A red-tailed hawk glides above the estuary, a solitary counterpoint to the hundreds of gregarious waterfowl below. Nearby, a wary great blue heron stalks the shore.
These are observations of a biker on one of many scenic bicycle paths that wind between the mountains and the ocean. Some of the most enjoyable are described below. The distances given are one way.
Most are flat and can be entered at many places if you wish to shorten your ride. Trails that have a few hills or are extremely long are rated as moderately difficult. It's always a good idea to carry drinking water.
Maps and books that detail paths are available at most bicycle and sporting goods stores. Members of the Automobile Club of Southern California can obtain the Southern California Bicycling booklet, which describes routes from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, free at AAA offices.
Upper Newport Bay (3 1/2 miles; easy): This route skirts the southern edge of Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, a 752-acre haven for thousands of birds. Beginning at Jamboree Road, follow one-way Back Bay Drive as it winds between bluffs and the estuary. Once you reach the overlook at Eastbluff Drive, either return the way you came or continue along the San Diego Creek bicycle path through San Joaquin Marsh for more bird-watching (turn left at Eastbluff Drive, then left onto the path just before Jamboree Road).
West Fork Trail, San Gabriel River (6 3/4 miles to Glen Trail Camp; easy to moderate): Rushing water and bird songs are the only sounds you hear along this sylvan path, which follows the boulder-strewn West Fork of the San Gabriel River in the Angeles National Forest. To reach the trailhead, drive about 13 miles north on California 39 from Interstate 210. Park in the paved lot just over the bridge past the trail sign. Camping is permitted at Glen Trail Camp; contact the Angeles National Forest, Glendora office, (818) 335-1251, for permit information and possible fire closure of trail.
Aliso Creek Trail (about 13 miles; moderate): From the foothills above El Toro, this well-marked path follows Aliso Creek through stands of eucalyptus and sycamore to Laguna Niguel Regional Park. Begin where El Toro Road starts, at the intersection of Santiago Canyon and Live Oak Canyon roads. About half a mile down El Toro Road, the path veers right to join the creek and, with few exceptions, remains separate from the road.
At Raintree Lane, cross El Toro Road and re-enter the trail. You'll wind through a shady park, pass under the San Diego Freeway and turn left along Paseo de Valencia. Turn right on Laguna Hills Drive and follow the path through Sheep Hills Park and under Moulton Parkway, where it rejoins the creek. After snaking through the hills, it ends at Alicia Parkway, across from the back entrance to Laguna Niguel Regional Park.
Point Loma Route (about 7 miles; moderate): Magnificent views greet you along much of this path, which leads from Ocean Beach Pier to Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego. Signs are posted wherever the route changes direction.
Take Newport Avenue to Cable Street and turn right, then left on Orchard Avenue and right on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. After riding atop Sunset Cliffs, with views of La Jolla to the north, turn left at Ladera Street, left on Cornish Drive and right on Hill Street. Take a right on Catalina Boulevard and follow it to Cabrillo National Monument, at the tip of Point Loma. Catalina Boulevard travels the crest of the peninsula, providing a panoramic view of Downtown San Diego, Shelter and Harbor islands, the Coronado Bay Bridge, the airport and the mountains behind the city.
South Bay Bicycle Trail (about 19 miles; moderate): This route traverses the beaches of Santa Monica Bay from Torrance to Santa Monica, rarely exiting the beach to travel along roads. The view, from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, includes the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains and Century City.
Start at Torrance County Beach, near the intersection of Paseo de la Plaza and Paseo de la Concha. Street parking is scarce; the all-day lots cost $4. Bike north past Redondo Beach Marina and King Harbor. The route follows Harbor Drive for several blocks between Beryl and Herondo streets, where it returns to the beach.
You'll pass Manhattan Beach Municipal Pier and Dockweiler State Beach. The path then crosses Ballona Creek and enters Marina del Rey near Fisherman's Village, at the mouth of the harbor.
Follow the signs inland on Fiji Way; just before Admiralty Way you'll cross Fiji Way and circle the harbor. Then cross Admiralty Way, cycle through Admiralty Park and veer right over Duck Pond to Washington Street. Follow Washington Street. to Venice Pier, where the path returns to the beach.
