Blog: Pacific Coast of California – Part I

cycle touring pacific coast SF

cycle touring California golden gate bridge San Francisco Crescent City – San Francisco – 809Km (Total 3835km cycled)
Highlights: Redwoods, bbq, sunshine, California Coast, Golden Gate Bridge and friends.

Day 155 – June 11 : California Über Alles

Nature called for Peli to exit the tent in the early morning and she spotted the speedy girls already up and ready to go. I do hope that they were trying to make up time and didn’t usually spend their holidays in such a rush. Not our idea of fun, racing along like that, but then we do have the luxury of a more relaxed schedule.

Jedediah State ParkCrossing the border between Oregon and California was a doddle on our touring bicycles. We just got waved through the control with no checking of our luggage to see if we had fruit, etc (we’ve heard that some people in cars are subjected to this check).

We had heard from others that the Jedediah State Park and its redwoods would be worth a visit and would allow us would bypass downtown Crescent City. The first part of the ride on the 101 was fine, and when we turned off we had the road to ourselves amongst the first Giant Redwoods we’d seen so far. However, Jedediah park itself didn’t really live up the hype – yes, it was beautiful with its majestic redwoods, but the other State Parks we saw later were more impressive, with more bike-friendly roads.

Cycling away from the park we had to endure five or so miles of steep, winding and narrow roads with scarily steep cambers and lots of logging trucks. This was probably the worst bit of road we have experienced on our whole tour in the Americas. Not recommended on a bicycle – you have been warned!

We managed to bypass Crescent City and prepared ourselves for a big climb, but in the pleasant knowledge that we weren’t far from today’s campsite. Little did we know! We sweated our way to the top (be prepared – this section doesn’t have much in the way of shoulder) only to discover that the campsite at Mill Creek was located right at the bottom of a three mile, steep hill. So, we would lose much of the height we’d just gained, and have to redo it all in the morning. Gah.

mill creek state park hiker bikerAt the ranger’s station at the entrance to the park we invested in some eco-friendly, DEET-free, essential oils, blah-blah, anti-mosquito spray. This turned out to have been a good move, as the campsite was swamped with the hugest mosquitos (BitingBastards) we’ve ever seen! We pitched up in the miniscule Hiker/Biker site, which was already inhabited by a lone lady cyclist with a tiny tent. The spray seemed to work OK if you drowned yourself in it, and reapplied often. It wasn’t the most pleasant of campsites, and not a patch on the Oregon State Parks we’d got so used to, so we dived into our comfy beds early and rested for the climb out of the State Park in the morning.

Day 156 – June 12 : Elk

elks at Elk Prairie CampgroundWe got up, packed and ate fast since the BBs had also decided on an early start. The climb out was a good wake-up call but not as bad as we’d feared last night. South of Klamath we turned off the 101 and took the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which would bypass the worst of a hill that the 101 was going over. We heard from others later who’d taken the 101 in error that it was a bit of a drag, which put a smile on our faces since the Parkway was lovely and… downhill!

When we got to Elk Prairie Campground we felt we deserved a little rest. At the Hiker/Biker campsite we found the girl from the mosquito-ridden Mill Creek site, who’d also decided to take an early bath. This State Park was the first place we had to sign a formal declaration that we’d store our food in the bear boxes and make sure we did’t leave any scraps behind for the scavenger birds there. Even the ravens are bigger over here: huge, fat little beggars which are known to eat the eggs of a rare bird in the State Park. We had seen and used the bear boxes at the other State Parks but never been formally instructed to use them.

The park was right next to a wild elk sanctuary and we spotted a few dozing in the tall grass as we pitched our tent.

Day 157 – June 13 : Breakfast in Trinidad
light house in trinidadThe next village/town down the 101 was Orick and we didn’t find fuel or food that tickled our fancy, so decided to push on until we found a diner, and then have a substantial breakfast. The Oregon coast was lovely, but this stretch of California coast north and south of Trinidad was simply breathtaking. We peeled off the 101 again and took Patrick Points Drive which hugged the coast more than the Redwood Highway. The narrow, one-lane road rolled over some steep hills that zigzagged along the coast with precipitous drops down to a raging sea, and fantastic views over the rocky islands.

