As a former professional cyclist who competed in top international events until his retirement in 2013, Levi Leipheimer has seen much of the world. Yet the three-time winner of the Amgen Tour of California, a discontinued eight-stage race that looped around the Golden State each May from 2006 to 2019, chooses to live in the Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa. We caught up with Levi—who still puts in 15 to 20 hours each week in the saddle and puts on the annual Levi’s Gran Fondo event—to learn more about why Northern California gets his vote as the best place on earth.
Where do you live? Santa Rosa.
Why there? When I turned professional in 1997, I moved here from Montana because of the roads, the cycling community, the cycling history, the weather, and the proximity of a major airport. It’s the perfect place for a professional cyclist to live.
Who or what is your greatest California love? Sonoma County. One thing I’ve learned traveling the world is that it’s best here. We’ve got so many routes—the redwoods, tiny roads with character, the ocean bluffs, the oaks. I never do the same ride twice.
What is the biggest misperception about Californians? We’re all surfers. I have surfed—once—and it wasn’t even in California. I think people have this idea that it’s all about Hollywood, and surfing, and movie stars—which obviously it’s not, especially in NorCal.
What is the stereotype that most holds true? We enjoy being outdoors. An outdoor activity is a requirement here—it’s mandatory. And we really are on the cutting edge of technology, health and fitness, and nutrition.
What is your favorite Golden State splurge? Especially here in Sonoma, we’re famous for wine, beer, and food. I’m not much of a drinker, but I enjoy food, and I’ve got a sweet tooth. Wild Flour bakery in Freestone is really good. Taylor Lane out in Sebastopol is a great spot for coffee, muffins, and cookies. It’s a cool town and the halfway point on an easy, flat ride.
Time for a road trip. Where are you going? Drive up to Tahoe, either ski in winter or in summer, mountain bike, swim in the lake, and go for a hike. Then drive down to Yosemite for more great hiking. Sometimes I take it for granted, and you say, “Oh yeah, Yosemite, whatever,” and then I go and it’s amazing, and I feel stupid for not going there more often. From Yosemite I’d go down to Mammoth, then Mount Whitney. It’s all pretty awesome.
If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? Really good Mexican food. We all have our favorite Mexican restaurant and our favorite dish. I’m usually a burrito guy. I ride my bike so I can eat them.
Best California song? Anything by the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Jane’s Addiction really means California. Beach Boys music—that’s pretty classic, right?
How would your California dream day unfold? I’d wake up, have my oatmeal or a protein shake and espresso, then go for a ride with friends. We’d road or mountain bike along Sonoma’s King Ridge or Coleman Valley Road. It’s a great way to spend a nice, warm summer day with views of the ocean. Then I’d have Mexican food and a movie.