Overview – California North Coast Guided Bike Tour
The California coast north of San Francisco is an enchanting mix of towering redwood forests, rugged coastline, and seaside villages. The Russian River wine country also beckons.
- Standard Itinerary
- John’s Tour Thoughts
- Traffic, Road Conditions and Terrain
- Overview Map
- Different Routes within the Zone
- Start and End Tour Transportation
Standard Itinerary – Humboldt Redwoods to Bodega Bay
4 Days / 182 Total Miles / Daily Average = 46 Miles / Daily Range = 30-54 Miles
Day One – Avenue of the Giants – 30 miles (elevation +1548/-1383 ft)
At the start of this California North Coast bike tour we meet in the San Francisco Bay Area in the morning and shuttle four hours north to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to some of the tallest trees in the world. In the afternoon, we cycle down the Avenue of the Giants, a winding road right through the heart of redwood country. At the end of the day’s bike ride, we usually stay in or near Garberville, a small town nestled among the towering trees.
Day Two – Leggett to Mendocino – 54 miles (elevation +4242/-5091 ft)
In the morning we shuttle over a busy stretch of US 101 before starting our ride in Leggett. Get ready for the biggest climb of the California North Coast bike tour over Leggett Hill with just under 2000 feet of elevation gained. From the top the descent is a long rollicking one toward the Pacific Coast. The climbing is not over as we also tackle Rockport Hill before cycling down a remote and stunningly beautiful stretch of coastal Highway One. Today’s ride on the California North Coast bike tour ends in the restored old logging town of Mendocino.
Day Three – Mendocino to Gualala – 49 miles (elevation +3768/-3810 ft)
More spectacular California coastal bicycling on our North Coast bike tour beckons as we follow Highway One down the Mendocino coast, biking by the historic Pt. Arena lighthouse as well as several state parks. Although there are no major climbs, the terrain is mostly up and down with many hills and scenic vistas. After a full day of cycling on this California North Coast bike tour our destination for the day is Gualala, a small coastal village at the mouth of the Gualala River.
Day Four – Gualala to Bodega Bay – 49 miles (elevation +4111/-4164 ft)
Continuing down the coast from Gualala, we’ll pass through the ecologically oriented development of Sea Ranch and Salt Point State Park before passing the old Russian settlement of Fort Ross. Past Fort Ross we tackle the climb and descent of Jenner Hill and gain the mouth of the Russian River near Jenner. From here, we cycle further down the coast to Bodega Bay, a charming fishing village.
John’s Tour Thoughts
- If you wanted some classic California wine country cycling, the above California North Coast bike tour itinerary could be modified to head inland along the Russian River Valley to Guerneville or Healdsburg;
- A longer California North Coast bike tour can be done by starting farther north in Eureka and cycling all the way to San Francisco, a distance of about 320 miles. This could be done in 6 days at about 50-55 miles per day;
- A shorter California North Coast bike tour can be done by starting in Garberville and ending in Jenner at the mouth of the Russian River. The total distance is 165 miles and could be done in 3 days at about 55 miles per day;
- 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.
Traffic, Road Conditions and Terrain
Traffic along the California North Coast 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 and long stretches that have little to no shoulder. Summer tends to see the heaviest traffic on Highway One. However, motorists are used to seeing lots of cyclists along the route and are normally courteous. Cyclists doing the California North Coast bike tour should be comfortable riding with traffic for portions of the tour.
The terrain for the California North Coast 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%. There are two sections of the standard tour with major climbs – Leggett/Rockport Hills on Day Two and Jenner Hill on Day Four. Each day of the California North Coast bike tour itinerary has the elevation gain and loss (in feet) listed. Cyclists contemplating doing the California North Coast bike tour should be comfortable with riding hilly terrain.
Different Routes within the Zone
There is a very remote section of coast and river valleys to the west of Humboldt Redwoods State Park called the Lost Coast. The accommodations are few and far between and the hills are big, but there is little to no traffic and the scenery is stunning. We cycled it once a long time ago and would welcome the opportunity to plan a trip there.
San Francisco Bay Area
There are three major airports (San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose) serving the San Francisco Bay Area. Most major airlines fly in to all three airports. For California North Coast bike tours, we usually pick up in the San Francisco Bay Area on the first day of the tour and shuttle back at the end of the tour.
The Allure of an Adventure on the North Coast
Northern California’s reputation as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts precedes it, and its cycling opportunities are no exception. The regions north of San Francisco offer a mosaic of diverse terrains, from coastal roads that hug the Pacific to inland pathways that carve through the monumental beauty of the state’s famous redwood forests.
For the dedicated cyclist, the allure of the north coast lies in both the challenge of powerful headwinds and the rush of coastal descents. It’s a place where every bend in the road reveals a new postcard view, making it a perennial favorite for those who pedal in pursuit of beauty and adventure.
Mapping Out Your Northern California Bike Tour
Understand the Terrain: Before you saddle up, take time to understand the terrains you’ll be navigating. Northern California’s coastal regions are known for their undulating roads, necessitating careful preparation for both the hills and the always-uncertain weather.
Selecting the Right Route: The beauty of Northern California lies in its variety, and the same is true for its cycling routes. Choose a path that matches your stamina and skill level, and tailor the ride to include highlights that resonate with your interests.
