(photos by Joe Linton)
The Pacific Coast Highway has an amazing stretch of scenery that people travel from all over the world just to visit. Most will pack up the family and drive along the majority of the coast, getting just a compartmentalized view while confined inside a car.
It may sound intimidating touring the coast with your family by bike, but as many parents have discovered, committing to go car-free is an experience that is more than worthwhile.
Joe Linton has traveled PCH before by bike and recently spent a week-long excursion with his wife Carrie Lincourt and three-year-old daughter Maeve, riding almost 150 miles carrying all they needed.
As the co-founder of LACBC dating back to 1998 and an experienced cyclist, Joe wasn't intimidated planning this journey and is already looking forward to the next family vacation again on two wheels.
Joe wrote about his travels as editor of Streetsblog LA and gave more details about his trip for LACBC Family.
Where else other than the Pacific Coast Highway can you get this scenery?
What are some of the must see things along the coast?
I find the coastline itself to be the main attraction, especially in Big Sur, but really, all over, California is such a beautiful natural place. On a bike, we naturally go a little slower, and can stop often to take things in. There's a lot I really enjoy seeing: oak trees, turkey vultures, tidepools, kelp forests, elephant seals, much more.
How much planning went into the trip and how easy was it to change things up?
I had bike-toured from San Francisco to L.A. before, so I have the book (Bicycling the Pacific Coast: A Complete Route Guide – Canada to Mexico by Tom Kirkendall and Vicky Spring) which is really helpful, especially for campgrounds.
As there are no reservations needed for State Parks hike and bike campsites, in the past I tended to plan minimally then improvise based on how far I felt like bicycling. With my wife and daughter, we were a little more structured. We mapped out a route with distances roughly 20 miles each day, which is what my wife felt she could do. We made a couple of hotel reservations (the first and third nights) and left the end of the itinerary unplanned. In the back of my mind, I thought that we might really be enjoying ourselves and want to bike further.
Due to a forest fire closing a campground, we changed one night's plans right before the trip started, shifting from a campsite to a lodge. Then one day we had planned to stay at a campsite that wasn't all that desirable (it is right next to a highway) so we rode further and ended up staying in a motel.
It's really easy to find meals, water, lodging when you tour the California coast, so it's not so critical to plan a trip down to really specific details.
Camping was part of the itinerary.
What did you pack to take along the trip?
Packing light is critical, but not easy for me. I try to bring really basic clothing that I can layer together for warmth.
It's good to have a couple pairs of shoes, so I can change into shoes that I didn't ride in at the end of the day. I biked in Teva sandals, and brought flip-flops to change into.
I tend to take too many books, because I fear downtime without something to do, so I had two books to read and a trip journal that we took turns writing in and sometimes sketching. I brought four small paperbacks to read with my daughter, and we got pretty tired of these, so I probably should have brought more for her.
We had camping necessities: air mattresses, sleeping bags, tent. We brought basic travel foods that we picked up at Trader Joe's: dried fruit, nuts, bread, cheese, cliff bars. I brought bike tools, spare tires, and a light cable lock. Bungee cords are great for securing all this to the bike.
What was it like biking on Pacific Coast Highway?
It's much less stressful than bicycling in Los Angeles. Drivers outside of L.A. County seem somewhat nicer than they are here. In narrower curvy road areas, a lot of drivers really slow down and pass carefully. I had a couple very minor incidents where I was going downhill, taking the lane, and impatient drivers passed me in ways that I felt was inconsiderate, but this was uncommon.
All this space to explore.
What was the longest time you rode with Maeve without a stop and how did she take to long rides?
I got her off the bike whenever I could. When we stopped at a vista point, I got her out of her seat and moving around. Overall, she was ok with long rides. Often she slept on the back of the bike, a bit more than she naps typically. I would try to get her out of her bike seat at least hourly, but, especially when she was napping, I would just keep riding.
As the ride progressed, what did you learn about family riding along the way?
What's tricky about touring with a three-year-old is that they're basically resting during the time that we're riding. At the end of the day, we wanted to rest, and Maeve was full of energy. To work with this, we took walks with her at the start and end of the day. Often one of us would rest while the other ran around with Maeve. But we also relaxed some general rules that we follow. When we were at a motel with wi-fi, we let her watch videos, especially in the morning when we were packing up. When she was upset and it was time to keep riding, we gave her sweet snacks that we generally avoid at home.
During the actual ride time, I sang songs with my daughter. She's into silly jokes, so we would make up jokes. I would point out stuff to her. I think that she got tired of hearing how beautiful I thought the views were, but by the end, she (probably just mimicking me which is ok) she was saying that the coast was beautiful.
The Elephant Seals off of San Simeon
What were some of the things that you experienced by bike that you wouldn't have by car?
I think that by bike, I really experience a place. I feel like scenery just flies past in a car and I don't notice much.
When I am on a bike, I am looking around, listening, smelling, feeling the wind. I get a sense for the terrain: from how steep places are, how vegetation changes, and more. On a bike I can look around and see what's coming. On the day we rolled into Morro Bay, we could see the big Morro Rock, half-shrouded in mist, from Cayucos - more than a dozen miles away. At various points, I ride around a bend or over a rise, and the landscape spreads out before me. So, on a bike, I feel I have a sense of place.
In a car I experience points A and B, and in between I stress and worry about the drivers behind me tailgating me (because I am typically driving roughly the speed limit, which a lot of drivers seem to dislike.) Bicycling, we inhabit our landscape, instead of just getting from A to B.
There is also the impact on the place. Biking the coast does not contribute to its destruction. The coast is wonderful, and I want to keep it that way. Too much of is being degraded by widened road, parking lots, and placeless cookie-cutter development. If we all drive all the time, then sea levels will rise and not only will the coast I love be destroyed, but the world I pass on to my daughter will be perilous.
Where would you like to take your next family trip?
We definitely talked about doing another. I think we might try to start where we left off - San Luis Obispo - and then ride down the coast through Santa Barbara to Ventura or maybe all the way back to Los Angeles. The area around Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo is really nice; we may just go there and explore by bike and foot.