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California West Coast

Best Motorcycle Cruise in California

by Drew Hardin   |  April 10th, 2017 0

Southern California is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the U.S.

Not only does it boast world-famous attractions—Hollywood! Disneyland!—the area is also blessed with warm, sunny weather nearly year-round and geography that encompasses alpine forests, dramatic desert vistas, lush foothills and miles of gorgeous shoreline.

Those same traits make So-Cal a perfect place for a motorcycle cruise. In just a few short hours you can go from the hustle of Hollywood Boulevard to the serenity of a winding two-lane highway, riding for miles with no one else in sight.

Geico-motorcycle

This three-day adventure takes motorcyclists from the heart of Hollywood to the beaches of Santa Barbara with some awesome cruising in between.
Photo courtesy Dunlop Motorcycle Tires

We have laid out a three-day Southern California tour that, over a total of about 400 miles, combines must-see attractions with some of the best riding roads you’ll find anywhere. Each day’s route keeps the mileage relatively low, as there are plenty of opportunities to park the bike and stretch your legs.

Among those opportunities are ocean and mountain lake fishing. Space is tight when packing a motorcycle, but you’ll want to bring fishing gear. (Check out our Gear Guide for ideas about compact, travel-rod-and-reel kits and other essentials that fit in a bike’s saddlebags.)

Know before you go: After years of drought, California has experienced a winter of epic rainfall, which has caused mud- and rockslides on some of the roads and highways, especially in the mountains. Check with Caltrans for news of road closures and repairs along the route before you head out.

Also, be sure your GEICO motorcycle insurance is up to date before you hit the road. You don’t want any worries while carving through canyons and soaking up the California sun.

Day 1:

Hollywood to Santa Barbara/Solvang (Approx. 150 miles)

This tour starts and ends at the epicenter of So-Cal tourism, Hollywood. While there is much to see and do here, our plan is to leave town and then take in the Hollywood sights at the end of the ride.

Start by heading west on Sunset Boulevard. Traffic will be heavy at almost any time of day, but it’s a star-studded trip, passing through the Sunset Strip (home to the Comedy Store, Laugh Factory, and rock-and-roll clubs like the Whisky A Go Go and the Roxy) on the way to Beverly Hills. Sunset goes by the pink-and-green Beverly Hills Hotel, where movie deals are still made in the famous Polo Lounge.

Sunset Boulevard winds through two other tony Los Angeles enclaves, Bel Air and Brentwood, with UCLA between them, before terminating at the Pacific Coast Highway (CA Highway 1, known to locals as “PCH”). Across the intersection is Gladstones, one of many popular seafood restaurants that dot this stretch of PCH from the Pacific Palisades to Malibu.

Just south of Sunset is Will Rogers State Beach, where you can cast into the surf for corbina and yellowfin croaker. Jack mackerel, jacksmelt and queenfish can be taken from the Malibu Pier a few miles north. Visit socaloceanfishing.com for more info on what’s biting and where, and also check with the California Dept. of Fish & Game for information on limits, minimum sizes, and area closures.

Malibu

Riding north on PCH through Malibu is beautiful, as the highway often runs right along the shore, and you can feel the salt tang in the air. But from the road you can’t see the palatial beachfront homes the area is famous for. For that you’ll need to walk along the strand. A great place to do that is Paradise Cove, a historic beachfront restaurant about 14 miles north of where Sunset meets PCH. Paradise Cove is motorcycle friendly, with a section of its parking lot reserved for bikes.

About four miles south of Paradise Cove, turn north onto Malibu Canyon Road (that’s Pepperdine University on the corner) and head into the Santa Monica Mountains. Malibu Canyon is fun and curvy, and a good warmup for even twistier roads to come. Malibu Creek State Park (just before Mulholland Highway) offers excellent hiking trails, including one that goes to the site where the TV show M*A*S*H was filmed.

