Exploring California’s Stunning Coastline: San Luis Obispo to Big Sur Bike Trip

Monterey to San Luis Obispo

Overview – Monterey to San Luis Obispo (SLO) Self Guided Bike Tour

If you only have time for a shorter self guided 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 self guided cycling tour focuses on the hilly, but spectacular Big Sur coast, with its rugged coastline and towering redwoods. South of Big Sur, biking 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. Our standard Monterey to SLO itinerary is 4 days, but you can lengthen the tour by doing shorter cycling days and/or adding layover days. If you don’t mind more aggressive daily mileages, you could also do the tour in 2-3 days. It’s also possible to shorten the tour length by starting in Carmel instead of Monterey. To get more information and/or pricing for an itinerary you are interested in or to begin the process of booking a multi-day bike tour with us, send us a Custom Bike Tour Questionnaire. Or, just give us a call at 805.528.1080!

Standard Itinerary – Monterey to San Luis Obispo (SLO)

4 Days / 155 Total Miles / Daily Average = 39 Miles / Daily Range = 22-49 Miles

Day One – Monterey to Big Sur – 45 miles (elevation +2748/-2530 ft)

The Monterey to SLO 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 SLO 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 Cambria – 22 miles (elevation +937/-1202 ft)

After descending from Ragged Point the coastal route in northern SLO County features more forgiving terrain, but still encompasses expansive ocean views as you pass by historic Hearst Ranch and Hearst Castle. Just south of Piedras Blancas lighthouse, the largest elephant seal colony in North America is a must-see stop. Home for the evening is the charming seaside village of Cambria, featuring numerous art galleries and restaurants.

Day Four – Cambria to San Luis Obispo (SLO) – 39 miles (elevation +1456/-1273 ft)

South of Cambria the Monterey to San Luis Obispo bike tour route veers inland for short while before returning to the coast just north of Cayucos, a classic beach town with a pier, a huge sandy beach and surfers plying the waves just offshore. Our route hugs the coast from Cayucos south to Morro Bay, which is a fishing village with a scenic harbor area. From Morro Bay to SLO you’ll skirt the edge of wildlife rich Morro Bay National Estuary before cutting inland for some hilly, but very scenic cycling. SLO (voted happiest town in North America!) features an historic mission and a vibrant walkable downtown area.

Adding Layover Days

Interesting Layover days on the Monterey to San Luis Obispo bike tour can be made in the following locations:

  • Big Sur. This is the best layover spot for hiking. Amazing coastal hikes as well as hikes into the redwoods are available at Andrew Molera State Park and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
  • 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.

**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.**

Alternate Itineraries

Many other options exist for cycling from the Monterey area down to SLO County. Please see below for brief itinerary descriptions to see how they differ from the standard itinerary and click on the links to view a detailed PDF of any of these itineraries. To get more information and/or pricing for an itinerary you are interested in or to begin the process of booking a multi-day bike tour with us, send us a Custom Bike Tour Questionnaire. Or, just give us a call at 805.528.1080! As always, if you don’t find an itinerary on our website that fits what you are looking for, please contact us and let us know what your thoughts are.


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.


155 Total Miles / Daily Average = 39 miles / Daily Range = 19-49 miles

This is somewhat 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.


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.


136 Total Miles / Daily Average = 68 miles / Daily Range = 61-75 miles

This is a more aggressive itinerary for stronger riders who want to concentrate on the spectacular coastal Highway One sections of the Big Sur coast and the northern SLO County coast.


168 Total Miles / Daily Average = 56 miles / Daily Range = 45-71 miles

This is a more aggressive itinerary that cyles 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).


Pricing below is for our innovative self guided bike tour program. Prices below assume our standard self guided bike tour services and are per person prices for the whole itinerary. The rates vary according to length of itinerary and number of people in the cycling group. If you will be doing the itinerary in less or more than the amount of days listed below, the price will be adjusted accordingly. For number of days below the standard range – subtract $15 per day per person. For number of days above the standard range – add $20 per day per person.


