Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast
Vancouver, BC to Imperial Beach, CA
5 Map Set (1854.0 mi.)
GPS | Overview | Buy
1. Vancouver, BC to Astoria, OR (401.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
2. Astoria, OR to Crescent City, CA (407.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
3. Crescent City, CA to San Francisco, CA (412 mi.) Detail |Addenda
4. San Francisco, CA to Santa Barbara, CA (382.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda
5. Santa Barbara, CA to Imperial Beach, CA (250.5 mi.) Detail |Addenda

Big trees, big waves, beautiful beaches.

Along the Pacific Coast Route, you'll get to see marine wildlife such as sea lions, and as you pass you can hear them barking. Take the time to watch as one by one they dive off their rocks in search of their daily meal of fish from the ocean. During the peak tourist season, there is heavy recreational vehicle traffic along U.S. Highway 101 and State Highway 1 along the coast, so cyclists must ride cautiously and defensively.

The route begins in Vancouver, British Columbia and heads south through the suburbs of this large city. Farmlands appear before crossing the border at Blaine into the United States, and you'll continue through more rural country in Washington. After crossing Deception Pass, the route is on Whidbey Island, where there is a large U.S. Naval Reservation, and the loud noise of test jets flying overhead can be heard. There's a pleasant ferry ride over to Port Townsend, which is back on the mainland. The route then winds southward through a series of small towns on the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula. In Bremerton, if you're interested, you can take a ferry to downtown Seattle and its attractions. You'll then head into logging country and see forest plantations in various stages of development: recently clear-cut, newly planted, middle-aged, or ready to be harvested. At Castle Rock, a five-mile side trip leads to the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, which tells the tale of the volcano's eruption in 1981.

A short ferry ride crosses the Columbia River into Oregon to begin a magnificent ride down the coast. You'll bike along the shoreline and headlands and see mile after mile of spectacular scenery including lighthouses, craggy coastal pines, and rock formations in the water. Innumerable parks dot the coast and invite one to stop and take hikes down to the water for tide pool viewing. Small towns are abundant and cater to the tourists who invade the coast from spring to fall.

The California coast is tremendously diverse. You'll encounter massive redwoods, breathtaking coastline vistas, acres and acres of vegetable farms, fruit orchards, and many busy urban areas.

The curvy, winding roads along the coast are shared with cars, recreational vehicles, farm trucks and logging trucks, so extra caution is needed by cyclists. There are bike paths in some of the large cities the route goes through, and you'll need all your defensive urban cycling skills to contend with the heavy traffic. But this is California, land of sun and fun (especially along the southern portion of the route). Take advantage and go jump into the Pacific on a whim or watch a beautiful sunset.

Soon after passing through Crescent City, you will be biking through awe-inspiring redwood country on roads shaded by trees reaching high into the sky. A herd of elk live near Orick and are usually easy to spot. The redwoods are a big tourist area, so you'll have the opportunity to bike through trees that most people drive their cars through. After leaving the redwoods, you'll enjoy scenic riding along the Pacific Ocean, where the route climbs and descends along the coastal headlands.

Biking over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco is a real treat, and the route stays on the western edge of the city. Heading southward along the coast, there are numerous state beaches. If you're at the Ano Nuevo State Reserve during the elephant seal mating season in January, viewing the seals is not to be missed. North of Monterey, acres of farms begin to appear in the Salinas Valley, a prime agricultural area known as the "Artichoke Capital of the World."

After leaving Carmel, the ride south along the Pacific Coast Highway is the most spectacular portion of the route for many cyclists. This winding, scenic road high above the ocean has been seen many times in television shows, commercials, and movies. Leaving the Santa Lucia Mountains and the coast, it is evident that you've reached "southern" California. You'll encounter many fertile farms and areas with various degrees of development. Santa Barbara is an easy town to cycle through. When you reach Malibu, you'll find tremendous congestion and view hundreds of trophy homes built into the hillsides or along the beaches. This is the northern end of the Los Angeles megalopolis.

Beginning in Santa Monica, the route uses some beautiful bike paths that go right through the middle of the sandy beaches, and then you'll ride through residential and industrial areas before rejoining the Pacific Coast Highway south of the city. All the way to San Diego, there will be a mix of urban cycling through towns, bike paths, highways, and shore roads. Through San Diego and its suburbs, the route follows residential streets and bike paths to the Coronado Pedestrian-Bicycle Ferry, which takes you to Coronado and a bike path along Silver Strand State Beach, then to the route's end at Border Field State Park next to the Mexican border.

Photo by Russ Roca

The route's terrain in Canada and Washington is flat to rolling hills, with a few climbs. Biking along the Oregon coast means hills, and some of them are steep, but it also means that your spectacular views will be well-earned. Don't forget that your uphills on one side of a coastal headland mean a downhill on the other side.

Northern California is generally hilly, with lots of ups and downs following the coastline. There is a large climb/descent between Leggett and the coastal highway on section 3. The route remains hilly until Santa Barbara. Some sections in the southern part of the route are rolling to flat, especially along the various cities' bike paths along the beaches.

This route can be ridden at any time of the year, but spring and autumn are optimal periods to avoid the heavy tourist traffic in the summer. And be forewarned: winter rains can cause flooding and mud slides and may close roads, especially along the northern California coast. Dense fog can also be a problem during any season. Washington and Oregon normally have dry sunny weather in August and September while the spring season is usually rainy. Due to changing local conditions, it is difficult to predict any major wind patterns, but during summer, strong winds will prevail from north to south.

There are plenty of services along the route. The Oregon coast draws a large amount of tourists, so it has the facilities to cater to them. For those who are camping, there are many state park campgrounds near the beaches with hiker/biker sites.

In California, there is a stretch between Half Moon Bay and Davenport south of San Francisco that doesn't have much to offer, so plan ahead with extra drinks and snacks. The northern and southern coasts are high-profile tourist areas, so facilities are numerous, but be prepared for higher prices. For those who like to camp, there are many appealing campgrounds at state parks near the beaches, perfect for watching dramatic sunsets. The 60 miles south of Big Sur have very limited services.

Some campgrounds will charge a cyclist traveling by himself less if they have hiker/biker sites, but often they will charge the price of a regular tent or RV site, and that can easily be $10-$40/night (higher in tourist areas). The maps list churches that have opened their doors to cyclists, but they aren't all that closely spaced. If you're friendly and ask around, you can often get yourself invited to camp in a yard. Our routes sometimes go through national forests (moreso in the west) and you are allowed to camp anywhere on national forest land as long as you "pack it in, pack it out." Many city parks are free to camp in.

You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.

  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Section 1
  • Mount St. Helens Visitor Center, Section 1
  • Tillamook Cheese Factory, Section 2
  • Redwood National Park, Section 3
  • The Lost Coast, Lost Coast Alternate, Section 3
  • Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Section 3
  • Point Reyes National Seashore, Section 3
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Section 3
  • San Francisco, California, Section 4
  • Golden Gate Park, Section 4
  • Monterey, California, Section 4
  • California Sea Otter Game Refuge, Section 4
  • Santa Barbara, California, Section 4
  • Los Angeles, California, Section 5
  • San Diego, California, Section 5

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