Pacific Coast: Vancouver to San Diego Cycle Route
We set out 67 days ago from Vancouver with little experience of cycle touring and unsure of what to expect. 2203 miles of amazing coastlines, rolling roads, tall trees, sunsets and the odd bit of fog and rain brought us into San Diego. Here’s our trip log and route details before we head off to New Zealand and Australia for more cycling…
Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay, 25mi
Set off! Headed out of Vancouver via the Lion’s Gate Bridge and only a short ride to Horseshoe Bay where we took the ferry over to Nanaimo, Vancouver Island. From Nanaimo, it is very short ride to the dock to get the ferry to Newcastle Island. The ferry to Newcastle Island turns out to be a tiny, little boat which fits only 15/20 people. Newcastle Island is an incredible camping spot.
Newcastle Island to Sproat Lake, 61mi
We headed off early as we are heading on our first detour from the usual route by heading to Tofino to meet some friends. Long, hilly ride on the highway via Coombs and a tough climb up Mt Alberni. The day ends with a fantastic five mile descent into Port Alberti. Camped out of town at the Sproat Lake park.
Sproat Lake to Green Point Campsite, 61mi
Long climbs and rolling road to the west coast of Vancouver Island. No services on route so bring plenty of food and water. We spotted black bears right on the roadside on two separate occasions.
Green Point Campsite to Tofino, 14mi
Short ride to Tofino to meet with friends. Rather than doubling back on ourselves, we were kindly given a car ride back to Nanaimo and back on the planned route.
Nanaimo to Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, 43mi
Heading south on Hwy1 towards Chemainus, a small town with a Barbie doll collection in their town museum and lots of painted murals. South out of town and caught the ferry to Salt Spring Island. Beautiful, rolling riding on Salt Spring Island to the amazing shoreline camping at Ruckle Provincial Park.
Salt Spring Island to Sidney, 42mi
Rode to Fulford Harbour on the south of Salt Spring Island and took the ferry to Swartz Bay. We then set up camp at Macdonald Provincial Park on the outskirts of Sidney.
Sidney to Victoria to Fairholm Campground, WA, 50mi
Followed the 20 mile cycle route to Victoria before waving goodbye to Canada and getting the ferry across to Port Angeles. From Port Angeles, we rode 30 miles or so to Fairholm Campground on the edge of Olympic National Park. Incredible scenery – we stayed an extra day and visited the salmon runs and waterfalls in the National Park.
Fairholm to Forks, 55km
Only 30 miles to Forks – a logging town, which has recently become known as the setting for the Twilight books and films. We are not really fans of the Twilight saga but spent some time visiting the Twilight-themed shops and sights. By chance, we had turned up on “Stephanie Meyer’s Day” and so the town was especially full of Twilight fans and events. We then cycled to La Push on the coast (about 14 miles out of town) – more Twilight related shops and sights because, as any Twi-hard will tell you, La Push is home to Jacob Black and his werewolf clan. In real life, La Push is the Native American tribal village of the Quileute Tribe. It is interesting to see how Forks has embraced the Twilight fans, particularly as the traditional industries die off.
We camped at the campsite/cafe right on the werewolf-vampire “treaty line” – not sure if that makes us Team Jacob or Team Edward (probably Team Jedward).
La Push to Kalaloch, 48mi
Headed out Forks on the 101 as it heads south through forested hills and roadsides until we reached the coast and Kalaloch campsite.
Kalaloch to Quinault Lake, 35mi
Carrying on down the 101 through more trees to Quinault Lake. The north shore campground was closed so we camped at the nearby Willaby campground overlooking the lake. We went for a hike in the afternoon but it was cut short after we stumbled upon a black bear plodding down the path towards us (we turned around).
Quinault Lake to Ocean City State Campground, 29mi
Took a detour off the 101 on a side road to the coast and headed south along the shoreline through mist, rolling hills and closed tourist resorts. The seaside resorts around this section are fairly run-down – the campsite at Ocean City is excellent with friendly rangers.
Ocean City to Westport, 42mi
Along the highway to Aberdeen, which was the first large town since Port Angeles. We had to take the long route around from Ocean City and via Aberdeen as the ferry to Westport no longer runs – ended the day at Twin Harbors Campground.
Westport to Bay Center, 54mi
Followed the road to town of Raymond where we picked up supplies and had lunch. Camped at the KOA Campground at Bay Center.
