- San Francisco to Los Angeles
- 10 Days
- December 18, 2021 to December 27, 2021
- Total 850km (528 miles)
For those who want a synopsis of the trip (TLDR) or are inspired to do this trip, read on
Overall, the trip was AMAZING!
I had my reservations about doing this trip during the winter and for good reasons. It’s the wet season, which means rain is guaranteed to happen. Given that we stayed in hotels for 4 of the nights, you can accurately conclude that rain occurred on half of the trip. Of course, you may be lucky, and it is sunny the entire week (just like it was for us AFTER the trip), but don’t count on that. Additionally, the winter solstice ran right in the middle of our trip on Dec 21, with sunrise at 07:15 and sunset at 16:45, providing only a total of 9.5 hours. We needed all the daylight especially since our active hours is just when we are pedaling and does not account for breaks, lunch, and photo stops. Finally, it can be cold, but this is California so relatively speaking it was manageable. Even though some days were only 50F, I only wore my thin neon yellow jacket since we were exercising. During the nights we needed some layers as temperatures near the ocean can dropped to the low 40s, which feels even colder with the humidity and wind.
The biggest pro, it is low season. This means lighter traffic on highway 1. This is a big deal considering Big Sur region can be quite dangerous with it windy, hilly roads with little to no shoulder. Couple that with tourist drivers distracted by the scenery and you have a potential recipe for disaster.
This is also a blessing when it came to setting up at the hiker biker campsites. These are affordable first come first serve campsites specifically for campers who bike or hike in. We were always the only ones in the entire hiker biker campsite for each 3 instances. Campgrounds in general were only about a third full of all type of campers. On those days that we stayed at hotels, the rates were affordable, and rooms were plentiful. My favorite hotel was the Quality Inn at San Simeon which we booked on the spot since we were soaked. They had an old school heater near the floor we were able to dry our clothes out and a bomb full spread free hot breakfast.
You may wonder, were we sore each day? For me personally, surprisingly not. Yes biking 5-6 hours a day is a big workout, but I felt a dull pain each day like you get after hitting the gym. I felt like I could have kept riding for a couple more hours each day if it wasn’t for the short daylight or rain. If you have any pains, that should be addressed as soon as possible. Any issues should hopefully have been revealed during your training sessions, like if your bike is too small or large for you (can’t adjust that, get another bike!). I had some knee pain after the first day that never resurfaced after raising my seat a bit higher.
Route Review (SF to LA)
- Absolutely beautiful dynamic scenery, route is along the ocean
- Pass through cities often, you can eat, sleep, and drink well. And get your bike fixed if needed
- Start and end in major cities served by frequent flights.
- Stayed within the same state and time zone. Big deal during COVID when we didn’t want to deal with lockdowns
- Pass through cities often, which means lots of traffic, riding on busy streets
- Many sections have little to no shoulder.
- Some sections you must ride on the actual highway (north of Santa Barbara)
Winter Season Review
- Easier to get time off during winter holidays (Christmas and New Year’s)
- Low Season, which means less cars, less tourists, less campers
- Hotels were cheap and rooms can be booked last minute
- Wet season
- Short daylight hours
This was quite an affordable trip compared to traditional traveling or car camping. In total we spent about $1000 for a 10-day trip including flights but excluding gear. That comes out to $100 a day, or $50 a person per day. Savings comes from the fact we don’t have to deal with a car (no paying for parking, entrance fees, or $5/gallon) and our attractions were the ride itself and nature, both of which were free.
There are multiple ways I considered getting my bike to San Francisco. Bribe a family or friend to drive it up there, take the train, ship it, or fly with it. Flying with it ended up making the most sense from a logistics and cost standpoint. Many airlines now treat oversized sport equipment like bikes as a check in luggage. Note the 50 lbs weight limit is generally still in effect, check with each airline for details.
Last year during the 2020 winter lockdown, I booked this same direct one-way flight for $99. Prices have since returned to normal, but I still manage to get a first-class ticket for an additional $40 (using my 2020 $99 travel credit). Why first class? I must check in 2 bags (bike and gear), which would normally cost me $30 each ($60 total), but that is included with first class. And coupled with the fact I can relax and grab a meal at the lounge at a $50 value (SFO only, as SNA doesn’t have lounge). May as well travel in style and enjoy the priority boarding and extra legroom, albeit only a 1-hour flight.