In Trinidad we spotted the Dutch twosome again, they had stopped to rest and watch the European Football Cup, which I understand that Denmark and Holland (and England!) didn’t do too well in this time around. Trinidad is what our Portland hosts would have described as ‘quaint’, with its pretty painted houses, lighthouse and views over the bay. After chatting for quite a while with a delightful couple on bikes who’d done a coast-to-coast some years ago, we found a place that made ever so yummy paninis, and rested our legs.

trinidadThe ride south out of Trinidad was stunning too, some short sharp hills but with lovely views over the Pacific. Just before McKinleyville I had planned for us to camp on Clam Beach State Campground but the pitches there are 100% sand, while our tent needs more solid ground in order to pitch it securely. So we pushed on along the Hammond Coastal Trail, a wonderful car-free bicycle path, to a good-value RV park in town and stayed there for the night. We cheekily pitched the tent right next to a power supply and managed to charge our batteries and laptop and have a long, much-needed shower.

We also found a wifi spot where we got an email from Kelvin who had to bail out in Eureka and take a bus to San Francisco because his leg was still playing up. We even managed to say happy birthday to Peli’s sister in the UK.

Day 158 – June 14 : We found it!

world tallest totem poleWe took the Hammond Coastal Trail again for a few more miles until we had to join the 101 again. Around Arcata and Eureka it was quite busy. In Eureka, so-named by optimistic California gold-rush miners, we had a subdued lunch on the not-quite-finished waterfront. We’d hoped to have a little bite at a cafe that was shown on the map, but find it we didn’t. As it wasn’t yet built. Ho hum.

In fact, the most exciting thing about Eureka was leaving it, which was quite eventful. The Adventure Cycling Association Map had show us that we could take a cycle track trough a wetland reserve. We wouldn’t recommend this for two reasons: firstly, the surface was very rough in places, giving us memories of our South American adventure, and wouldn’t have suited skinny tyres. Secondly, the area was a homeless city with folk clearly living under almost every bush – one bit of shrubbery even had a gate made of cardboard. At one point the track just stops dead, requiring a bit of a push through a hole in the fence into the car park of a shopping centre. Not the most salubrious section of our ride…

The excitement of leaving Eureka continued as we again joined Highway 101 and endured five miles of riding on what was essentially a motorway. We had a nice wide shoulder but with cars, lorries and RVs zooming past very fast made negotiating the slip-road entrances and exits a tricky affair. I really hope that Eureka and ACA find a better route out of town for bicycles, as this really wasn’t fun. It was good to get back on the side roads again.

prom nightCycling out over the Eel River delta towards Ferndale was a nice reminder of our Denmark tour almost exactly a year ago: flat roads, strong winds, and no shelter! In Ferndale we found the Humboldt County Fairground where we were able to camp amongst various exhibition halls and stables. We had brilliant hot showers and as we rested our legs and cooked a delicious meal next to our tent the Fairground turned into a car park. We had arrived on the night of the local school’s graduation ceremonies and everyone was dressed to the hilt. No one batted an eyelid at the presence of two shabby cycle tourers amongst the bling prom-like costumes.

Day 159 – June 15 : Avenue of the Giants on the Giant’s Birthday

ferndale townWe got up fairly early to see the Fairground fill up again with the older graduates arriving for a photo shoot before the big party that evening. All had their mortarboards and graduation gowns on, girls in white and boys in red. Seeing spotty youths turning up with their mates, music blasting, at the steering wheel of monster trucks was very perturbing. Surely they should still be belted up on their bolster seats in the back…?!

We cycled through Ferndale, ‘the Victorian Village’, a pleasant little place where we spotted The Danish Hall and even some letterboxes and gravestones with Danish names. We later learned that even Legoland California has recreated this ‘quaint’ little town.

redwood giant aveWe were in for a treat of a morning ride: a long, slightly downhill, quiet road towards Rio Dell surrounded by green pastures with many a friendly cyclist waving hello as they passed. This led us to the start of the famous Avenue of the Giants, a 30 mile long scenic route through Humboldt Redwood State Park amongst redwood trees – the tallest in the world.

How to describe the experience of seeing these trees? It’s very hard. I can’t do better than John Steinbeck:

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”

peli and the redwoodsEven I, at 6’4″, feel small next to these trees (can you imagine what it’s like for Peli?!). Every time you try to peer up at the top you nearly fall over backwards: they just keep going up and up. And they’re so solid, yet always seem to be moving, with their upper foliage swishing and swaying about in waves. Amazingly, these trees are over 600 years old, and some even close to 1500 years. The Avenue of the Giants snaked its way amongst these majestic trees, and despite the regular traffic there were plenty of opportunities to stop and soak in the quiet, cathedral-like atmosphere.

