From Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway to Sunset Boulevard and beachside Malibu, movies had seared Californian streets into my consciousness. Despite this, nothing prepared me for the mind-blowing scenery and epic contrasts I’d find zig-zagging the city on my bike.
The more I ride, the more I realize it’s all about the timing. Many of the routes I highlight today are soul-crushing during peak hours in the week, yet free-flowing on the weekend. If you don’t own a bike and you’re planning to rent a steed, bear timings in mind when planning your rides.
Today, I’m not going to be offering any prescriptive routes from A to B as I don’t know where you’ll be coming from or how experienced you are riding bikes. But no matter where you are coming from, know you can always â€‹rent a motorcycle anywhere in LAâ€‹. Many of the circuitous canyon routes in and around LA are challenging. I’ve drawn attention to these so you can find a suitable ride for your ability level. So, use these loose routes as a jump-off point for your own adventures.
I’ve tried to include a broad spread of rides today, some short hops in and around LA-proper, others much lengthier jaunts calling for the whole day. Whether you want to slip on your leathers for an exhilarating hour-long burn around city streets or you prefer saddling up for the day, check out these 15 awesome Californian rides.
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Highway 1 Pacific Coast
Barreling down Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) on a bike is exhilarating. This 127-mile stretch of curvy coastal road provides sweeping views as the ocean breeze kisses your hair.
One of my favorite pockets of the winding Highway 1 is out beyond Malibu near Ventura County. This stretch of road is pretty clear of traffic most of the time with the coastline getting less crowded.
It’s worth making a quick pit stop at Neptune’s Net, a bar featured in both â€‹Point Breakâ€‹ and â€‹Fast & Furious.â€‹ Park your bike in one of the slots out front and tuck into some fish and chips.
For me, it’s the contrasts of PCH that give it an edge. You get redwood forests and waterfalls, smooth roads and jagged rocks, teens in Ferraris, and seniors on Harleys.
If you’re a sucker for sunsets, take PCH out to Santa Monica Pier with its iconic Ferris Wheel.
Mulholland Highway runs from the valley to the beach beyond Malibu Canyon.
The toughest section of this undulating highway is â€œThe Snake.â€ This series of 21 consecutive turns will leave you feeling dizzy but energized. And it is tough. If you’ve just started riding, think twice about taking on this beast.
If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll find this sequence of curves just past The Rock Store, a regular haunt of Jay Leno. The coffee there sucks, but it’s a popular hangout for bikers and you’ll be able to capture some great panoramic shots.
Los Angeles Crest Highway
Cutting between the Los Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains, AC serves up a nice mix of sweeping curves and hairpin bends. Who doesn’t love taking tight curves on a powerful bike?
Much like â€œThe Snakeâ€, this is not a beginner-friendly route. You’ll twist, turn, and drop among sweeping mountain scenery.
The views along the Crest are sublime with wonderful elevations. At the crest, it’s about 7900 feet high and the views are awesome. There are no ocean views on this ride, just undulating mountain scenery and vistas across Los Angeles with bright sunshine and warm breeze to blow away those cobwebs.
During the week you should find it easy going. Traffic tends to clog this road on the weekend, though. The whole highway covers about 66 miles, a great length for a scenic ride. You’ll find yourself around 20 minutes outside downtown Los Angeles and all its attractions.
Decker Canyon Road
If you like to get low on rolling canyon roads, Decker Canyon is not for the faint-hearted. The tight corners challenge even the most experienced riders. I love this type of ride, but I know my limits. These limits were sorely tested by Decker Canyon.
You could take DCR if you stopped off at The Rock Store I mentioned above and you want to get back onto Pacific Coast Highway. Just be careful about taking on this route and The Snake on the same day.
Out to Route 66 Classic Grill
A short, sharp blast down Little Tujunga Road through the Angeles National Forest will take you into the San Gabriel Mountains.
Look out for Canyon Country just off Little Tujunga Road where you’ll find Route 66 Classic Grill. Choose from an impressive and wide menu with Wednesdays as dedicated bike nights. Inspired by the eateries along Route 66, there are plenty of specials on dinner and drinks along with live entertainment.
I could ride Malibu Canyon all day long. With expansive ocean views and lush landscapes, this is a laid-back route and ideal for beginners.
Listen as your exhaust note is magnified as you scythe through tunnels, but go easy as this road is quite heavily patrolled.
Stop at Malibu Creek state park for a picnic at the designated picnic benches. You can usually buy a tub of strawberries here at the park entrance.
There’s ample opportunity to stop off safely along the way and luxuriate in canyon views.
Malibu Canyon can get loaded with traffic on weekends. Hustle down during the week and avoid getting snarled up behind a procession of RVs and slow-moving vehicles.
If you’re looking for a quick, accessible ride just outside LA, take the 101 out to Highway 33. Angle off toward Ojai for some blissfully open roads.
With relatively little traffic, this beginner-friendly route serves up some expansive scenery with rolling countryside leading up to Ojai proper. Hear your exhaust roar as you slice through tunnels and take in the agricultural scenery.
Once you reach Ojai, there’s an abundance of eateries. Ojai Deer Lodge is a classic biker hangout. The food is sound and the general vibe relaxed. Recharge your batteries then hit the road.
Mount Baldy is another twisty roller coaster of a ride but not quite as tough as The Snake.