Bay Center to Astoria, 40mi
Into Oregon! The ride to and along the Columbia River could have been beautiful but it rained all day. We waited for the rain to ease before we tackled the 4 mile long Astoria-Megler bridge. The bridge is long ride and with a steep climb as you approach the Oregon side of the river – turn on your bike lights, no matter the weather or time of day. We had planned to head to Fort Stevens but we were so wet by the time we reached Astoria we opted for a half day of cycling and a motel. I would recommend a rest day to explore Astoria – it is a nice enough town and if you are children of 80′s, like us, you can visit locations from Short Circuit, Kindergarden Cop and the Goonies. We ticked “Visit the Goonies House” off our bucket lists.
Astoria to Fort Stevens State Park, 26mi
Short, easy ride to Fort Stevens: a nice park with a historic fort and beach, complete with shipwreck.
Fort Stevens to Nehalen Bay State Park, 42mi
The route follows the coast and gives opportunity to explore the small seaside towns of Oregon – including the unimaginatively named town of “Seaside”. First tunnel of the route today – not too long but tunnels are never fun. Another great Oregon state park hiker-biker site at Nehalen.
Nehalen to Tillamook, 35mi
Headed to straight to the Tillamook cheese factory (just off the highway, north of Tillamook) – a popular rest stop for touring cyclists – in fact, every cycle tourist we met south of Tillamook confirmed that they too stopped at the cheese factory for the free cheese samples!
We took a Portland side-trip at this point. Ever since we started this trip, people have been recommending to us that we should visit Portland. We looked into cycling there and back but decided it would take too long and there would be too much traffic to justify it. We also looked into transport from Astoria but taking the Greyhound would mean packing up bikes in bike boxes. Then… another cycle tourist we met gave us a great tip – he recommended that we take the local bus from Tillamook to Portland and back, as it is cheap (under $20) and they will take your bike on their front bus rack without a bike box. See www.tillamookbus.com for up-to-date information.
So from Tillamook we took a few days off for a side-trip to Portland – if you like beer and bicycles… then head to Portland, people! Anyway, back to the proper route…
Tillamook to Cape Lookout, 11mi
After a few days exploring Portland, we took the bus back to Tillamook and then spent the afternoon on the short ride to Cape Lookout. It has an amazing beach and a great hiker-biker site. You gotta love falling asleep to sound of the ocean.
Cape Lookout to Beverly Beach State Park, 59mi
Three big climbs today but with great views and stunning coastal scenery.
Beverly Beach to Carl G Washburne State Park, 44mi
The route takes you along the coast and via the town of Waldport – more, fantastic Oregon coast scenery on the way today.
Carl G Washburne to Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, 41mi
Rolling hills along the coast with a potential side-trip to the Sea-Lion Caves ($12 – don’t bother you will see plenty of sea-lions and seals further down the coast).
Umpqua Lighthouse to Sunset Bay State Park, 33mi
The route takes us through North Bend, Coos to Sunset Bay. There is a quicker route which bypasses Sunset Bay but the beach is awesome – it lived up to it’s name and gave us a spectacular sunset over a violent, turbulent ocean.
Sunset Bay to Langlois KOA, 47mi
Tricky climbs but a great day’s riding. Warning: if you are following the Kirkendall “Bicycling the Pacific Coast” book… we tried to find the recommended cheese factory in Bandon but, after searching for an hour, we were told that it closed down years ago. We met lots of other cyclists who had spent time trying to find the elusive Bandon cheese factory. Touring cyclists are very fond of free cheese samples!
Langlois to Brookings, 65mi
More rolling coastal riding – I would strongly recommend taking the short walking trail at Thunder Rocks. From the small carpark on the highway it looks fairly unimpressive, but the 20/30min trail down along a rocky outcrop ends with stunning views of the rocky bays and outcrops. Trust me on this (pictured in the thumbnails if you still don’t believe me)
Brookings to Elk Praire Campground, 65mi
Cross the border into California and declare your fruits and vegetables! Two big 1000ft climbs today but the final ride down to Elk Praire Campground amongst the redwoods was the highlight descent of my trip.
Elk Praire to Eureka, 52mi
Fairly joyless riding along the 101 when it becomes a freeway but there are a couple of detours which avoid the highway – take them.
Eureka to Burlington Campground, 53mi
Unfortunately, it is freeway riding into Fortuna. South of Fortuna, you can take the Avenue of the Giants turnoff and take another ride through the redwoods.
Burlington to Leggett, 46mi
Rained hard all day – cannot remember any highlights, sorry.
Leggett to Fort Bragg, 47mi
Over the 2000ft at Leggett Hill and the start of Highway 1! The climb is long but moderate and you get rewarded with another great descent.
