Guest post by Trevor McDonald
California is a virtual playground. For those motorcycle riding in California, it offers such a variety of destinations that it can be hard to choose just one or even a few. Do you take the four-hour, 140-mile, twisty, roller coaster ride on Highway 36 from Red Bluff to Fortuna, California? It takes you across the Sierra Nevada mountains and California into high elevations, past ranch country, and through redwood forests. It has great views if you dare look, no guard rails, at one point no center line, and only a few gas stations and restaurants. Do you take the 79 mile Sonora Pass going east on Highway 108 to Highway 395? It is for experienced riders with steep, narrow roads and sudden drop-offs, but it offers views of snow-covered mountain peaks even in late summer, waterfalls, mountain meadows, a variety of trees, wild flowers, and wildlife. Below is a list of more California destinations with places to see along the way.
California State Route 1
California State Route 1 runs for 655.8 miles (1,055.4 km) along the Pacific coastline in California. It actually runs from Legget to Dana Point, California, and covers almost the entire length of the state. Just covering the 500 miles between San Diego and San Francisco offers a large variety of things to do. You can choose a shorter section of the route. In San Diego, you can visit the USS Midway Museum, the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the San Diego Zoo, La Jolla Cove for diving and snorkeling, and Old Point Loma Lighthouse. You can enjoy boat tours, fishing charters, dolphin and whale watching, hang gliding, and surfing, windsurfing, and kite surfing in San Diego Harbor. Gray whales migrate here from mid-December through April. Blue whales migrate here from mid-June to September. Orcas, minke whales, and fin whales are here year round. On your way north, you can stop at Torrey Pines Natural Reserve, Legoland in Carlsbad, California, or go to Mission San Juan Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano to see the swallows that return every year on March 19th.
Once you’re done with San Diego, head north to Huntington Beach, where you can bike, play volleyball, surf, or just hang out. Your next stop is Los Angeles. Visit the Santa Monica Pier and beach, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and Hollywood to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame and maybe a studio or two. You can also visit Disneyland, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Griffin Park Observatory, Venice Beach, the Queen Mary on Long Beach, and the La Brea Tar Pits. Further north is Santa Barbara with its Spanish colonial-style architecture. You are now entering wine country, so take in a few wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Taking a little detour off of Highway 1 will take you to Solvang, a quaint Danish village located in California. Back on Highway 1, stop at the beautiful, scenic Pismo Beach. Between November and February, you can view the migration of the monarch butterflies attracted to the cypress and eucalyptus trees. Your next stop could be the Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California. This was the opulent home of publisher William Randolph Hearst. You will now be entering Big Sur country, where you can see McWay Falls, giant redwoods, the large but endangered California condors, sea otters, and whales. You are nearing the end of your trip, so stop and explore Monterey and Carmel. You can also explore the boardwalk and the boho-chic downtown of Santa Cruz, or just do some more surfing. You can take Highway 35 out of Santa Cruz and run up to San Jose.
In San Jose, you can visit the intriguing Winchester House. Now you are ready to head to San Francisco, just take Highway 101. You can take a ride on a cable car and visit the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street, Alcatraz Island, Chinatown, Muir Woods, and Sausalito. Just remember that San Francisco will be cooler than southern California.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. It is 1,200 square miles, and offers high cliffs, a large wilderness area, beautiful meadows, deep valleys, and tall waterfalls. There are picnic areas, lodging and camping areas, and you can get a wilderness permit. Activities include hiking, backpacking, tours, group activities, photography, biking, bird watching, fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, stargazing, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, white water rafting, snowshoeing, ice skating, snowboarding, snow tubing, and cross-country and downhill skiing. Wi-Fi and cell phone service is available in the park. You can access Yosemite National Park by Highways 41, 140, and 120 from the West. The Tioga Pass Entrance using Highway 120 from the east closes between November and May or June. The Hetch Hetchy entrance can be closed occasionally due to snow.
Two recommendations for those motorcycle riding in California, check out the Groveland area on Highway 120. It is biker friendly. If you would like to visit the Cherry Lake area or the campground there, take Highway 108 to Tuolumne City. Then take Buchanan Road east out of Tuolumne City. Turn east on Cottonwood Road/National Forest Road 1N04. After you have visited Cherry Lake, take Cherry Lake Road west/southwest. About halfway to Colfax, exit east to the Hetch Hetchy entrance to Yosemite. The route twists and turns for miles through the forest and up and down rivers and streams. This route is used by logging trucks and is not always in the best repair. One final note, directions to and within the park on GPS devices are not always accurate.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is comprised of 3.4 million acres of rugged 11,000-foot mountains, rolling sand dunes, spring-fed oases, barren salt-flat valleys, and winding canyons with 1,000 miles of paved and dirt roads. Visit the Twenty Mule Team Canyon, Dante’s View, the Harmony Borax Works, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Zabriskie Point, the Furnace Creek Area, the Stovepipe Wells Area, the Scotty’s Castle Area, the Panamint Springs Area, the Devil’s Golf Course, an area of jagged spires of rock salt, and the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet (86 meter) below sea level.
A temporary lake can form in Badwater Basin after heavy rains. There is an ADA boardwalk available, but do not explore this area in hot weather. Artist’s Drive is a 9 mile (14 kilometer) one-way road through sedimentary and multi-hued volcanic hills. It is most photographic in late afternoon. To drive this road you need a vehicle less than 25 feet long. It is usually sunny, clear, and dry year-round. There can be occasional winter storms from October through April with a chance of spring wildflowers. In the winter, you need light to medium jackets and warm clothes. In the spring, you can wear lighter clothes and shorts. With temperatures over 120° F during the day, and lows in the 90s at night in the summer, you should restrict outside activities to the mountain areas. In the summer, use a car with air conditioning when crossing Death Valley. Year round, always have plenty of water, and keep hydrated.
At Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, you can enjoy sunny beaches, go kayaking, ski or snowboard at Squaw Valley, and hike mountain trails. You also can visit some of the casinos. For those motorcycle riding in California, you can take a ride from Reno and around Lake Tahoe. Starting in Reno, Nevada, take Highway 395 west. Then head west on Highway 70. Go south on Highway 49 to Highway 89. Follow Highway 89 to Truckee, California. Head south to King’s Beach on Lake Tahoe’s north shore. Take Highway 28 east to Highway 431 then Highway 395 takes you back to Reno. This loop will take you past fields of grazing cattle as you climb up to Lake Tahoe. It is comprised of photographic views of mountains, valleys, and the lake. The road is twisty but well-maintained with some blind spots and hairpin turns. Some spots have rock face on one side and sheer cliffs on the other side. Your motorcycle should be in good repair, especially the brakes, and drive carefully.
Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake, in the San Bernardino Mountains, is seven miles long and one mile wide. It offers fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, sailing, power boating, sailboarding, windsurfing, parasailing, waterskiing, jet skiing, snowboarding, and skiing. You can also take a 91 mile, 2-1/2 hour loop around the lake. Start in Highland, California and go north on Route 330 to Running Springs. Then take Route 18 east to Big Bear Lake. Continue around the lake until you reach Stenfield Cutoff. Turn left on Stenfield Cutoff and go across the lake to Route 38. Go east on Route 38 following it to where it joins with Route 18. Then turn left and follow Route 38 through the San Bernardino National Forest. Follow Route 38 as it turns west and takes you to the Redlands area where you can explore a quaint little California town. Be warned that it does snow in the Big Bear area in the winter.
Hope you enjoy this variety of California destinations, and maybe you will have time to explore more than one destination.