For wanderers interested in oceanfront jaunting, North County is the land of endless possibilities. The best way to see this magical eight-or-so-mile prime stretch of San Diego coastline is a bicycle cruise down Coast Highway 101. Better yet, an e-bike with pedal assist makes this scenic ride all the more leisurely. But really, what’s the hurry?
Where to Begin
Start at Turnarounds in Carlsbad, a low-key local surf spot at the end of Palomar Airport Road. Head south. This stretch will have you as close as you can get to the Pacific without getting wet. Beware: Cars go fast through this area. A great first stop to grab a bite and check the waves is the Carlsbad Camp Store, just a mile and half down the road. Past the campgrounds, you’ll find Ponto Beach. Great views on this stretch, but there can be sand on the road, so go slow.
Another couple miles down the road, you’ll see the iconic Leucadia Liquor sign (snap a pic); when you hit Hamburger Hut, it’s cocktail time. But plenty of memorable stops in Leucadia await, depending on the mood: The Leucadian, Leucadia Donuts, Fish 101, Corner Pizza, Haggo’s Tacos, Moto Deli (which has a bike store next door in case your ride needs adjustment)—you can’t go wrong.
Oh, and Pannikin Coffee and Tea is a must. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet the three amigos, Tony, Manny, and Meños, local legends who have been waking up the coast since forever. Keep pedaling ’til you see the iconic Captain Keno’s sign, pull over, lock up, and head in. Keno’s is one of the town’s last remaining dive bars with stiff drinks and awesome humans behind the bar. Watch your speed in there, though—buzzed riding is just as bad as buzzed driving. Pace yourself, and don’t forget to, you know, drink water.
In another two miles, Cali Cream scoops up the best ice cream in town. Keep riding, and you’ll see the Encinitas sign where you can either brave the 101 or cut right and enjoy an easier ride down Third Street, past the historic boathouses and the Self Realization Fellowship Gardens.
If you’re looking for a bite or a drink along the way on the 101, hit 1st Street Bar for beverages or Prager Bros. for a sandwich. At Swami’s, after saying hello to the Easter Island–style totems in the parking lot, make your way across the street to the smoothest ride in town, the new and improved Coastal Rail Trail, where you can either pedal on the sidewalk or on Vulcan Drive.
Once you get to Birmingham, turn left and head up a beast of a hill. There’s no shame in walking your bike up this one. Just over the crest of the hill is the entrance to the new North Coast Trail. This incredibly smooth and luxurious path leads from Cardiff-by-the-Sea to Solana Beach.
Back on the 101
After the detour, get back to the coast. Don’t forget to wave at the Cardiff Kook and grab a selfie. You’ll ride past solid stopping options at Cardiff State Beach, The Kraken, Las Olas, and Pacific Coast Grill.
Seaside Reef is a good spot to pull in and take a breather, or call it a day. Here you can see the best surfers in San Diego, making this is an ideal end-point, with plenty of parking, bathrooms, and room to stretch those legs after a slow ride down the best coast.