ItineraryTotal Miles# of DaysSolo2 ppl3 ppl4+ ppl
Monterey to SLO1553-5$500$330$240$215
Carmel to SLO1362-4$500$330$240$215
Monterey to Pismo Beach1683-5$500$330$240$215

Custom Bike Tour Questionnaire (Start the booking process)

Once you’ve reviewed itinerary options and have an idea of what itineraries or dates might work best for you, the best way to start the process of booking a tour and confirming the price for your group is to fill out the Custom Bike Tour Questionnaire. You can always give us a call at 805.528.1080 as well.

Cost and Availability of Accommodations

The cost and availability of accommodations on a California coast self guided bike tour 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. It can be a challenge to find hotel accommodations for less than $100 per night average, although if you are willing to stay in hostels where they exist, you can average less than $100 per night. Most budget hotel accommodations are in the $70-150 per night range. Mid range accommodations are typically between $150-300 per night. 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.

Daily Luggage Delivery Options

Daily luggage delivery is not normally included in our self guided bike tour package, but can potentially be arranged for an extra fee. Our standard self guided services include a pannier system for the bike so you can carry just the clothing and gear you need during the tour. We will take your excess luggage (anything you don’t carry on the bike), store it for you during the tour and deliver it to you at the end of the tour. If you want daily luggage transfer, be aware that moving luggage down the coast one way can cost a minimum of $150 extra per moving day and often up to double that or more. We usually use a combination of parcel delivery services (in areas farther from our home base in SLO County) and our own staff and vehicles (closer to our home base). Please contact us if you are interested in a quote on daily luggage delivery for your self guided bike tour.

Traffic, Road Conditions and Terrain

Traffic along the Monterey to San Luis Obispo via Big Sur self guided bike tour route is highly variable. Some stretches are on remote roads that have little to no traffic. Much of the biking 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 cycle 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 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.

Overview Map

map monterey Peninsula

Start and End Transportation

Monterey Peninsula

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.

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.

San Luis Obispo to Big Sur Bike Trip

Imagine the cool ocean breeze in your hair as you pedal along a road that seems to cling precariously to the very edge of the earth, with the azure waters of the Pacific unfolding endlessly to one side and the rugged cliffs of Big Sur rising majestically on the other. This isn’t just a scene from a travel fantasy – it’s the reality of a bike trip from San Luis Obispo to Big Sur, a stretch of California’s famed coastline that offers some of the most breathtaking views and memorable experiences you’ll find anywhere in the world.

For travel enthusiasts and adventure seekers, cycling the coastal route from San Luis Obispo to Big Sur is an endeavor that promises not just physical challenge but also a deep connection with nature at its most dramatic. With countless stops for panoramic views, quaint coastal towns, and the chance to camp under the stars, this trip has every ingredient for an unforgettable adventure.

Join us as we map out your unforgettable bike trip along the California coast, taking you through a journey that will invigorate your senses and feed your soul.

The Ultimate California Coastal Road Trip

Begin Your Adventure in San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, often abbreviated to SLO, marks the starting point of your coastal odyssey. With its charming downtown, famous bubblegum alley, and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, this city is a mix of college-town energy and laid-back California vibes.

Before you set off, take the time to explore SLO and pack essentials like water, snacks, a map, and, most importantly, a good camera. Don’t forget to lube your chain, check your tire pressure, and ensure you’ve got all the necessary tools for the ride.

Cycling the Coastline to Morro Bay

The first leg of your trip takes you northwest towards Morro Bay, an alluring fishing village famous for its massive, iconic Morro Rock, which rises from the bay like a sentinel.

The ride from SLO to Morro Bay, about 12 miles, is relatively flat and provides a pleasant introduction to the coastal scenery that will characterize your entire trip. Take a leisurely pace, enjoy the salty tang of the air, and perhaps indulge in some fresh seafood from the bay upon arrival.

Stopover in Cayucos and Harmony

A short jaunt up the coast from Morro Bay lies Cayucos, a quintessential beach town with a historic pier and a beautiful stretch of coastline. Make a stop at Brown Butter Cookie Company to refuel with their delectable treats before pedaling on to Harmony, a tiny artist’s community with a population of 18.

Harmony Glassworks and Pottery are beautiful spots to pick up unique pieces of art as well as take a break from the ride. The roughly 4 miles between these two towns offers a gentle, rolling landscape that lets you really soak in the ocean views.

