California has a few distinct advantages when it comes to cycling: year-round mild temperatures, varied terrain, natural beauty, and the honor of hosting the sport’s most prestigious event in America every May, the Amgen Tour of California.
In advance of the upcoming event, we asked some top professional cyclists to tell us where they love to ride most in California. Here's what they said.
Up and Down Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County
57 miles, 8,109 feet of elevation
This climbing-heavy route is the home turf go-to for Wiles, who resides in the Bay Area town of Fairfax.
“It's my favorite because you start with a beautiful climb past an alpine dam that is literally right out my front door, then you enjoy 360-degree views of ocean on the right and Marin County on the left as you go along the ‘Seven Sisters’ ridge along Mt. Tamalpais,” Wiles says. “Then all the climbing is rewarded by one of my all-time favorite descents down to the coast, followed by crazy beautiful ocean views all the way along Highway 1 until it’s time to climb back up. Just when you start to get beat by the climbing, you get to descend one more glorious time before climbing up Bofax, a narrow, nearly car-free beautiful climb. Once you hit the top it’s all downhill home (nearly).”
As the winner of the 2015 Amgen Tour of California and the record-holder for the most stage wins in Amgen history, Sagan has ridden (very fast) all over the state. The reigning World Champion says that whenever he comes to California, he loves to spend a few days in San Diego and San Francisco before heading to his favorite cycling destination.
“Choosing my favorite ride in California is too hard—there are so many beautiful places,” says Sagan. “I think California is one of the best places to visit as a tourist and ride as a cyclist. If I had to pick one place to ride, that would be around Lake Tahoe. Its combination of high altitude, good roads, and scenic beauty make it a perfect training spot for me. Next time you are there, you might bump into me."
Ride it: Lake Tahoe is a hub for both road riding and mountain biking, and the area boasts many bike shops for easy rentals and local ride advice. To find a route that suits your interests and ability level, check out Tahoe.com’s list of 10 Lake Tahoe Road Rides or visit Tahoe South and Tahoe North for ideas on where to rent and ride in the area.
The King Ridge Loop, Santa Rosa
55-, 73-, or 100-mile options
The riding in Sonoma County’s Santa Rosa was voted the favorite by not one but three riders, thanks to its redwoods, vineyards, and vista-filled views north of San Francisco. The cycling community is strong in Santa Rosa, and it’s also where former professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer lives and runs his popular event, Levi’s GranFondo. The loop chosen by these top riders utilizes many of the same roads as Leipheimer’s annual ride.
Bookwalter remembers riding in Santa Rosa for the first time during a pre-season camp with the BMC Racing Team in 2008. “The ride from Santa Rosa blew my mind 10 years ago and still amazes me whenever I'm lucky enough to have the chance to go back,” he says. “Expansive vineyards, dense redwood forests, and the breathtaking cruise to the ocean are all reasons this one stays at the top of my list for California rides.”
"It's a stunning ride,” Talansky says. “You have a little bit of everything. Rural roads with no traffic. Rolling hills. And my favorite part is the drop back down to the ocean—you can see it from miles away and before you know it, you are right there next to the Pacific. It's incredible."
Rivera echoes the men after riding this route during the women’s race of the Amgen Tour of California in 2016. “I love riding along the coast and that section was so beautiful and twisty, turning, and up and down,” says Rivera. “I recommend this route not only for the scenery but also for the opportunity to have wonderful wine from the area as well.”
Ride it: Follow the GranFondo loop for the most challenging version of this route, copy Rivera’s 2016 Amgen Stage 3 ride for 73 miles, or opt for the 55-mile version as detailed by the Santa Rosa Cycling Club.
Santa Barbara Wine Country Loop, Solvang
63.7 miles, 4,500 feet of elevation
Tetrick is a California native who grew up riding horses in Santa Barbara County before moving north of San Francisco to Petaluma, where the former cowgirl now lives and trains. When she returns to her roots, she opts for her favorite tour of the area, which begins in the Danish village of Solvang.
“Starting off with Danish pancakes and heading up Mt. Figueroa, you can see the most beautiful views,” she says. “I recently did this climb with the poppies blooming and the Pacific Ocean was serene. I even had time for a pit stop near my childhood ranch in Los Alamos to have a Santa Maria-style tri-tip sandwich. We love the challenge of a good climb, and the views and feeling of accomplishment make it all worthwhile!"
Ride it: Pair your challenging 96.5-mile ride with an equally hearty tri-tip sandwich in the Santa Maria Valley. For tamer routes in the region, check MapMyRide for Santa Maria, try the local DIY Santa Barbara rides, or join an organized wine and cycling tour group.
Iowa Hill Loop, near Auburn
65 miles, 6,923 feet of elevation
Huffman, who grew up in Elk Grove and now lives east of Sacramento in El Dorado Hills, has two favorite rides starting near Auburn, about 35 miles northeast of the state capital.
One is the 65-mile Iowa Hill Loop around Auburn State Recreational Area, and the other is a climb on Mosquito Ridge Road. “[They are both] just really scenic rides that are very remote, so no traffic with a lot of climbing,” Huffman says.
Palomar Mountain Climb, San Diego County
91.4 miles, 8,694 feet of elevation
Palomar Mountain is somewhat of a rite of passage for San Diego cyclists, and it has made multiple appearances on the Amgen Tour of California route. “It’s an iconic SoCal climb that is so unique because you can be at the beach and several hours later be on a mountaintop,” Cerra says. “There is really no better training, and you will enjoy the views of the entire valley as you snake through the wooded switchbacks to the top.”
Once you reach the top of the 12-mile ascent, apple pie, cookies, and a bottle of Coca-Cola are waiting at the general store and Mother’s Kitchen. Experienced riders can follow Cerra’s favorite way to do the climb—a 90-mile loop on quiet country roads past Lake Henshaw, with a mid-ride stop at Dudley’s Bakery (she recommends the white chocolate pecan cookie). For a shorter option, park near the bottom of Mt. Palomar and do just the climb—a tough ride on its own.
Looking for more routes across the state? Strava has put together athlete-curated city guides for the most popular routes in several destinations. Check out their guides for Bakersfield, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco Bay Area (East Bay, North Bay, Peninsula, South Bay), Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.