Overview – Monterey to San Luis Obispo (SLO) Guided Bike Tour
If you only have time for a shorter bike tour down the California coast, the coastline from the Monterey Peninsula through the Big Sur area and down to SLO County plays like a highlight reel of the best elements of the coast. The first part of a Monterey to San Luis Obispo 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 offers a diverse palette of marine wildlife viewing, historic missions, sandy beaches and surfers plying the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Adding some time south of San Luis Obispo will bring you into the wine country of the Edna Valley.
“Beautiful scenery, perfect weather, great company and food, and wonderful guides…what more could one want on a bike trip!”
Steve and Cindy JacobsFt. Lauderdale, FL
- Suggested Itineraries
- Traffic, Road Conditions and Terrain
- Overview Map
- Start and End Tour Transportation
All of the itineraries below are flexible. Many can be done in fewer or more days. Layover days can be added along the way. All itineraries below feature the spectacular Big Sur coast.
MONTEREY TO SLO – 4 DAYS
155 Total Miles / Daily Average = 39 miles / Daily Range = 22-49 miles
This is our most popular itinerary for this section of coast! The shorter Day Three to Cambria (22 miles) allows for a possible visit to Hearst Castle, extra inland riding, or just exploring delightful Cambria.
MONTEREY TO SLO – 3 DAYS
155 Total Miles / Daily Average = 52 miles / Daily Range = 45-61 miles
This is somewhat more aggressive itinerary that combines the two last days of the standard itinerary above into one longer last day from Ragged Point to SLO. It’s also possible to stay in Cambria instead of Ragged Point, making for a longer Day Two (71 miles) and a shorter Day Three (39 miles)
MONTEREY TO SLO – 5 DAYS
155 Total Miles / Daily Average = 39 miles / Daily Range = 19-49 miles
This is more relaxed itinerary that breaks up the first day of the standard itinerary above into two shorter days. If traffic sensitivity is a potential issue, this itinerary does have the advantage of allowing you on Day Two to get on the Highway One section of the northern Big Sur coast first thing in the morning, when traffic volumes are usually less compared to later in the day.
CARMEL TO SLO – 4 DAYS
136 Total Miles / Daily Average = 34 miles / Daily Range = 26-49 miles
This itinerary is very similar to the standard Monterey to SLO itinerary, except it starts in Carmel instead of Monterey. You will not cycle on 17 Mile Drive on this itinerary, but the first day is a more relaxed 26 miles. If traffic sensitivity is a potential issue, this itinerary does have the advantage of allowing you on Day One to get on the Highway One section of the northern Big Sur coast first thing in the morning, when traffic volumes are usually less compared to later in the day.
CARMEL TO CAMBRIA – 3 DAYS
97 Total Miles / Daily Average = 32 miles / Daily Range = 22-49 miles
This is a great itinerary for riders who want to concentrate on the spectacular coastal Highway One sections of the Big Sur coast and the northern SLO County coast.
MONTEREY TO PISMO BEACH – 3 DAYS
168 Total Miles / Daily Average = 56 miles / Daily Range = 45-71 miles
This is a more aggressive itinerary that cycles a bit past SLO on the last day for more beach time in Pismo Beach. You could also end the tour in Avila Beach instead of Pismo Beach – about the same mileage in the last day. It’s also very easy to make this a 4 day itinerary by splitting Day Two into 2 days (staying at Ragged Point along the way).
Cost and Availability of Accommodations
Most of the groups that do guided multi-day bike tours with us book their own accommodations based on our recommendations. The cost and availability of accommodations can vary considerably and are influenced by location, high season vs. low season rates, and weekend vs. weekday rates. The best way to get a sense for what accommodations for your tour might cost is to first choose a specific itinerary and dates and ask us to email you our lists of recommended accommodations for each stop along the way. Then you can check availability and rates for your specific dates. Most budget hotel accommodations are in the $70-150 per night range. Mid range accommodations are typically between $150-300 per night. High end accommodations can cost much more than that. Some places, especially along the Big Sur coast, may sell out months in advance during the busy summer season or other holiday times, and/or may require two nights stays on certain busy weekends. The farther in advance you plan your bike tour, the better chance you have to get the accommodations you want at each stop along the way. Virtually all accommodations we recommend have websites where you can check availability and book rooms.
Traffic along the Monterey to San Luis Obispo 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. However, motorists are used to seeing lots of cyclists along the route and are normally courteous. Cyclists doing the Monterey to SLO bike tour should be comfortable riding with traffic for portions of the tour.
The terrain for the Monterey to San Luis Obispo 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 SLO 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 San Luis Obispo via Big Sur bike tour itinerary has the elevation gain and loss (in feet) listed. Cyclists contemplating doing the Monterey to SLO bike tour should be comfortable with riding hilly terrain.
Start and End Transportation
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.
San Luis Obispo Area
Similar to Monterey, San Luis Obispo has a regional airport (SBP) quite near town, although it is smaller and currently served by only two airlines (United and US Air). There are non-stop flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix. San Luis Obispo is also well served by Amtrak and has several trains/buses per day north toward the San Francisco Bay Area south toward Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Many people assume you can rent a car in most of the towns in SLO County, but this is not the case. There are no places to rent cars along the northern SLO County coast (i.e. Cambria, Cayucos, Morro Bay) until you get to the town of SLO itself, where most major national car rental companies are represented.