Head north along Venice Beach to Santa Monica State Beach, where the path ends in a cul-de-sac near the California Incline and Pacific Coast Highway. There are parking lots here (about $5 a day) for those beginning the path in Santa Monica.
Kenneth Newell Bikeway to Brookside Golf Course Overlook (about 4 miles; easy to moderate): Following the edge of lightly developed Arroyo Seco, this well-marked trail wanders through one of Pasadena's loveliest neighborhoods. You'll pass several parks and the Rose Bowl along the route, which travels uncrowded streets.
Park on San Pasqual Avenue in Arroyo Seco Park, near Stoney Lane. Cycle north to Arroyo Boulevard and turn left. Grand old mansions and cottages line the right side of the tree-shaded street, their gardens overflowing with flowers. Turn right onto Grand Avenue, left at California Boulevard, right on California Terrace, left on Arbor Street and right onto Arroyo Boulevard. Alternatively, remain on Arroyo Boulevard and rejoin the path at Arbor Street.
After passing under the Colorado Boulevard and California 134 bridges, you enter Brookside Park and arrive at the Rose Bowl. The path swerves right at Seco Street, but still follows Arroyo Boulevard. You can detour here to circle the Rose Bowl on a marked bike path. Otherwise, continue along Arroyo Boulevard to the overlook just past Everts Street to view Brookside Golf Course and the surrounding hills.
Bolsa Chica Path to Balboa Peninsula (about 14 miles; moderate): The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, home to snowy egrets and California least terns, is one of many attractions along this mostly flat beach route. You can often see downtown Long Beach and Santa Catalina Island.
Start at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Warner Avenue in Sunset Beach. Follow the oceanfront path south past Huntington Pier to where it empties onto Seashore Drive in Newport Beach. Continue south on Seashore Drive to 36th Street, where the path swings right one block to travel along the beach again. Journey past Newport Pier and Balboa Pier (follow the signs to take the ferry to Balboa Island); then turn left at E Street and right onto Balboa Boulevard. Continue south two blocks, turn right on G Street and left on Ocean Boulevard. This pleasant residential street leads you to West Jetty Park, where you can watch sailboats tack in and out of Newport Harbor. Just across the channel lie the cliffs and beaches of Corona del Mar.
Doheny Bikeway (6 1/2 miles; easy): Rural San Juan Capistrano is the setting for this path, which leads to Doheny State Beach and Dana Point Harbor. At the corner of Avery Parkway and Camino Capistrano, head south (left) on Camino Capistrano. You'll cycle by several orange groves and through El Camino Real Park before turning right at La Zanja Street, then left on Avenida de la Vista. To visit the San Juan Capistrano Mission or the architecturally acclaimed San Juan Capistrano Library, continue several blocks along Camino Capistrano.
Otherwise, follow the path at the end of Avenida de la Vista along San Juan Creek to Doheny State Beach. To continue to adjacent Dana Point Harbor, exit through the park's entrance and turn left on Dana Point Harbor Drive.
San Gabriel River Trail to El Dorado Park (5 1/2 miles; easy): This is one of the most popular sections of the San Gabriel River Trail, which runs about 37 miles from Seal Beach to Azusa. Pelicans and small owls are among the many birds often seen along the river.
Start where Marina Drive crosses the San Gabriel River in Seal Beach. When Coyote Creek diverges to the right, take the bridge that spans it and follow the San Gabriel River. Long Beach's 800-acre El Dorado Park, less than a mile past the bridge, has bike paths, several lakes and an 80-acre nature center.
Sepulveda Basin Bikeway (about 9 miles; easy): On clear days, there are wonderful vistas of the hills surrounding the San Fernando Valley along this path. It meanders through the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area and only enters the road for a short section on White Oak Avenue.
The trail consists of two loops joined by a Balboa Boulevard underpass. The eastern loop, which passes Woodley Park Model Airplane Flight Field and several golf courses, is the most scenic. A short detour east along Burbank Boulevard at Woodley Avenue leads to the top of Sepulveda Dam and overlooks the Sepulveda Wildlife Reserve. The western loop circles and crisscrosses a park; the section south of the Los Angeles River is the most pleasant. There are parking lots just north of Burbank Boulevard on Balboa Boulevard and east of Balboa Boulevard on Burbank Boulevard.