Whether you love riding a beach cruiser along the ocean or dream of climbing a steep mountain pass, California is filled with destinations that are ideal for two-wheeled exploring. It’s such a cycling hot spot, in fact, that North America’s biggest professional cyclist race is held here every May—the Amgen Tour of California. Read on to create your own ideal bike adventure on your next trip to the Golden State.
Find beginner-friendly bike paths
If an easy ride along a scenic, protected path sounds up your alley, California’s has multiple options. Many cities offer welcoming bike paths that are flat, smooth, isolated from cars, and often roll past iconic attractions (i.e. the Golden Gate Bridge or the Santa Cruz Boardwalk).
The Strand (aka the Marvin Braude Bike Trail) runs 22 miles past some of Los Angeles' most classic beach towns, including Venice and Santa Monica, and is worth a try. The 32-mile American River Trail in Sacramento is a two-lane, super-flat stretch that goes all the way from Old Town Sacramento to Folsom, and the recent addition of electric JUMP bikes make it even easier to ride. Another stunner is the 3-mile Bob Jones Bike Trail, a quick but scenic ride from Highway 101 to downtown Avila Beach. The Napa Valley Vine Trail is also an exciting work in progress. The path, which is partially complete, will ultimately connect the 47 miles from Vallejo to Calistoga. (For more ideas, check out this California list of best bike paths from Bicycling Magazine.)
Scout out dream rides
For dedicated cycling enthusiasts, there’s nothing better than combining travel with your affinity for bikes. Plan your next trip around doing one of California's classic bike routes or explore an entirely new area from the saddle. Look for free maps and extensive routes on Calbike, check the local city guides on Strava (starting around 10 miles and up), or take these recommendations for spring riding destinations from the Amgen Tour of California, including Pacific Coast Highway, Death Valley, and Yosemite National Park.
Watch the Amgen Tour of California in person
This annual event is free to attend and thrilling to watch from the sidelines. Held this year from May 12–18, the pro male and female riders climb mountains and sprint along farmland flats as they weave in and out of 13 host cities. Start by planning your trip around the route and stay in one of the host cities to catch the most action. Many super fans ride parts of the course ahead of time to experience what the riders will on race day. If you're a next-level cycling fan and want to get even closer to the riders, consider volunteering for the race.
New to spectating? Take these tips from retired pro Freddie Rodriguez, an eight-time Tour of California rider who serves as a race ambassador. “Learn where there are mountain-top finishes and go out onto the steeper sections so you can see the riders come by,” he recommends. “The race tends to go a little slower because of the steepness—maybe 10-15 miles per hour—which makes it easier to see the athletes, the faces, the expressions of going through all that effort.” Otherwise, Rodriguez recommends, head to the finish to see if you can catch a field sprint to the end. Stages with a circuit (where riders go around the same lap multiple times before finishing) are the most exciting, since live commentators break down exactly what’s happening for the fans.
Train for your own bike race
Pick a month and you can probably find a gran fondo, century ride, or some quirky challenge for cyclists in California. These 2019 must-do California cycling events are good options to get inspired, and SoCalCycling.com, Raceplace.com, and Active.com all feature extensive calendars for road biking, mountain biking, and triathlon events.