Central Coast California bike trips and outdoor trips in San Luis Obispo California

Central Coast California bike trips

Overview – SF to LA bike tour

Cycling all the way from San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge to the beaches of Los Angeles is one of the classic bicycling odysseys in the world. The coastal route between these two iconic California cities is possibly one of the most diverse coastal bicycle rides in the world, featuring iconic urban areas, rugged coastline, towering redwood forests, marine wildlife viewing, historic lighthouses, winery areas and surfers plying the waves of the Pacific Ocean off sandy beaches.

Standard Itinerary: San Francisco to Los Angeles

9 Days / 505 Total Miles / Daily Average = 56 Miles

Day One – San Francisco to Half Moon Bay – 34 miles (elevation +2289/-2261 ft)

Our San Francisco to Los Angeles bike tour begins in San Francisco along a bike path past the Golden Gate Bridge and then rides through the Presidio before greeting the Pacific by the iconic Cliff House and Ocean Beach. Continuing south through the hills of Daly City, the route passes through Pacifica and over Devils Slide before a pleasing coastal stretch to Half Moon Bay.

Cyclist view of Golden Gate Bridge

Cyclist view of Golden Gate Bridge

Day Two – Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz – 50 miles (elevation +3082/-3138 ft)

South of Half Moon Bay on the SF to LA bike tour, Highway One is less hilly and our route down the coast feels like it’s a million miles away from the city. Numerous state parks and beaches line the route, as well as an historic lighthouse. The tiny villages of San Gregorio and Pescadero, both just inland from the Pacific coast, are tempting to explore by bike. We end the day in the surfer town of Santa Cruz, with its famous pier and boardwalk, where the laid back California lifestyle was practically invented.

Day Three – Santa Cruz to Monterey – 46 miles (elevation +1923/-1934 ft)

From Santa Cruz to the Monterey Peninsula the coastal cycling route weaves through farmland (watch for artichokes!) and along scenic dune areas with long stretches on bike paths. Along the way you may see sea lions and seals as you cross Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing. The historic town of Monterey features Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row, made famous by writer John Steinbeck.

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

Today’s ride on the SF to LA 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 cycling across photogenic Bixby Bridge and climbing to Hurricane Point, the ride finishes a short distance inland among the redwoods in the town of Big Sur.

Day Five – Big Sur to Cambria – 71 miles (elevation +5832/-6039 ft)

The rest of the epic Big Sur coast dominates the first 50 miles of the ride today. Right off the bat you’ll tackle the biggest hill of the tour as you climb above the Big Sur River past colorful cafes before descending back toward the ocean. Short hikes to redwood canyons and waterfalls as well as panoramic views from scenic vistas line this stretch of the route. After the hills leading up to Ragged Point the terrain levels out as we ride through idyllic ranchland past an elephant seal colony and Hearst Castle before getting a well earned night’s rest in the seaside village of Cambria.

Day Six – Cambria to Pismo Beach – 52 miles (elevation +1812/-1798 ft)

In the morning our route sticks close to the coast and winds through the picturesque towns of Cayucos and Morro Bay before skirting scenic Morro Bay National Estuary, home to an incredible diversity of bird life. Cycling inland from Morro Bay on this SF to LA bike tour, you’ll pass through idyllic ranchland and the historic mission town of San Luis Obispo (voted happiest town in North America!) before heading back to the coast. A short detour along a creekside bike path to the small resort town of Avila Beach beckons before the final leg of the route to Pismo Beach, another classic beach town.

Day Seven – Pismo Beach to Solvang – 68 miles (elevation +2989/-2520 ft)

The first part of the cycling route today veers inland through rich farmland. The terrain starts out with some rolling hills, but levels out as you pass through the sleepy town of Guadalupe before a short spin to Santa Maria. From Santa Maria, you’ll quickly find yourself in the idyllic vineyards of the Santa Ynez winery region. 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 quick ride 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 Eight – Solvang to Ventura – 81 miles (elevation +3792/-4245 ft)

A pleasing spin and climb through isolated country behind Solvang starts the day before you gain US 101 and climb 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. From Santa Barbara to Ventura the route hugs the coast and features some more freeway riding and views of several classic surf spots.