Navigating the Back Roads to San Simeon

From Harmony, cyclists have a choice – they can continue on the main highway or divert up into the hills for a more rural experience. Opting for this rustic route will not only give you a break from traffic but also lead you to the elephant seals of Piedras Blancas.

Cycling the hilly inland road is more challenging, but the rewards are manifold. You’ll have the opportunity to see the imposing elephant seals, as well as enjoy the quiet beauty of the rolling hills and eucalyptus forests. From here, it’s about a 25-mile ride to San Simeon, which is best known for the opulent Hearst Castle.

Cap It Off With Cambria’s Coastal Scene

Just south of San Simeon, the quaint village of Cambria beckons with its historic Main Street and the nearby Moonstone Beach, known for its namesake semi-precious stones washed ashore. This is a great place to refuel, grab a bite, and perhaps even take a stroll along the beach to comb the area for these unique and beautiful stones.

Here, you’re about halfway to Big Sur and a little over 100 miles into your coastal adventure.

Tackling the Territory to Big Sur

Winding Through Coastal Bluffs and Forests

Leaving Cambria, the landscape becomes increasingly dramatic as you approach the cliffs of the Pacific coast. The route winds precariously through these bluffs, offering some of the most stunning vistas you’ll find anywhere. Biking through this section can be challenging, with some steep grades, but the scenery makes it worth every effort.

Cyclists are advised to exercise caution and be well-prepared since weather can change quickly and there are limited services along this stretch of coastline. There are a few camping options along the way – San Carpoforo Creek and Kirk Creek are both excellent places to set up for the night, with the latter perched high above the ocean, offering the perfect vantage point for a sunset or sunrise.

Pacing Yourself for the Push to Big Sur

From these campsites, you’ll have about 30-35 miles ahead of you to reach Big Sur proper. There are no guarantees when it comes to the weather on the coast, but if you’re lucky enough to have clear skies, you’ll be treated to breathtaking panoramas around every bend.

About 15 miles into this stretch, the mighty and coveted Ragged Point Inn beckons with yet more staggering views and a welcome break. It’s the last chance to fuel up until you reach Big Sur, so plan accordingly.

Welcome to Big Sur’s Untamed Beauty

Soon, you’ll begin to see the famed Bixby Bridge, a sight that signals your arrival in Big Sur. This iconic structure is one of the most photographed in the world and it’s the perfect place to take a breather and capture the moment.

Big Sur is a destination in and of itself, with a myriad of trails to explore, waterfalls to marvel at, and hot springs to soak in. Spend at least a day here, if not more, making the most of all that this wild and untouched landscape has to offer before beginning the return back down the coast.

Helpful Tips for Your Cycling Adventure

  • Plan Your Route Carefully: The coastal road can be challenging for cyclists, both in terms of physical demands and the twists and turns of the terrain. Study your route ahead of time and be prepared for some hilly sections.
  • Pack Light but Thorough: Because you’re cycling, pack only the essentials, but don’t skimp on what you need. A hydration pack, a first-aid kit, cycling tools, and a reliable map should all be in your saddlebags.
  • Be Weather-Wise: The coast is notorious for its microclimates and changes in weather, so dress in layers and be ready for anything.
  • Safety First: Always wear a helmet and make sure you’re visible to drivers. Reflective clothing and lights are a must, especially when riding in the dark or in foggy conditions.
  • Hydrate and Refuel: There are several stretches of the route without services, so be sure to carry enough water and snacks to keep you going.
  • Rest and Recovery: Listen to your body and take breaks when you need them. Overdoing it can lead to fatigue and saddle sores, which can put a real dampener on your adventure.
  • Camping Wisdom: If you’re camping along the way, be sure to check for camping availability and permits in advance.

The Final Push Back to San Luis Obispo

After you’ve taken in all the magnificence of Big Sur, it’s time to retrace your steps back to San Luis Obispo with memories you’ll cherish forever. The return trip gives you the chance to absorb the countryside from a different perspective, seeing familiar landmarks with fresh eyes, and reflecting on the enriching experiences of your coastal bike trip.

Relive those golden sunsets, retrace the rolling terrain, and breathe in the liberating essence of the open road as it brings you back to the simplicity of life on two wheels. San Luis Obispo awaits with open arms, ready to celebrate the explorer in you.