Head into the mountains above Pasadena and get back to nature with elevations to 6500 feet. Avoid the carnage of 101 and take Glendora Mountain Road instead.
Mount Baldy is a quintessential mountain town with a handful of traditional restaurants and cafes. Get back into the city down Mount Baldy Road for a straighter route home.
This ride takes you out onto Highway 33 behind Ojai up to the Carrizo Plain, one of the last remaining underdeveloped grasslands covered in millions of wildflowers.
Highway 33 is widely regarded as one of the best motorcycle roads in California and I have to say I agree. Stop off at Ojai Valley for spectacular views. This is just one high point on a marvelous route.
Charge on down Ventucopa and Cuyama. Then about 2 hours later you find yourself in the Carrizo Plains.
I highly recommend you pack some camping gear and sleep under the stars. It’s truly magical.
Are you a sucker for mountain rides? Get some ursine action with Big Bear after choosing one of two routes up. Zoom up Highway 330 to come in the front way or opt for the tree-studded Highway 38. Either way, you’re surrounded by raw nature at its finest.
Both routes take you to Big Bear Lake and both provide plenty of turnouts so you can bathe in those vistas and fire off some Insta-worthy snaps. You’ll hit elevations of 6000 feet at the peak.
As with any tourist traps, you can expect traffic at peak times. On the plus side, there are plenty of passing lanes so you won’t get snarled up behind a line of RVs.
If you want stunning vistas but you’re not quite ready for the rigors of The Snake, I’d strongly suggest you angle toward Big Bear Lake for some gentle riding.
San Gabriel Canyon Road
If you’re up for some more aggressive mountain carving, the San Gabriel Canyon Road offers territory not outside the reach of beginners.
CA39, also known as Azusa Canyon, starts at the tail end of Azusa Avenue north of the 210 freeway.
This flowing freeway takes you through Angeles National Forest. It’s a decent paved road that leads to Crystal Lake Recreation Area. Unfortunately, this area can be traffic-choked so avoid peak hours if possible.
If Crystal Lake Cafe is open when you pass by, the chili is piquant without overpowering your palate. Take some time to unwind and appreciate the raw mountain scenery.
If you’re based in LA and looking for a more ambitious trip, how about heading 300 miles out to Death Valley National Park? This is one of the hottest, driest places in the country so prepare for extremes.
Don’t be put off by the name, though. While you need to load up on water and you should take all standard safety precautions, you don’t need to be a competitive rider to enjoy these barren yet rewarding surroundings.
Perhaps the best part of taking a trip like this is making random stops en route wherever takes your fancy. That, for me, exemplifies the freedom of life on two wheels.
My tip is to head out to Death Valley in the spring. This time of year sees an explosion of wildflowers adding intense contrast to the rugged mountainscape.
For a quick and easy ride smack in the middle of LA, head up to Griffith Observatory through some stunning mountain scenery. When you get there, you’ll find a well-paved car park with clearly marked designated motorcycle bays.
If you’re coming from the north, take Griffith Park Drive, a beautiful leafy green stretch of road. Pass the abandoned zoo then turn right onto Crystal Springs Drive and onto Hillhurst Boulevard. The road will take you all the way up to the observatory where you can sit back, relax, and soak in the view.
When you’re done, head back via Western Canyon Road.
If you take the Mount Hollywood Drive route, watch out for potholes and loose gravel. Stay safe.
You’ll find Joshua Tree National Park an hour or so from Palm Springs so it’s a quick and easy jaunt if you have a few hours to kill.
Riding out from LA, you’ll get some freeway action until you slide off the 62. Take CA 62 then 29 Palms Highway. The road thins from four lanes to two once you hit the park proper with low-speed limits in force. By the time you reach this stage, though, you’ll be entranced by the stark desert wilderness, unfolding for 800,000 rolling acres.
There are plenty of opportunities for camping if you want to extend your stay slightly.
Named for the native yucca trees, you can also expect to find Big Horn Sheep as you explore all the Mojave has to offer.
Ventura County Loop
To round out, the Ventura County Loop makes a great day out for more experienced riders. This is a long and winding stretch of highway covering 200 miles so take a picnic along with you.
Zoom out through Los Padres National Forest for jaw-dropping views across forests, mountains, and river gorges. You also get some shimmering ocean views as you hit Santa Maria.
When you reach Highway 33, dig in for some twists and turns. Push on toward San Antonio and take in the views from 10,000 feet. This vista alone makes the journey worthwhile.
Well, I hope you’re all fired up and ready to hit the road. Make sure you ride safe but most of all, enjoy your ride!
If you visit LA, don’t forget that you’re not limited to renting cars. Just because you don’t have your trust steed with you from home, there’s no reason to miss out on all those rides above.
Make sure you wear proper protective clothing and, of course, a snugly-fitting helmet. If you’re renting a bike, make sure insurance is in place.
Remember, too, that many of the routes I outline today are â€‹notâ€‹ the most beginner-friendly. If you’re new to riding, it’s easy to get carried away in the moment only to find your bike sliding from under you on a demanding hairpin. Don’t let this happen. Make sure you’re completely confident in your ability before you start slicing up and down The Snake.
Then, imagination is your only limitation. You have thousands of miles of southern California roads stretching out before you. How will you carve your own story into those roads.