Head west on Mulholland, a two-lane highway known for the twisting route it takes through the Santa Monicas. Tight turns and abrupt elevation changes make for a lively ride. A word of caution: Stay wide of the center line, as occasional traffic will be headed the other direction. Also watch for rocks and other debris in the road, as slides big and small are a common occurrence up here.

The beauty of Southern California touring: Miles of nearly empty two-lane roads are just minutes from the urban hustle and bustle.  Photo courtesy Dunlop Motorcycle Tires

The beauty of Southern California touring: Miles of nearly empty two-lane roads are just minutes from the urban hustle and bustle.
Photo courtesy Dunlop Motorcycle Tires

Some six miles after turning onto Mulholland you’ll come to the Rock Store, a legendary hangout for So-Cal motorcyclists. On weekends it will be packed with all kinds of interesting bikes, and you just might see a celebrity. (Jay Leno is among the regulars.)

This part of Mulholland corkscrews on for another 16-odd miles before a steep downhill stretch ends at PCH. Turn north (right) and head toward the Ventura County line, relaxing a bit and letting your brakes cool along this undulating stretch of highway.

The highway turns into a 65-mph freeway at Point Mugu, which is home to a Naval Air Station and Point Mugu State Park, which offers surf fishing along the beach.

The rural roads between Point Mugu and US 101 travel through Oxnard, one of the area’s busiest agricultural centers and California’s main source of strawberries. Peak harvest season is between April and June, and there will be plenty of pop-up roadside stands selling baskets of fresh fruit.

Take 101 north for five miles to the Ventura Harbor, where you’ll find a number of excellent restaurants. One of our favorites is the Rhumb Line (open for lunch and dinner) offering a mix of fresh seafood, pasta, burgers and steak. Or, if a basket of strawberries has taken the edge off your appetite, stay northbound on 101 and ride 30 more miles into Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara

This popular getaway destination for Angelenos (just a two-hour drive northwest of LA) has a small, college-town atmosphere (there’s a University of California campus here, Santa Barbara City College, and several private colleges) and an abundance of restaurants, many of them clustered around State Street in the city’s picturesque downtown area. Accommodations range from reasonable to downright pricey; there are also campgrounds up and down the coast, from Carpinteria State Beach, just south, to Gaviota State Beach 33 miles west of town.

Want some more riding time? Pick up Highway 154, the San Marcos Pass Road, west of Santa Barbara, which runs through the southwestern edge of the Los Padres National Forest on another winding mountain road. Watch your speed; CHP cruisers (some painted all white, harder to spot at a distance) are plentiful up here.

Highway 154 straightens out, leaves the forest, and passes the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. The lake is stocked with trout every year, and there’s largemouth and smallmouth bass to be caught, plus crappie, bluegill, and catfish.

The winter rain has brought much-needed water to California’s lakes. But there is also more debris flowing into the water, which is having a dampening effect on fishing. Visit socalfishreports.com for up-to-date information on what’s biting and which bait or lures are working.


10 Things to Pack for Your Motorcycle Adventure

Space is at a premium on a motorcycle, so it’s a given that what you bring is essential. In addition to your riding gear—suit, boots, gloves and helmet—and your off-bike clothing, here are 10 things to pack that will make the trip safer and more enjoyable. A tip: When packing saddlebags, put what you’ll need on the road in the right-hand bag, so it’s easy to open when the bike is on its sidestand and you won’t be standing in traffic when getting into the bag.


Solvang

Not far from Cachuma Lake is a roundabout junction that picks up Highway 246, the road to Solvang. This quaint village looks like it was picked up from Denmark and dropped in the Santa Ynez Valley. Many of the buildings feature Danish Provincial half-timbered facades, there’s a scale replica of a windmill in the center of town, and cafes and boutiques offer Danish and Scandinavian-themed food and goods. Try the Aebleskiver, a puff pastry described by its namesake restaurant as “like a waffle or pancake formed like a tennis ball.”

If you’re in Solvang on a weekend, visit the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum. The two-wheeled collection of Dr. Virgil Elings has an emphasis on racing bikes and ranges from a Belgian 1910 FN to contemporary models.