The Central Coast of California is renowned for its rugged coastline, breathtaking views, and a laid-back vibe that captivates visitors from around the globe. For adventure travelers and cycling aficionados, the stretch between Monterey and San Luis Obispo beckons with an epic ride that marries the beauty of the Pacific Ocean with the charm of coastal towns. Embarking on a bicycle tour from Monterey to San Luis Obispo isn’t just a physical feat; it’s an ecological and cultural adventure that reveals the essence of California.
Discovering the Central Coast By Bike
Setting the Wheels in Motion
Imagine starting your adventure in the historic seaport of Monterey, an iconic destination celebrated for its rich maritime history and the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. You saddle up and head south, already feeling the cool Pacific breeze on your face and the warmth of the sun on your back. The scenic coast is your constant companion, guiding you through a landscape of crashing waves, windswept cypresses, and golden beaches.
Route Highlights and Must-See Stops
The route from Monterey to San Luis Obispo is peppered with noteworthy stops that offer both respite and wonder. Cannery Row and the 17-Mile Drive present snapshots of California’s past and present, while the coastal towns of Cambria and Morro Bay introduce laid-back living and stunning natural features like the iconic Morro Rock. Every mile reveals a new vista, ensuring your ride is as visually stimulating as it is physically rewarding.
Day by Day Itinerary
A six-day itinerary is quite popular among cyclists for this route. Here’s a day-by-day breakdown of what you could expect:
Day 1: Start in Monterey
Day 2: Ride from Monterey to Big Sur (48 miles)
Day 3: Big Sur to San Simeon (41 miles)
Day 4: San Simeon to Cambria (11 miles, but a rest day exploring Hearst Castle is optional)
Day 5: Cambria to Morro Bay (24 miles)
Day 6: Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo (19 miles)
This schedule allows for a comfortable pace, ample time for sightseeing, and the flexibility to adjust based on weather and personal interests.
Preparation and Equipment for Your Journey
Ensuring You’re Ready
This is not your typical city-to-city bicycle ride. Preparation is key. You’ll need to ensure your physical fitness is up to par for the long rides and be well-equipped to handle both the coastal terrain and shifting weather.
Choosing the Right Bike and Gear
Select a bike that’s built for long distances and varied road conditions. Pack essentials like a repair kit, plenty of water, and high-energy snacks. Layers are your best friend as temperatures and winds can change rapidly along the coast. Don’t forget sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Getting the Right Pointers
If you’re not an experienced cyclist, consider a few training rides before tackling this tour. Get a professional fitting for your bike to avoid discomfort or injury, and don’t skimp on high-quality riding shorts to keep saddle sores at bay. Finally, familiarize yourself with the route and have a plan for accommodations and rest stops.
Experiencing the Journey
The Ecological Tapestry of the Central Coast
The ecological diversity of the Central Coast is on full display during this ride. You’ll pass through a range of ecosystems, from redwood forests to rolling hills, offering a unique opportunity to witness the interplay of land and sea. Keep an eye out for wildlife; the coast is home to a rich array of species, including the majestic condor.
Interacting with the Community
Part of the magic of this tour is the chance to engage with the local community. Stop at farm stands, chat with artisans, and sample the freshest local produce. Towns such as San Simeon and Cambria offer a glimpse into the area’s ranching past, while the fishermen’s wharf in Monterey is a bustling hub of activity.
The Pleasure of the Pedal
There’s something deeply satisfying about the pace of life on a bicycle tour. You’ll experience a sense of freedom and immersion in your surroundings that’s hard to replicate any other way. Whether you’re tackling a challenging climb or coasting downhill with the wind at your back, each pedal stroke brings you closer to nature and to a profound sense of accomplishment.
Post-Ride Reflections and Recommendations
Trail Talk: Sharing Your Experience
After your memorable ride, the best part might just be sharing your tales with fellow travelers. Whether it’s over a meal at a local restaurant or around the campfire at a coastal campground, reflecting on your experiences can be just as rewarding as the ride itself. Post your photos and stories on social media, and you might inspire others to take on this incredible adventure.
Recommendation for Future Travelers
Fulfilling the dream to travel from Monterey to San Luis Obispo by bike is a bucket-list item for many. If you’re considering this tour, start planning now. Research the route, book your accommodations in advance, and be sure to train adequately. Remember to respect the environment and follow Leave No Trace principles to preserve the stunning landscapes for future generations.
The Legacy of Your Ride
Your Monterey to San Luis Obispo bicycle tour will leave you with indelible memories and an increased appreciation for the beauty of California’s Central Coast. You’ll have pedaled through some of the most gorgeous scenery the state has to offer, and you may even find that the spirit of adventure and connection to nature you discovered on this ride stays with you long after you’ve crossed the finish line.
In conclusion, Monterey to San Luis Obispo bicycle tours offer a perfect blend of physical challenge, stunning beauty, and cultural immersion. It’s a ride that takes you through picture-perfect landscapes straight out of a California dream, and it’s an experience that can only truly be experienced from the seat of a bicycle. If you’re looking to infuse your travel with a sense of accomplishment and connection to the natural world, this iconic cycling route awaits.