By Megan Maxwell
Big Sur is a legendary stretch of ocean along the California coast, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The stunning views and beautiful weather make for a great journey on bike.
Why to bike here: The biggest reason to bike the Pacific Coast Highway along Big Sur is because it is so gorgeous. Big Sur seems to be its own vortex of clear, blue ocean and indigo sky. It’s often difficult to tell where the water ends and the sky begins. The route sticks to the coastline most of the time, so there are postcard worthy views all day long. I even spotted a few whales offshore. Keep a camera close by in your bike seat bag.
It’s also fun to see all of the expensive houses along the water, and watch sports cars whiz around the curves. It seems like its own world. The only downside is that there are often precipitous cliffs meeting the water, so the accessible beaches are limited.
How to get around: For the route you just stick to Highway 1 the whole time, although I would suggest bringing a basic road map of the area. Cell phone service isn’t reliable here and it’s often difficult to find somewhere to charge your phone, so you can’t depend on GPS.
I would recommend this trip for someone who has experience biking on the road. The shoulders are tight in some places and there are vacation RVs zooming around turns, so it isn’t a ride for the faint of heart. The stretch of highway is about 100 miles long and mostly big inclines and declines. While the uphill climbs can be challenging, zipping downhill with the ocean breeze blowing against you is exhilarating.
Where to stay: There are campsites to stay at along the way. I was there in July, which is peak season, and I was turned away from a several full campsites. If you’re going in the summer, it is important to plan ahead. Only a few places have reserved spots for cyclists. I would either book the sites ahead of time, or map out the campsites with the reserved “hiker/biker” sites.
I averaged a little over 30 miles a day here. A combination of steep inclines and stopping at every view point kept my mileage low. Someone who has trained significantly could do more miles, but this is a section that you will want plenty of time to enjoy.
Where to eat: For this stretch, it is crucial to bring enough food for the entire 100 mile stretch. I passed a few over-priced convenience stores that had snacks and delis, but no full grocery stores. At least half the restaurants I biked by where way out of my price range. Plan on cooking your own meals most of the time, and bring more snacks than you think you will need.
On a similar note, amenities are few and far between and this means that restrooms are too. There were times that I biked most of the day without seeing a restroom. Most of the hills are steep as well and privacy is infrequent on the road. I quickly learned that if I saw a large bush that was somewhat secluded, I should duck behind it to pee whether I needed to or not. Biking Big Sur would be a great trip for someone who has a bit of biking experience and is good at planning.