Fort Bragg to Manchester State Park, 42mi
Steep, but not overly long, climb today. Camped at the KOA Campground at Manchester State Beach – the beach and sand dunes at dusk were just stunning but, more importantly, the commercially-run KOA had a hot-tub!
Manchester to Still Water Cove, 44mi
More rolling coastal hills passing though nice small towns and farms. Camped at Still Water Cover – “the most dangerous cove in California”.
Still Water Cove to Bodega Bay, 32m
Short ride before a rest day at Bodega Bay. Steep climbs and fast winding descents as the Highway hugs the coast.
Bodega Bay to Samuel Taylor State Park, 43mi
1500 mile mark passed and a nice ride along a sea inlet to the Tomales Bakery (which was highly recommended to us, but closed on Mondays – sadface). Camped amongst bay trees and tall trees at the State Park.
Samuel Taylor to San Francisco, 33mi
Amazing ride into SF and over the Golden Gate Bridge – magnificent view from the bike path on the bridge. This is why we cycle tour. We stayed at USA Hostel in San Francisco.
San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, 60mi
We rode out of San Francisco early Sunday morning to avoid the traffic – rode via Golden Gate Park and to the coast. The Highway is very narrow and winding at times on the way to Half Moon Bay. Traffic on this section was queued for miles as today was the Half Moon Bay pumpkin festival (complete with Pie Eating Competition). Spent the rest of the day at the festival and eating pumpkin products.
Half Moon Bay to New Brighton State Park, Santa Cruz, 60mi
Took a route through farmland and crops and then back onto the fantastic clifftop rolling road. Made our way via the coast road into the suburbs of Santa Cruz – stopped to explore the Boardwalk and funfair before pedalling out of town to the State Park.
New Brighton State Park to Veterans Park Camp, Monterey, 45mi
The route took us via miles and miles of artichokes and strawberries and into Monterey. Veterans Park is up a long, steep hill but it is walking distance to the town center and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Monterey to Kirk Creek Campground, 61mi
We are told that views around Big Sur are magnificent - unfortunately it was super foggy today and we would barely see our handlebars let along the scenery. Stock up with supplies at Monterey as there are only small (and expensive) grocery stores over the next few days.
Kirk Creek Campground to San Simeon State Park, 36mi
Fog cleared somewhat today and we got to enjoy the occasional view – two big climbs and a long downhill followed by flat riding to San Simeon. We stopped to see the Elephant Seals (just before Hearst Castle) and stop for a tour of Hearst Castle itself.
San Simeon to Pismo Beach, 63mi
A good fast ride to San Luis Obispo and then on Pismo Beach – note: the hiker-biker sites at Oceana Campground have been closed and we had to spring for a full-price car-camping site.
Pismo Beach to Lompoc, 43mi
Enjoyable, desert-like climbs towards Lompoc. No descent campsite at Lompoc so stayed at a motel.
Lompoc to Refugio State Beach Campground, 35mi
Long, hot, slow climb out of Lompoc to coast. The hiker-biker site at Refugio is right on the beach.
Refugio to Carpinteria Beach Campsite, 39mi
Some freeway riding take you into Santa Barbera (explore the Mission and wharf).
Carpinteria to Leo Carillo State Park, 50mi
Lunch at Ventura and past Navy and Airforce bases – flat riding past farms and turf fields. When we hit the ocean, we saw some dolphins who follows us (or we followed them?) further down the coast.
Leo Carillo State Park to LA, 45mi
Easy ride through Malibu and to Santa Monica beach. We stayed in Hollywood and made our way along the rather busy Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles to Seal Beach, 50mi
Great ride along the busy beach cycle paths out of LA – dodging small dogs and rollerbladers. After lunch, it was off the cycle path and on to Highway 1 for a slow busy slog with lots of stoplights and traffic. Stayed at the very cheap and very friendly “Oceanview Motel” at Seal Beach: don’t expect an oceanview however – although we could technically make out the ocean if we look through the windows of building opposite.
Seal Beach to Doheny Beach, 33mi
Easy day on miles so we took it slow and explored Huntington Beach and Newport Beach en route. Amazing people-watching.
Doheny Beach to San Eliso State Beach, 45mi
Another day of sunny, easy, flat riding. It was Halloween and we were amazed by the decorated homes as we went through the suburbs. We also passed through a military base (just show your ID/passport at the gate and wear a helmet) to avoid the Highway.
San Eliso State Beach to San Diego, 27mi
Easy ride into San Diego through the hilly suburbs. Tough navigation at times but so proud that we finally made it San Diego!