When it comes to packing, go to your local bike shop and ask for any cardboard bike box. They have plenty, and the best part is, it’s free! You will need to dissemble a decent amount of the bike, like the wheels, seat post, pedals, fork, handlebars, and fenders. Don’t bother taping it super shut because TSA will be opening it regardless to check (TSA told me, not something I just assumed). If you don’t trust TSA to tape it up again well (and you have no reason to), I suggest you secure the box with some sturdy straps that will keep the box closed even if the tape comes off. Since TSA will be physical inspecting the box, don’t just throw in the bubble wrap in between the gaps, wrap and tape them around components.
As my first bike tour, I learned several key lessons.
Get a bike that is meant for touring. Technically I pulled it off on my road bike, but I also faced several issues including front brake total failure, two flat tires, missing bolt for the rear rack, and a hole on my tire sidewall. A road bike was designed with speed and weight in mind, skinny tires on rough roads and rim brakes on rainy days just don’t mix. I didn’t want to get a bike just for touring in case I didn’t enjoy the new travel style, but I can say now that I do.
Things I would bring less or leave at home
- Clothes. Yes, it’s hard to imagine wearing the same clothes multiple days in the row during our typical daily lives. But when you are on the road and everything is wet, smelly, and dirty, you really don’t care/notice anymore. If you have 2 sets of clothes, and at least one set is dry, then you are good to go. Just rinse and repeat. Literally. Get a hotel one of the nights and use their laundry or just wash it yourself in the tub. These ended up being the bulkiest items that I didn’t use. Worst case, buy some more clothes in cities!
- Clip in shoes and petals. Just use paddles with straps and then wear normal shoes. That way I don’t have to bring around three pairs of shoes. I barely wore the city shoes my mountain bike Clip in were comfortable enough
- No need to bring the folding tripod. Gorilla tripod maybe but I still haven’t used it
- Bring a battery pack that you can charge to usb or not just the wall outlet
- More granola bars and power chews
- Kindle. Maybe if there wasn’t internet AND my phone died, I may have used it. However, we were in cities, and I ended up spending the limited down time we had each evening posting stories on Instagram and connecting with friends/family.
Things I’m glad I brought
- Two tail lights. Because one of them to going out early
- Fluorescent outer jacket. Use that for most of the time
- Audiobooks. You have 8 hours of downtime each day, make it productive! The rhythm of pedaling for hours on end allowed me to immerse myself in the books. I listened to three books during this trip, all borrowed for free from my local library
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (Business)
- Promised land by Barack Obama (Inspirational)
- The Guest List by Lucy Foley (Entertainment)
Mileage, Lodging, and Locations
|Day||Night of||End At||Miles||Active Hours||Accommodations|
|1||Dec 18||Half Moon Bay||42.3||4.5||Half Moon Bay State Beach Hiker Biker Campsite at Francis Beach|
|2||Dec 19||Santa Cruz||62.1||6.4||Aptos Dustin friend’s house|
|3||Dec 20||Monterey||52.9||5.9||Veterans Memorial Park Hiker Biker Campsite (with partial 17 mile drive)|
|4||Dec 21||Lucia||58.2||6.1||Limekiln Campground (No Hiker Biker, pay normal fee)|
|5||Dec 22||San Simeon||41.2||4.8||Quality Inn Near Hearst Castle San Simeon|
|6||Dec 23||Pismo Beach||54.7||6.1||Hilton Garden Inn San Luis Obispo/Pismo Beach|
|7||Dec 24||Lompoc||45.7||4.3||Hilton Garden Inn Lompoc|
|8||Dec 25||Santa Barbara||61.2||5.9||Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort|
|9||Dec 26||Malibu||56.0||5.0||Sycamore Canyon Hiker Biker Campsite|
|10||Dec 27||Torrance||54.0||5.0||Torrance Han Sister’s House. Drive back to Orange County|
Finding Cycling Partners
If you are like me, you probably agree it’s difficult to find adventurous souls to embark on such journeys as these.
After soliciting for riding partners within my personal network to no avail, I turned to Facebook groups dedicated to this travel style. The feedback was quite encouraging and within one week, I found two people who were seriously interested in joining me.
Here are two groups that I joined, but there are many out there
I was ready to go on my own, but glad I found Dustin. With him, the trip was more fun, safer, easier (he was at SF and I was in LA), and affordable (split costs like lodging). Additionally, I was able to share these memorable experiences with a new friend. My recommendation is to keep to just one other person, otherwise you run into too many opinions and delays and removes room for spontaneous decisions. Of course, it depends who you go with, but I would assume if they want to do this type of ride they are probably down to check out a hot springs after a long wet day of riding (See Day 6).
