please see our Big Sur Highway 2017 page for more details.
6 Days / 288 Total Miles / Daily Average = 48 Miles / Daily Range = 38-61 Miles
*** Please see John's Tour Thoughts and Mileage Calculator for Alternate Itineraries for information about tours within the Monterey to Santa Barbara Zone for different start/end points and/or different numbers of days and mileages. ***
Day One - Monterey to Big Sur - 45 miles (elevation +2748/-2530 ft)
The Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour begins with a side trip out to scenic 17 Mile Drive to experience the storied golf courses of Pebble Beach. You'll continue through Carmel, enjoying its white sandy beach and beautiful mission. South of Carmel, you'll enter the fabled Big Sur coastline, home to some of the most spectacular coastal scenery anywhere in the world. Here Highway One is often carved out of cliffs and ridges high above the Pacific Ocean with waves crashing below on rocky sea stacks. After crossing photogenic Bixby Bridge and climbing to Hurricane Point, today's bike ride finishes a short distance inland among the redwoods in the town of Big Sur.
Day Two - Big Sur to Ragged Point - 49 miles (elevation +5043/-4941 ft)
Get ready for an epic full day of biking the Big Sur coast! Right off the bat you'll tackle the biggest hill of the Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour as you cycle above the Big Sur River past colorful cafes and more redwoods before descending back toward the ocean. Rugged and remote coastline dominates the rest of the day, with numerous state parks offering short hikes to waterfalls and panoramic views of the Pacific. After cycling a final set of hills, you'll enjoy a well earned rest at the Ragged Point Inn, perched on a bluff high above ocean.
Day Three - Ragged Point to San Luis Obispo (SLO) - 61 miles (elevation +2228/-2313 ft)
After descending from Ragged Point the Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour route features more forgiving terrain, but still encompasses expansive ocean views as you pass by historic Hearst Ranch and Hearst Castle and a colony of decidedly odd looking elephant seals (a must see stop!). South of Hearst Castle, you'll bike through a series of small coastal towns, each with its own unique character. Cambria features numerous art galleries and restaurants, while Cayucos is focused its extensive beach and pier area as well as being a popular surfing location. Our bike tour route hugs the coast from Cayucos to Morro Bay, which is a fishing village with a scenic harbor area. The route from Morro Bay to SLO skirts the edge of Morro Bay National Estuary before cutting inland for some hilly, but very scenic cycling. San Luis Obispo (voted happiest town in North America!) features an historic mission and a vibrant, walkable downtown area.
Day Four - SLO to Santa Maria - 43 miles (elevation +1101/-1131 ft)
From SLO the Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour route heads back to the coast. A short detour along a creekside bike path to the small resort town of Avila Beach beckons before cycling through Pismo Beach, another classic beach town. From Pismo Beach the route veers inland through rich farmland. Watch for artichokes and strawberries! The terrain south of Pismo Beach has some rolling hills, but levels out as you cycle through the sleepy town of Guadalupe before the short spin to Santa Maria.
Day Five - Santa Maria to Solvang - 38 miles (elevation +1931/-1662 ft)
Leaving Santa Maria on this Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour, you'll quickly find yourself in the idyllic vineyards of the Santa Ynez winery region. This is where the movie "Sideways" was filmed, often with actual staff from the winery tasting rooms. Tackling the hills at the south end of Foxen Canyon Road brings you to the tiny hamlet of Los Olivos and its numerous tasting rooms. From Los Olivos it's a short spin along Alamo Pintado Road (or a rollicking climb and descent on Ballard Canyon Road) to the Danish-themed town of Solvang in the heart of the Santa Ynez wine country.
Day Six - Solvang to Santa Barbara - 52 miles (elevation +2472/-2965 ft)
The last day of this Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour starts with a pleasing spin and climb through isolated country behind Solvang past Nojoqui Falls Park before you gain US 101 and bike over Gaviota Pass to get back to the coast. The coastal approach to Santa Barbara on US 101 is actually quite pleasant for cycling on a freeway and features expansive ocean views. As you near Santa Barbara, you'll take the traditional Coast Bike Route through Hope Ranch and bike along the waterfront before ending the day among the palm trees and sandy beaches of Santa Barbara.
**Please note that all mileages and elevation gain/loss data (in feet) are approximate only and will vary according to hotel location and actual routes ridden.**
After reviewing the information on our website, if you'd like to see an alternate itinerary, doing the above itinerary in more or less days and/or getting the process of planning a multi-day bike tour with us started, please use our Custom Bike Tour Questionnaire. You can always give us a call at 805.528.1080 as well.
- If you want to concentrate cycling on the spectacular Big Sur coast and the winery region of the Santa Ynez Valley, it is possible to do this trip with a shuttle in the middle, cutting out the areas around San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.
- A more relaxed seven to eight day version of this itinerary can be done by breaking up some longer and/or hillier days at the start of the itinerary.
- We've also done several bike tours that concentrate on the Big Sur area down to Cambria, then shuttle to the Santa Ynez valley and enjoy 1-3 days of wine country cycling there.
- If you would like to concentrate your overnight stays in beach towns, we suggest doing a seven day itinerary that breaks Days Three and Four into three cycling days and stays in Cayucos and Pismo Beach instead of just SLO.
- For long distance California Coast bike tours we ALWAYS recommend going from north to south (one way) due to prevailing winds along the coast from the north and northwest.
