Monterey County is a year-round cycling paradise
Whether you’re into laid-back scenic pedaling, adventurous city cycling or hardcore mountain biking, Monterey County is the ideal destination for devotees of two-wheeled, muscle-powered motion.
This Central California county features hundreds of miles of bike trails and dozens of different options. And we’ve whittled our can’t-miss cycling list down to four primo activities: the stunning 17-Mile Drive, the popular Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail, the rigorous Pipeline Loop near Salinas, and the annual Sea Otter Classic bike fest.
For those who believe the only way to navigate the world-famous route around the Monterey Peninsula is by car: Think again. This iconic meander, which takes you past white-sand strands, cypress groves, seaside mansions and world-famous golf courses, is also bike-friendly.
Created in 1881, the 17-Mile Drive features a number of destinations that beg you to get off your bike and linger a while. Commune with Old California history at Spanish Bay. Ogle the resident harbor seals at Fanshell Overlook. Stand in awe before the Lone Cypress.
The route is extremely easy to follow thanks to great signage and a red-dashed line down the middle of the roadway. From Cannery Row, the best way to reach the drive via bike is by taking the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail into Pacific Grove and then following Sunset Drive around the shoreline to the 17-Mile Drive’s northernmost start point.
Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
The Coastal Recreation Trail is much more than just a lead-in to the 17-Mile Drive. This combined hiking/biking path takes in 29 miles of shoreline and farmland between Lovers Point Park in Pacific Grove and Castroville, the Artichoke Capitol of the World.
Much of the route runs along the abandoned Southern Pacific Railroad line between Cannery Row and Santa Cruz. Most of the southern portion, in Pacific Grove and the city of Monterey, is dead flat, which means easy riding for cyclists of all skill sets. Farther north, the trail becomes a bit more challenging, spangled with inclines over the dunes and along the bluffs of old Fort Ord.
Families, couples or solo riders can plan a whole day along the trail with stops at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, the Museum of Monterey, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Ord Dunes State Park and the Giant Artichoke in downtown Castroville. If you don’t want to ride all the way back into Monterey city, arrange a shuttle pick-up before you embark on your bike.
Hardcore cyclists, this is for you: The Pipeline Loop in Toro County Park near Salinas is the domain of serious mountain bikers, especially those skilled at negotiating steep, narrow routes.
Located on the south side of Highway 68 between Salinas and Monterey, the 4,756-acre reserve features native Central Coast vegetation, as well as indigenous wildlife such as coyotes, deer, eagles and even the occasional cougar.
The park’s most popular bike trail features a steep, single-track ascent of 1,800-foot Ollason Peak. The view of the Salinas Valley from the summit is stunning. But even more awesome is the ride back down, with its sharp turns, precipitous drop-offs and narrow margins.
Sea Otter Classic
An event called the Sea Otter Classic might sound like the kind of thing that’s open only to marine mammals, but this annual shindig is actually one of the world’s largest bike events. The next occurrence is slated for April 20 through 23, when around 65,000 cycling enthusiasts will gather in Monterey city for a long weekend full of rides, exhibitions, entertainment, food and drink.
The festival revolves around the Gran Fondo, which comprises three mass-participation recreational rides: a 51-mile coastal route along the shore of Monterey Bay, a 92-mile Carmel Valley route through the wine country, and a 23.4-mile mountain bike route through Fort Ord National Monument. All three events start and finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the legendary motor-racing circuit.
The Sea Otter Classic offers plenty of scope for pros too, including competitive downhill, cross-country, dual slalom and short-track mountain bike events, criterium, road and circuit road races, and a pro/elite stage race.
The rides coincide with related events in the area, like North America’s biggest bike expo (featuring more than 400 exhibitors), a bike fun zone and mountain bike day camp for kids, barbecue and beer garden, and international food court.
—Joe Yogerst for See Monterey