Just before Myers Flat at the Burlington Campground in Humboldt Redwood State Park we spotted Joe’s tent and bicycle. We stopped and left a little note for him (which we later heard he’d been tickled by) since we wanted to push onto the next campsite. Our plan to stop in Myers Flat to celebrate my birthday with a steak were thwarted (the restaurant marked on the ACA map closed down last year), so I settled for some Polish sausages from the local shop.

sausages on a stick Two miles out of town we began the sharp climb to the Hidden Springs campground. Peli managed to arrange some free firewood from the Ranger, so as she cooked up a storm of pasta and beans, I did my sausages on a stick over the fire, in our great camping spot on a ledge amongst the redwoods. What fun! I’ve not done that since I was a small lad.

Day 160 – June 16 : Hot!

tree huggerWe’d decided to treat ourselves to a good sleep-in and set off later than usual. You have to ‘check-out’ of State Park campsites at noon or one o’clock, so there was no rush in the morning. The day turned out to be a very hot one and we went in search of steak and beer for me since we’d failed yesterday. When we arrived, red-faced and perspiring furiously, the kind waitress rushed out with bottomless beakers of water with crushed ice (USAnians do like their ice). You could almost hear us sizzle.

We again came across the Dutch pair and took lots of comedy photos posing alongside (or inside) the redwoods. We ended the day in the Richardson State Park and prepared for a very early start the next day, in an attempt to beat the heat as we attempted the (in?)famous Leggett Pass.

Day 161 – June 17 : Drive-thru tree

drive tru treeWe knew it was going to be a hot day and a hard day as we had to get up and over Leggett Pass, at 1900 feet. Not too bad in height terms, but it did gain altitude rather fast. We struggled out of our pit and managed to leave the campground by 7.30am, a record for us on this tour. The first part of the hill wasn’t too bad but even this early in the morning the heat was clocking up 25 degrees centigrade when we got to Leggett at ten o’clock.

We did the obligatory drive-thru tree (yes, we also feel a bit ‘ugh’ about that expression) and queued alongside monster trucks to cycle through the trunk of a 2500 year-old redwood. (Said monster vehicles had to drive around the tree in the end as they were too fat – ha.) We felt sorry for the poor tree, and a little ashamed to have paid $5 for the privilege. Sigh.

sunset at Westport-Union Landing State BeachThe climb then kicked in and went on for around five miles. Luckily we were in the shade of the trees or we would have cooked. Or broiled, as they say in these parts. As we rounded the top of the climb we immediately felt the chilly air coming in off the Pacific – very refreshing. We enjoyed a 15 mile long downhill to the coast with the temperature dropping with every switchback.

At Westport-Union Landing State Beach we camped up nice and early in a spot perfectly positioned for a sunset view from the tent (no showers, but you can’t really argue when it costs $3 per person) and rested our legs after a long hard day.

Day 162 – June 18 : Vegetarian paradise

foodWe fancied a diner breakfast and found a place in Fort Bragg where, for a change, vegetarian Peli had more choice than I did. Unusually, the menu had just two choices for carnivores: turkey and beef. The remainder of the menu was crammed full of delicious veggie and vegan treats = a happy Peli. The wholewheat pancakes and vegetable omelettes with a Mexican twist were just divine and fuelled our legs for a long day’s riding.

The California coast continued to stun us with its wild beauty as the hills and miles rolled by. We pressed on to cover almost 60 miles before camping up at Manchester Beach State Park. We planned a few days of lower mileage to allow us some rest while still making our way closer to San Francisco.

Day 163 – June 19 : Short cake day

A leisurely start saw us rolling into the pleasant town of Point Arena (funnily enough we’d stayed in the Spanish equivalent, Punta Arenas, in Chile) at around midday, a perfect time to enjoy an organic muffin and cup of tea, wouldn’t you say? We used the handy wifi in the local co-op to catch up with Peli’s mum via Gtalk who was delighted to see our faces for the first time in ages. And we hers!