Planning the Itinerary: Given the region’s popularity, planning your itinerary is essential. Consider the distance you’re comfortable riding each day, look into overnight accommodation options or camping grounds, and plot must-see attractions to visit along the way.
Exploring the Redwoods and Coastal Backroads
Setting Out from Santa Rosa
Begin your northern adventure with a charming ride out of Santa Rosa, the heart of Sonoma County. You’ll ride through a patchwork of vineyards and hills, gradually making your way to the coast. It’s a moderate route that offers a taste of the landscape diversity Northern California is renowned for.
Discovering the Russian River Valley
Explore the Russian River Valley with a ride that takes you past lush vineyards and back in time to the region’s bygone days as a hub for the local logging industry. Watch as the river snakes through the valley, and be sure to stop in the historic town of Guerneville to soak in its laid-back atmosphere.
Cycling the Challenging Yet Majestic Marin Headlands
For those craving a bit more drama in their ride, the Marin Headlands challenge presents a more arduous adventure. The relentless climbs reward you with panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline, making it one of the most iconic segments of the Northern California coast.
Conquering King Ridge and the Cazadero Highway
Venture further into the wilds of Sonoma County with a trek over King Ridge and along the Cazadero Highway. This demanding ride features steep ascents and thrilling descents, and the solitary beauty of the coastal redwoods serves as your constant companion along the way.
Safety and Practical Tips for the Perfect Cycling Experience
Gear Up Correctly: Ensure your bike is in top condition, and pack essentials such as repair kits, snacks, and water. Dress in layers to prepare for the coastal climate that can change rapidly, and don’t forget a sturdy helmet.
Respect the Environment: Northern California’s natural beauty is a precious resource. Be mindful of local wildlife, and always adhere to leave-no-trace principles. Stay on designated paths to protect the delicate ecosystems.
Know the Road Rules: Familiarize yourself with California’s traffic laws as they pertain to cyclists. Use hand signals, obey road regulations, and ride in single file in busier areas for both your safety and that of others around you.
Must-See Stops Along the Northern California Coast
Bodega Bay and the Legacy of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’
Make a detour to the quaint fishing village of Bodega Bay, a setting made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic thriller. Here, you can enjoy fresh seafood, visit the spot where the film was shot, and perhaps even spot a few avian residents that inspired the plot.
The Majestic Mendocino Coast
No cycling tour of Northern California is complete without a visit to the Mendocino Coast. The rugged beauty of its cliffs and the charm of the village of Mendocino itself make for an ideal overnight stop, allowing you to fully appreciate the region before riding on.
Point Arena Lighthouse and the Pacific Panorama
Take the chance to climb the stairs of Point Arena Lighthouse, a century-old beacon that provides a stunning 360-degree view of the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day, you can spot the spouts of migrating whales and potentially is witness to winter their surfing peripheries.
Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach
Explore the colorful landscape of Glass Beach, a repository for shards of glass made smooth by the churning ocean. It’s a serendipitous example of nature’s ability to renew and repurpose, offering a unique and picturesque homage to the region’s history.
Post-Ride Refreshment and Relaxation
Savoring the Local Cuisine
Northern California’s culinary scene is as diverse as its cycling routes. From farm-to-table fare in Sonoma County to fresh seafood along the coast, be sure to enjoy the local specialties at each stop.
Resting and Re-Hydrating at Local Breweries
Raise a pint and rest those weary legs at one of the region’s many craft breweries. These watering holes not only offer a chance to sample fine ales, but they often serve as community hubs where you can swap stories with fellow travelers and locals alike.
Overnighting in Natural Splendor
Northern California offers a range of accommodations, from picturesque campgrounds to eco-lodges nestled in the redwoods. Each presents its own unique charm, and the sound of the ocean or the gentle rustle of redwood leaves can make for a truly magical evening’s backdrop.
The Community of Cyclists in Northern California
Cycling enthusiasts in Northern California form a warm and welcoming community. Whether you’re a solo rider or part of a group, you’re likely to find camaraderie among fellow cyclists. Local bike shops are often great sources of information and can offer support ranging from bike repairs to advice on routes.
The cycling culture also means you’re never far from a group ride, cycling event, or a charity ride. Participating in one of these can not only enhance your experience but also provide an opportunity to give back to the local community and environment.
Cycling through Northern California is an immersion in the extraordinary. From the towering beauty of the coastal redwoods to the white-capped waves of the Pacific, every vista speaks to the region’s natural grandeur. The amalgamation of solitude and the camaraderie of fellow cyclists makes for an experience that’s both introspective and community-focused.
With a careful blend of planning, preparation, and an openness to the unexpected, a bike tour of Northern California is a chance to escape the ordinary and to pedal through paradise. Whether it’s the sense of accomplishment atop a challenging climb, the wonder of a hidden cove, or the simple pleasure of meeting like-minded spirits along the road, there’s a treasure trove of memories to be unearthed north of San Francisco.
If you’re ready to saddle up and hit the road, the adventure of a Northern California bike tour awaits. It’s time to trade four wheels for two and to set forth on a path that’s as invigorating as it is inspiring.