Hiker Biker and General Campsites
Here is my map of the California State park campgrounds with hiker camper sites. Please double check with CA parks website, filter by feature > facilities > hike or bike campsites. Unfortunately, these are disappearing as homeless issues encroach on these sites, so you won’t find any near urban areas. I believe Leo Carrillo near Malibu is the furthest south you will find such a site along the Pacific coast.
Bicycle Route Maps – Physical Paper Copy
Adventure Cycling Association publishes excellent detailed waterproof maps tailored toward touring cyclists.
I used map 4 and 5 from the Pacific Coast section which covers San Francisco to San Diego.
While google maps bicycle routes were quite aligned with our ACA maps, nothing beats having a physical map that operate without batteries and in all weather conditions
Plus, they do have lots of good information on lodging, routes, elevation, road conditions, and bike shops along with side notes about the history or seasonal activities that happen there
We did not formally train for this trip. Both Dustin and I naturally enjoy riding and camping, so we were already prepped for this trip in that way. We also both did a dry run where we loaded up our bikes and rode the whole day. See my blog about my Oceanside to Orange ride (60 miles)
If you have not cycled 60 miles unloaded or camped recently, I recommend you first work on those. Then combine the two and start carrying weight.
1 Month (and more) Prior
- Research and plan route
- Find biking buddy
- Book flights
- Book hotels and campsites
- Begin training
- Buy equipment (see packing list)
1 Week Prior
- Check campsites OPEN status
- Pack the bike box
- Check route google maps
- Check map revisions ACA
- Check weather, make adjustments as needed
24 hours Prior
- Get fresh food for first day
- Check-in to flight
- Check campsites OPEN status
- Send itinerary to family and friends
- Check weather, make adjustments as needed
- 2 Pairs padded bike shorts/bibs
- 2 Bike jerseys
- Neon yellow outer thin jacket
- Waterproof gloves
- Waterproof shoe covers or socks (everything eventually gets wet anyways)
- Bike gloves
- 2 Undershirt/Band-Aids to prevent nipple rubbing. (only matters if you wear bike bibs, thus I don’t recommend unless you hate bike shorts)
- 2 Sun sleeves arm
- 2 Sun sleeves legs
- Neck gaiter
- Cycling Sunglasses
- Air pump
- Patch kit
- 1 extra tube
- Tire levers
- Duct tape
- Zip ties
- Chain repair
- Bike (for touring, like a Surly)
- Lights (front and rear)
- Bike computer (XOSS)
- Handlebar bag
- 2 Rear Panniers
- Mudguard/fenders (front and rear)
- Dry bag for top of rear rack
- Rear Rack
- 2 20oz water bottles
- Bungee Cords
- Buc-ee’s flag (for fun)
- Cardboard bike box (check in luggage. Get for free from any bike shop)
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof pants
- 2 Underwear
- 1 Short cut socks
- 1 Long pairs socks
- Zipoff pants
- 2 Down jackets
- 2 Dry fit shirts
- Covid face masks (10)
- Sneakers (I don’t recommended clip on cycling shoes since they are not comfortable to walk about camp and the city. Use pedal straps instead)
- Portable quick dry towel
- First aid kit
- Face wash
- Body wash
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Contacts, contact case, solution
- Extra prescription glasses
- Collapsible bowl
- Pocket Knife
- Back up matches/fire starter
- Gas (need to buy at start location, cannot check in to airplane luggage)
- Backpacking meals
- Dried fruit
- Gatorade powder
- Tent, ground tarp, stakes
- Sleeping bag and liner
- Sleeping pad
- Headlamp with new AAA’s
- Extra AAA’s
- USB Power pack
- Charging cable (iPhone, USB mini, USB C)
- Multiple USB wall charging block
- Ziplock bags
- Plastic bags
- Solar panel for trickle charge while riding
- USD cash
- Charles Schwab ATM card
- Offline maps on phone
- ACA Bike map
- Apple Watch (and charger/powerpack)
- Airpods pro
- Audiobooks (for free from library)
- Sony Camera (3 batteries and charger)
- GoPro (2 batteries)
- Drone (with controller, charger, two batteries)
- Samsung Galaxy S10+ phone (for better photos and videos than my iPhone 7 Plus)
- SD Cards (cleared)
- Gorilla pod