We then spent an animated half hour chatting to a friendly local who’d spent time in Dorset at a dancing retreat. (It’s funny how so many foreigners know the south coast of England better than we do – that area is such a hotbed of language classes, dancing tutorials, knitting retreats…) Our new-found friend regaled us with stories about the local area (California that is, not Dorset), including an explanation of how the legal growing of (medicinal) cannabis brings in much-needed revenue.

In Gualala we stocked up on food and headed out to Gualala River Redwood Park Camp ground which is down a rather long hill. We didn’t realise until too late that it was a privately-run site, and the price tag ($45) was way too high, so we climbed back up the hill, crossed the river and camped at Gualala Point Regional Park on the other side of the river for a fraction of the price ($10!).

Peli did a spot of handwashing in our Ortlieb kitchen sink and hung it up to dry in the last bit of sun. Important note: do not use lavender-scented washing powder in raccoon country. Peli woke in the night to find our freshly-washed laundry scattered around the campsite, encrusted with dirt and with lots of little claw holes! The raccoons had clearly been attracted to the smell and decided to have a jolly good play, at the expense of our lovely Icebreaker tops. Oh, bugger!

Day 164 – June 20 : A Looooooong Day

Cycle touring on the California coastWe had only planned around 20 miles today since the coast would give us a few short sharp ones and our legs were reminding us they needed rest. But, the state park we’d planned to stay at had closed for the season, so we had push on for 19 more miles before the day was over.

We had planned to stay at Fort Ross Historic Park but we only had lunch there since it was closed. We contemplated wild camping in the deserted campsite, but Peli was a bit nervous about pissing off the park rangers so we decided to push on to at least Jenner.

South of Fort Ross we were in for a real treat. The coastline on this section is stunningly dramatic, or even dramatically stunning. The hills became bigger (insert a happy Peli here), views more spectacular, drops more precipitous, and downhills longer (insert a happy woolly here).

cycle touring on highway 1 in california The road between Fort Ross (which isn’t where the ACA map and GPS says it is, but never mind, it’s only a mile or so off) and Jenner was very steep, long drags with some vertiginous drops down to the sea below. We spent lots of time putting in our lungs back in place while enjoying the late-afternoon sun which provided the perfect golden light to enjoy the views over the vastness below.

In Jenner after something of a chilly and winding descent we had much-needed refreshments. We even found a Reeces peanut butter ice cream cup for Peli. Outside the shop we got chatting to a fella who’d escaped the ratrace and was living ‘off-grid’ up in the mountains, growing his own food as much as possible. He even offered us a bit of weed, after all, we are in California and it would be rude not to, he said. Peli didn’t understand what he was saying so just looked bemused, while I politely declined.

california coast With about ten miles to go our tired legs appreciated the helping hand of a strong tailwind and the sugar boost from the ice cream as we chased the sunlight into Bodega Dunes State Beach campsite. The coast was dotted with people in cars, strategically positioned to enjoy the sunset. We wished we’d had a bit more time to relax and enjoy this part of the coastline – the waves looked like whipped-cream in the orangey evening light and the small coves were pretty as a picture. We caught the odd glimpse as we blasted by, including of houses which had fallen into the sea over the years.

At Bodega Dunes we found the Hiker/Biker section already inhabited by four other cycle tourers heading south – one in a hammock and one who just slept al fresco under the stars. The pitch was deep sand, which made it hard to find somewhere suitable to put our long tent where the pegs could properly grip and which didn’t slope like a velodrome. Luckily, we were so exhausted that we could have pitched the tent in a tree and I reckon we’d have slept well.

Day 165 – June 21 : Rest day

A rest day! Our legs thanked us after the unexpected hills of the previous day.

The other four tourers were up and away before we’d even popped our heads out from under our cosy sleeping bags. While I had a lunchtime kip and Peli read her book Justin and Jamie rolled in. They told us a terrifying tale of how a tree had been blown down during the night at their last campsite, just a few metres from their tent. It even broke a concrete picnic table in the fall. Yikes!

Day 166 – June 22 : Race day

eating dinner with other cycle tourersAs all cyclists know, Sod’s Law stipulates that just as a pair of tourers are rested, refreshed and ready to hit the road again, rain will return. And it did. At first it was just a solid thick fog which then turned into heavy rain. As we made our way along Highway 1 we spotted many other cyclists on road bikes sporting numbers, either coming towards us or zooming past us. Every cafe or store we came to we saw their bicycles parked outside.