Solvang offers more than a dozen places to spend the night, from family-run motels to boutique hotels, cottages, and even a resort that sits on a 10,000-acre ranch.

Solvang was founded as a community for Danish immigrants in the early 1900s and retains its Scandinavian heritage.

Solvang was founded as a community for Danish immigrants in the early 1900s and retains its Scandinavian heritage.

Day 2:

Santa Barbara/Solvang to Magic Mountain (Approx. 170 miles)

If you overnighted in Solvang, you can retrace yesterday’s 246/154 route back to Santa Barbara, or go three miles west on 246 to Buellton, where you pick up US 101 and ride south.

Some 17 miles below Santa Barbara, exit US 101 onto Highway 150 (Casitas Pass Road) toward Ojai and Lake Casitas. This is a gorgeous stretch of road, mixing slow curves with fast straights on fresh, butter-smooth pavement through vineyards, citrus orchards, and old-growth palm trees.

Lake Casitas, five miles southwest of Ojai, is known for its largemouth bass, but the lake also holds rainbow trout, crappie, red-ear sunfish, bluegill and channel catfish. On certain nights when the moon is full (and weather permits) you can fish at night from the shore.

Ojai

Ojai is an artistic and spiritual community with a downtown area that is a mix of art galleries, boutiques and restaurants, many serving local varieties of olive oil. The town is also home to a number of spas, making this the perfect place to indulge yourself for a few hours—or even a few days.

When you’re ready to hit the road again, check your fuel level before leaving Ojai, as the route heads into the back country for more than 70 miles before the next refueling opportunity. From CA 150, turn north on Highway 33 (Maricopa Highway), and soon you’ll find yourself nearly alone on a curving mountain road, climbing, dipping and climbing again until it reaches the 5,160-foot Pine Mountain Summit.

After about 37 miles on CA 33, watch for the right turn onto Lockwood Valley Road, a 27-mile two-lane through the high desert. This is ranching country; look for cattle and horses behind the roadside fences, and watch for cattle guards in the road. If it has rained recently, the highway could be flooded at Reyes Creek and other low spots; fortunately those areas are well marked.

Turn right on Frazier Mountain Park Road for a straight six-mile shot out to Interstate 5. There are gas stations and restaurants in Frazier Park, as well as a Flying J Travel Plaza where the road meets the interstate. Other refueling opportunities (for you and your bike) are just a few miles south at Gorman, a popular stop for off-roaders headed to the nearby Hungry Valley SVRA.

Lake Casitas outside of Ojai is known for world-class bass fishing. Photo courtesy Casitas Municipal Water District

Lake Casitas, outside of Ojai, is known for world-class bass fishing.
Photo courtesy Casitas Municipal Water District

From the Frazier Park/Gorman area it’s an easy 30-mile ride south on I-5 into the Santa Clarita Valley. Just above the valley is the Castaic Lake Recreation Area, this is another classic Southern California lake known for its largemouth bass, though there are also rainbow trout, crappie and catfish to catch, too. Castaic Lake is close enough to the end of the day’s ride that you can either spend the late afternoon wetting a line or opt to ride up here in the morning.

Stopping for the night close to Six Flags Magic Mountain means there are several area hotels to choose from, restaurants to suit every taste and budget, and some of So-Cal’s most hair-raising roller coasters waiting in the theme park.



Day 3:

Magic Mountain to Hollywood (Approx. 100 miles)

The day begins with a trip to the dramatic rock formations at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, which has been used as a location for scores of movies and TV shows. It’s just shy of a 30-minute ride from Magic Mountain no matter which route you take: by freeway (I-5 south to I-14 north and off at Agua Dulce Canyon Road); a mix of local boulevards and freeway (Railroad Avenue to I-14); or all local roads and highways, including the scenic Bouquet Canyon Road, Vasquez Canyon Road and Sierra Highway.

After a short hike around the rocks, head up Agua Dulce Canyon Road to the tiny town of Agua Dulce, where the Sweetwater Bar and Grill serves delicious fresh baked goods and hearty breakfast fare.