Day Nine – Ventura to Santa Monica (LA) – 58 miles (elevation +1529/-1571 ft)

On the final day of this San Francisco to Los Angeles bike tour, Southern California ambience dominates the route. In the morning, you’ll ride through urban areas and farmland before reaching the scenic northern Malibu coast. As you get close to the actual town of Malibu, you’ll see classic California beach homes built right over the ocean. The last few miles of riding are on a bike path winding across the golden sands of the Santa Monica Beach to Santa Monica pier.

**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.**
Bicyclists on 17 Mile Drive

John’s Tour Thoughts

  • If you prefer to avoid the urban and agricultural areas between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, we often recommend doing a slightly shorter tour ending in Santa Barbara instead of Santa Monica. Using the itinerary above as a model, this means the last day would be Day Eight with a shorter ride of about 55-60 miles from Solvang to Santa Barbara. There are numerous public transportation options to get from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, including Amtrak.
  • We also do many tours that start at Half Moon Bay or Santa Cruz to avoid the urban riding in and around San Francisco.
  • It’s also possible to combine the first two days and go from San Francisco to Santa Cruz in one day, making an itinerary of eight total days. Some groups doing this also elect to cycle from Santa Cruz to Big Sur on the second day, making a California coast cycling itinerary of seven total days.
  • Shorter California coast bike tours that concentrate on the Big Sur coast and areas just south are also very popular. We’ve planned bike tours for many cycling groups from the Monterey area down the Big Sur coast to San Luis Obispo (SLO) county or from SLO County down to Santa Barbara County. Please see relevant other zone pages for more information.
  • If long daily mileages and/or century bike rides are your cup of tea, the route from San Francisco to Los Angeles can be done in five days of roughly 100 miles per day (or San Francisco to Santa Barbara in four days of roughly 100 miles per day). You could also start north of San Francisco to add one or more century days to the coastal bike route down to Santa Barbara or Los Angeles.
  • 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.

Adding Layover/Rest DaysInteresting layover days on our San Francisco to Los Angeles bike tour can be made in the following locations:

  • Monterey. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is truly world class and worthy of up to a half day of your time. If you are golfer, the famous golf courses of Pebble Beach are nearby. Explore Monterey Bay by renting a kayak or taking a tour from Monterey Bay Kayaks.
  • 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 San Simeon State Park.
  • 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.

Mileage Calculator for Alternate Itineraries

If you are interested in starting or ending at different points than in the sample San Francisco to Los Angeles bike tour itinerary and/or if you want to increase or decrease the number of days of your SF to LA 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.

StartEndTotal MilesNum. DaysDaily Average
 Select San Francisco Half Moon Bay Santa Cruz Monterey Carmel Big Sur Ragged Point Cambria Cayucos Morro Bay San Luis Obispo  Select Cambria Cayucos Morro Bay San Luis Obispo Pismo Beach Santa Maria Solvang Santa Barbara Ventura Santa Monica (LA)  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 

Metric conversion: miles x 1.61 = kilometers

Traffic, Road Conditions and Terrain

Traffic along the San Francisco to Los Angeles 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. A small portion of the cycling tour is actually on freeways, but these sections always have a large 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 SF to LA bike tour should be comfortable riding with traffic for portions of the tour.

The terrain for the San Francisco to Los Angeles 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 SF to LA 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 San Francisco to Los Angeles bike tour itinerary has the elevation gain and loss (in feet) listed. Cyclists contemplating doing the SF to LA bike tour should be comfortable with riding hilly terrain.