We got talking to a few of the riders and learned that they were part of the Sierra to the Sea ride. They almost managed to put our yacf pootles to shame – we spotted them parked outside one cafe stop, then chatted to them again at a restaurant a few miles down the road only to spot them again even fewer miles down the road at yet another restaurant. And by ‘few’, I mean less than five miles! Good work, cyclists.

As we got back the coast the sun came out and we stocked up on food and fuel in Point Reyes. Then our tired legs took us to the wonderful Cross Marin trail which criss-crossed through more redwoods to the Samuel P Taylor State park, our final campsite before San Francisco.

Day 167 – June 23 : Late start

peli and the golden gate bridgeLast night we got chatting to a lovely French Canadian couple about cycle touring and stayed up late. So, we had a little sleep-in but got up early by our standards, but then got chatting again over a great breakfast with our Canadian neighbours, so it was pretty much afternoon before we departed.

We knew the next part of the route to and through San Francisco would take us a while as we were about to become proper tourists! We had 22 miles to the Golden Gate Bridge, 10 miles to a ferry over to Oakland and then 12 miles to our friend Dave’s place. We were a little pushed for time, but still felt sure that we could make it for an early evening arrival.

This being Saturday we had already spotted many, many cyclists out on the trails heading in and out of San Francisco. We soon hit Bay Area suburbia and had more traffic and cycle lanes than we have been used to over the last few weeks.

cycling over the golden gate bridgeIn sunny Sausalito we had our lunch in the park while looking over the bay towards Oakland, San Francisco and Alcatraz. While sitting there eating our peanut butter bagels we spotted a few people walking around with yummy looming ice cream. Now can you guess what we did next before tackling the Golden Gate Bridge?

The last time Peli was here on a work trip it was very grey, foggy and damp as she cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge, so we spent quite a lot of time enjoying the view towards the hills of Marin County, across the bay and towards San Francisco itself. It was stunning.

We then followed the bay around San Francisco to the Embarcadero from where we’d planned to take a ferry across the bay. We had spent rather a long time being tourists and arrived at the pier to find we’d just missed the 7:00pm ferry. Bother. The final one left at 8.40pm so we wandered around to kill time, and managed to find some delicious falafel wraps in a little takeaway.

After a quick ferry ride (no problems taking bikes onboard), we landed landed in Oakland at 9:10pm and had 11.5 flat miles and a 0.5 very, very, very steep hill to climb before making it to our friend Dave’s. Shall we just say that we made very good time as we cycled (pegged it like bats out of hell) through some of the more “colourful” areas surrounding Oakland! We arrived at our host Dave’s to a great warm welcome, chatted and ate delicious pizza for a while, before collapsing onto our mats in the living room. Exhausted doesn’t come close.

Day 168-179 – June 24-July 5 : 4th of July

We have had a fantastically relaxing time here at our host Lucy’s place. Erm, I mean Dave’s place. We have been able to kick back, relax, eat good food, watch fantastic movies, walk Dave’s delightful dog Lucy (we’re now fully signed-up members of the Lucy Fan Club) and be sat on by his cat. Thanks all!

We also had a splendid day in San Francisco with our friends the Things, aka Emma and Joth, who have just moved over to the Bay Area from London. We’re not usually that big on being tourists but Emma showed us Coits Tower with its panoramic view over the city and surrounding sights, and took us for lunch in the bike-shop-haven of Mission, before we met Joth for the obligatory Chinese dinner in China Town. A great day touregging and gossiping!

We will be at Dave’s until the 5th of July before we head south via the Things who then will be joining us for a wee ride south to Monterey for a few days.

Click here to see all the pictures.


  1. My DH has asked, do you actually cycle all the hills or like us do you get off and walk up them sometimes? I can manage the ones that go gradually but it’s when they suddenly go nearly vertical that it gets me. Pushing a loaded touring bike isn’t much better though.
    Brenda in the Boro UK

  2. Hello Brenda,

    Well, that is a good question. On the tough surface of the ripio roads in Chile we pushed up the very steep hills as it was impossible for us to ride them. We sometimes struggled even to push the bikes as the surface was so bad! In the US we have ridden all the hills (apart from one very steep one out of San Francisco which Henrik walked) as the surface is smooth tarmac and the gradients have not been too bad.

    Pushing a loaded touring bike is a good exercise in itself, you are right!

    Peli aka Vicky

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