Interesting layover days on our Monterey to Santa Barbara via Big Sur bike tour can be made in the following locations:
Cambria. There is quite a selection of art galleries, fine restaurants and wine tasting available in Cambria. Hearst Castle is just a few miles north. Try kayaking in San Simeon Cove with Sea For Yourself. There are also numerous hiking trails in and around Cambria, including Hearst San Simeon State Park. To encompass a layover day in Cambria, you would either lengthen Day Two or cut Day Three in half.
San Luis Obispo (SLO). This diverse town offers plenty of galleries and restaurants in its award winning downtown area. The Edna Valley stretches south of town and offers numerous winery tasting rooms and great cycling.
Solvang. Located in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country, Solvang (or one of the towns close by) is the best place for a layover day if you want to experience wine country and/or do some cycling to wineries.
If you are interested in starting or ending at different points than in the sample Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour itinerary and/or if you want to increase or decrease the number of days of your Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour to yield different daily average mileages, please use the calculator below to begin customizing your tour. Please don't hesitate to email us if you have other questions or would like a proposed itinerary with your specifications sent to you.
Metric conversion: miles x 1.61 = kilometers
Please email us to request more information on specific itineraries or to start the process of booking a tour with us.
For shorter itineraries within the Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour zone or longer itineraries that include the Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour zone, please click on the following links:
Traffic along the Monterey to Santa Barbara via Big Sur bike tour route is highly variable. Some stretches are on remote roads that have little to no traffic. Much of the cycling route is on Highway One, which has differing traffic volumes on different portions. Highway One also has highly variable shoulders with some stretches (especially through Big Sur coast) that have little to no shoulder. Summer tends to see the heaviest traffic on Highway One. Inexperienced cyclists or cyclists who have a low tolerance for riding with traffic have commented that the busier sections of Highway One during summer seemed hectic to them. More experienced cyclists seem less impacted by the traffic on Highway One. A small portion of the cycling tour is actually on freeways, but these sections always have a large shoulder, except for two very short stretches on the approach to Santa Barbara. However, motorists are used to seeing lots of cyclists along the route and are normally courteous. Cyclists doing the Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour should be comfortable riding with traffic for portions of the tour.
The terrain for the Monterey to Santa Barbara via Big Sur bike tour route is also highly variable. Most days will have some combination of relatively level riding and some hill climbing. Most of the sustained climbs (i.e. 1/2 mile or longer) are of moderate steepness (5-8%) and there are no sustained climbs that average over 10%. The hilliest section for cyclists doing the Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour is the 75 miles of Big Sur coast between Carmel and Ragged Point. There is very little level riding on this stretch of coast and the vast majority of the route is either climbing or descending. There are two climbs on the Big Sur coast that are just over 2 miles long and gain almost 1000 feet. Each day of the Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour itinerary has the elevation gain and loss (in feet) listed. Cyclists contemplating doing the Monterey to Santa Barbara bike tour should be comfortable with riding hilly terrain.
We offer three levels of support for guided bicycle tours down the California coast: Vehicle Support Only, Vehicle Support plus Bikes and/or Lunch, and Fully Inclusive. Follow the links for more explanation of how pricing might work for your group. Prices for guided bicycle tours down the California coast from Monterey to Santa Barbara via Big Sur are usually based on a daily rate multiplied by the total number of days on the bicycle tour. Please don't hesitate to contact us or send in a Custom Bike Trip Questionnaire to find out how much the tour you are interested in might cost your group.
We also do a self guided version of this itinerary.
Between San Luis Obispo County and the town of Santa Barbara, our normal Monterey to Santa Barbara bicycle tour route goes via the Santa Ynez Valley and Solvang. This routing is slightly longer overall (by 17 miles) than the more direct route via Lompoc. We route most of our Monterey to Santa Barbara bicycle tours via the Santa Ynez Valley to give cyclists the chance to ride through a classic California wine country area. The bike route via Lompoc does decrease the overall miles, but misses the Santa Ynez Valley wine area in favor of wide open and isolated ranch and farm country farther to the west. Lompoc is also not as interesting a town as Solvang (or other towns in the Santa Ynez Valley) for an overnight stay and has no high end quality hotels or restaurants. However, if you are not interested in wine country areas and want to keep moving down the coast in the most direct fashion, staying in Lompoc is certainly worth considering. Please email us for a sample of an alternate California coast biking itinerary that is routed via Lompoc instead of the Santa Ynez Valley and Solvang.
The Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) is very close to Monterey and is served by several major airlines. There are flights to Monterey from San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver. The nearest major airport to Monterey is San Jose (SJC). Monterey Airbus picks up at the San Jose airport (SJC) and drops off in downtown Monterey. Shuttle time is usually 1.5 hours. If you are flying into San Francisco (SFO), Monterey Airbus also picks up there and drops off in downtown Monterey. Shuttle time is usually 2-2.5 hours.
While it is possible take Amtrak to Monterey, the Amtrak route to Monterey usually involves a transfer to a bus in nearby Salinas.
If you are coming from southern California to Monterey before the bike tour, we can often offer a complimentary shuttle from SLO to Monterey the day the tour starts. It is often easier and cheaper to get to SLO from Los Angeles or Santa Barbara via Amtrak than it is to fly or take Amtrak from either Los Angeles or Santa Barbara to Monterey.
Santa Barbara Area
Similar to Monterey, Santa Barbara has a regional airport (SBA) served by several major airlines. There are non-stop flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, Portland and Phoenix. The Santa Barbara Airbus offers transportation from several Santa Barbara area locations to Los Angeles International (LAX) as well. Shuttle time is usually 2-2.5 hours. Amtrak also offers train service from Santa Barbara to the Los Angeles area.