Central Coast Outdoors of San Luis Obispo, California Trip Map

Pricing for Guided Bicycle Tours

We offer three levels of support for guided bicycle tours down the California coast: Support Vehicle Charter, Guided with Bikes and Lunch, and Guided Inclusive with Lodging. Prices for guided bicycle tours down the California coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles are usually based on a daily rate multiplied by the total number of days on the bicycle tour.

Pricing for Self Guided Bike Tours

Our innovative self guided bike tour program is a good option for more experienced cyclists who can fix flat tires, can carry some weight on the bike and are comfortable without a guide or support vehicle. In our self guided bike tour program we drop off and pick up all the necessary equipment (bike and panniers) at the start and end of the tour, as well as provide itinerary support (recommended accommodations, directions, maps, and detailed daily memos) and excess luggage transfer from start to end of your bike tour. You book and pay for all your accommodations and meals and usually carry just the gear and clothes you need for the days of the tour. 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.

Per person itinerary price based on group size
ItineraryTotal Miles# DaysSolo2 ppl3 ppl4+ ppl
SF to LA (Santa Monica)5058-10$975$625$490$435
SF to Santa Barbara4187-9$835$550$440$385
SF to SLO2855-7$700$440$345$290
Half Moon Bay to LA (Santa Monica)4717-9$935$605$470$415
Half Moon Bay to Santa Barbara3846-8$830$520$420$370
Half Moon Bay to SLO2514-6$660$410$325$270
Santa Cruz to LA (Santa Monica)4216-8$875$575$440$385
Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara3345-7$725$465$385$330
Santa Cruz to SLO2014-6$545$355$295$240
Monterey to LA (Santa Monica)3755-7$810$515$410$355
Monterey to Santa Barbara2884-6$650$410$330$275
SLO to LA (Santa Monica)2204-6$570$380$300$250

Daily luggage delivery prices – self guided bike tours

Daily luggage delivery is not normally included in our self guided bike tour package, but can potentially be arranged for an extra fee. Be aware that moving luggage down the coast one way can cost a minimum of $150 extra per day and sometimes up to double that. We usually use a combination of cabs (in areas farther from our home base in SLO County) and our own staff and vehicles (closer to our home base). If we are in transit to meet you on the first and/or last day of your self guided bike tour, we can often waive the luggage moving fee for those day(s). Please contact us if you are interested in a quote on daily luggage delivery for your self guided bike tour.

Booking accommodations for an extra fee

On request we can also book accommodations for your self guided bike tour. We charge a 10% booking fee for this service. Please let us know if you are interested in this service when you book your tour.

Different Routes within the Zone

Between San Luis Obispo County and the town of Santa Barbara, our normal San Francisco to Los Angeles 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 SF to LA 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.

Start and End Transportation

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. San Francisco (SFO) is the most convenient if you are starting your tour in San Francisco or Half Moon Bay. San Jose (SJC) is the most convenient if you are starting your bicycle tour in Santa Cruz or Monterey/Carmel (there is a regional airport in Monterey as well). Airport shuttle services such as SuperShuttle can shuttle you from any of these airports to hotels in San Francisco or from SFO to Half Moon Bay. If you are starting your bicycle tour in Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Airport Flyer offers shuttles from San Francisco (SFO) and San Jose (SJC) to Santa Cruz. If you are starting in Monterey, Monterey Airbus offers shuttles from San Francisco (SFO) and San Jose (SJC) to Monterey. Amtrak also offers train service to the San Francisco Bay Area. The main trains stop in Oakland and you usually transfer to a bus or BART to get to/from San Francisco.

Los Angeles Area

The Los Angeles area is served by several airports, the main one being Los Angeles International (LAX). LAX is very close to Santa Monica. Airport shuttle services such as SuperShuttle can shuttle you from any of the airports in the area to most local locations. If you are ending your bicycle tour in Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Airbus offers transportation from several Santa Barbara area locations to LAX. Amtrak also offers train service from Santa Barbara to the Los Angeles area.