Angeles Forest

Backtrack to I-14, head north for about 10 minutes, and one of several off-ramps will lead you to the Angeles Forest Highway. At first this is a relatively straight and easy ride, but as it climbs into the forest the road twists and turns, cutting through granite hillsides and the vast evergreen forest. This area is a playground for local sportbike riders, though you can opt for a slower pace and enjoy the scenic overlooks, turnouts and campgrounds along the route.

At the junction of the Angeles Forest Highway and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road are options: Shorten the ride a bit by staying on the Forest Highway, or extend your time in the twisties by bearing left onto Big Tujunga Canyon. Both roads eventually join Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway), which curves down into the San Gabriel Valley and terminates in the community of La Canada.

Be prepared for climbs to over 5,000 feet, and dress accordingly, even in the warm spring months.  Photo courtesy Dunlop Motorcycle Tire

Be prepared for climbs to over 5,000 feet, and dress accordingly, even in the warm spring months.
Photo courtesy Dunlop Motorcycle Tires

La Canada has a number of excellent restaurants. Los Gringos Locos is a fun place to get your Mexican food fix. If you want to stretch your legs a bit, Descanso Gardens, offers scenic pathways through 150 acres of botanical gardens that will be lush with blooms in the spring.

There are many ways to get to Hollywood from La Canada. The most direct is to head south on CA 2 and west on CA 134, and then pick up one of the canyon roads that joins the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood.

Hollywood

To start your Hollywood sight-seeing earlier, exit CA 134 at Forest Lawn Drive, on the outskirts of Griffith Park. Its famous Observatory has served as a backdrop for films ranging from Rebel Without a Cause to La La Land. Heading west along Forest Lawn Drive, the Hollywood Hills location of Forest Lawn Cemetery will be on your left. This is where celebrities from Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton to Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher are taking their eternal rest. On the right, across the LA River, are the backlots of the Warner Bros. Studios. The studio tour is a favorite of locals and those truly interested in film history, while tourists tend to flock to the Universal Studios theme park just a couple of miles away.

From Forest Lawn Dr., head south on Barham Boulevard, cross over the Hollywood Freeway, and make a left onto Cahuenga Boulevard, then turn sharp right onto Mulholland Drive. Though this and the highway from the trip’s first day share a namesake (William Mulholland, credited with building the infrastructure that brought water to Los Angeles and spurred its growth), this is a narrow two-lane road through a residential area. It’s slower and more congested than the highway in the Santa Monica Mountains, but it does offer views of Hollywood Hills mansions that rival those in the Malibu colony.

Turn left on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, which winds its way down into Hollywood through a rustic neighborhood that nurtured the Los Angeles music scene in the 1960s. When Laurel Canyon crosses Sunset Blvd., we have come full circle from where we started.

Vasquez Rocks will look familiar even to first-time visitors as the dramatic formations have appeared in countless movies and TV shows.

Vasquez Rocks will look familiar even to first-time visitors as the dramatic formations have appeared in countless movies and TV shows.

No trip to Hollywood, especially for first-timers, is complete without a visit to the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theater (now the TCL Chinese Theater) on Hollywood Boulevard. Its landmark Forecourt of the Stars has immortalized the hand- and footprints of Hollywood royalty in cement since the late 1920s. Just down the street is the Hollywood & Highland shopping and dining mall and the Dolby Theater, which rolls out the red carpet for the Academy Awards. Also on Hollywood Boulevard is the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where more than 2,600 stars imbedded in 15 blocks of sidewalk commemorate celebrities in all facets of the entertainment industry.

Whether this marks the end of your Southern California adventure or the start of more sightseeing, for a “real” Hollywood dining experience ride east a few blocks on Hollywood Boulevard and grab a chili cheeseburger at the Original Tommy’s hamburger stand (5873 Hollywood Blvd). This local hangout is especially popular among club-goers in the wee hours of the night, as it’s open 24 hours.

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