San Diego has some pretty beautiful bike paths to explore, whether you’re interested in a quick trek along the Pacific Coast Highway for the afternoon or a much more challenging feat such as an 118-mile out-and-back ride.
Following along the entire western boundary of San Diego County, the latter is a great route for avid riders and one of my personal favorites. You’ll see the best of what coastal San Diego has to offer, including breathtaking views, challenging climbs and some hidden treasures along the way.
If a century ride isn’t in your wheelhouse, you can ride the route in sections or do it one-way and then connect to the trolley and coaster to get back to your starting point. However, if you have the time and gumption, completing this route in one go is a wonderful experience. Here’s how to do it:
Start at OCEANSIDE HARBOR with breakfast at Stratford at the Harbor where you can park all day for free in Parking Lot 1 (401 Riverside Drive, Oceanside). After fueling up, head south along Pacific Street and soak in the ocean views.
The first 25 miles are full of PCH’s ocean views, funky north county towns and gentle climbs before you reach TORREY PINES STATE RESERVE. For the tourists, Torrey Pines means beautiful cliffs and unusual trees, for you, it means a challenging 400-foot climb.
I recommend taking the “inside” route through the State Reserve (free for cyclists). At a 10% grade, it’s the steeper choice, but the scenery is worth it and you’ll get through the pain quicker!
Next up is UCSD and a long descent down GILMAN AVENUE to the completely rebuilt Rose Canyon Bike Path. This is a gorgeous separated bike path that goes all the way to Mission Bay Drive. After enjoying the sights and sounds of Mission Bay, the largest aquatic park of its kind in the country, you’ll cross over to Old Town.
By now, you’ll be ready for lunch. I suggest pushing on just a few more miles to The Crack Shack in Little Italy (2266 Kettner Blvd). Fried chicken sandwiches, fries and milkshakes are just what the doctor ordered after 40 miles of riding.
Once finished, take Harbor Drive out of downtown and check out the murals as you pass through Barrio Logan, especially the NEW CHICANO PARK MURAL entitled “Brown Image.” It was created as a tribute to the low rider community and the car clubs from the 1970s and ‘80s.
Following Chicano Park is the Navy Base where you can hop on the beautiful Bayshore Bikeway. This will take you to Imperial Beach on a combination of separated bike path and low-traffic roads. When you get to the parking lot for the Swiss Park and Hall, depart the Bikeway and take the other bike path that leads to Saturn Boulevard.
Keep heading south on Saturn and you’ll find yourself in “horse country” and the scenic TIJUANA RIVER COUNTY OPEN SPACE RESERVE. You can use the Tijuana Bullring as a navigation aid as you follow the windy roads to Friendship Park and the US/Mexico Beach Border. Soak up the views of miles of undisturbed coastline to your north and the beach clubs and parties to your south.
For the trip back north, take a left onto the Bikeway to enjoy 10 continuous miles of bike path on your way to the Coronado Ferry Landing. If you need a pick-me-up or any bike supplies, stop at Trident Coffee or Rad Power Bikes in their building that abuts the Bikeway.
Finally, cross the bay on the ferry and retrace your route north. To celebrate reaching the 100-mile mark, stop into Pizza Port in Solana Beach before pushing through the final miles back to Oceanside. After your hard-earned achievement, head to the “Top Gun” House near the Oceanside Pier to savor a dessert and your achievement.