Ever hear the old saying that life's about the journey, not a destination? Out here in Northern California, we tend to take it a step further: Here, sometimes the journey is the destination. Transit time in our lovely region isn't just a way of getting from Point A to Point B – it's an eye-opener in and of itself. Just ask anyone who's ever taken a bicycle tour, big or small, around our neck of the woods!
With summer winding down, now's the perfect time to saddle up and see for yourself: heatwaves are fading in favor of sunshine and mild temperatures all over the region, even as San Francisco's perpetual layer of fog is taking a vacation. And to help you take advantage of the perfect weather while it lasts, this week we're bringing you the best biking destinations and routes in the mountains, along the coast, and more.
The Marin Headlands
Between its high-altitude views of San Francisco, its abundance of beach-and-forest scenery, and its close proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge, it's no wonder the Marin Headlands is a popular destination for cyclists of all kinds. Conzelman Road, which winds around the edge of the national park, is a favorite route for those with hamstrings of steel. While it's a tough mile-plus climb up the road, past carloads full of fellow picture-snappers, the views from the top are well worth the effort: think postcard-worthy panoramic Bay vistas and a full city skyline. Further inside the park's boundaries, there are valley trails for beginners and ridge trails for mountain bikers (check out a full map of the Headlands' bike trails). Didn't bring your own bike? No problem: check out day rentals of mountain bikes from Stoked SF in the nearby town of Sausalito.
The Headlands also boasts a loop track taking cyclists around Conzelman Road, through historic Fort Barry, and down to the posh waterfront town of Sausalito. For a truly relaxing ride, even the most casual of cyclists can always opt to tool around town on a rental from the Sausalito Bike Company.
For more on biking in the Headlands, see what the experts have to say over at the San Francisco Chronicle.
If you go: Stay at HI-Marin Headlands, housed in a cluster of historic buildings near the Marin Headlands Visitors' Center.
Casual biker? Hardcore cyclist? Something in between? It doesn't really matter how you'd classify yourself: Monterey's the place for people who pedal at all levels. The swanky-quaint little beachside town just a few hours south of San Francisco has long been known to surfers, shoppers, and strollers, but can now at cyclists to that list.
The region's Coastal Trail, which runs from Castroville, just north of the city, to Pebble Beach, just south of the Monterey Peninsula, covers some pretty spectacular ground. For a long-distance outing, whir past the enormous Fort Ord dunes near the town of Marina, down past Steinbeck's stomping grounds in downtown Monterey, and on to the edge of Pebble Beach, where golf courses, spas, and million-dollar views are as easy to spot as million-dollar houses. It's all a smooth ride down the paved trail, which accommodates both walkers and riders – but no cars – while hugging the California coast line. For even more route ideas, check out the Monterey Visitors' Bureau's top 10 local bike rides.
If you go: Stay at HI-Monterey. An affordable option in the land of pricey stays, this little gem of a hostel has an unbeatable location just minutes from Cannery Row and the aquarium, plus secure bike storage and a wealth of local cycling information. Fancy a casual roll through town? Hostel guests get a discounted rate of $18 per day at nearby Blazing Saddles, making afternoon rides easy and affordable.
The Point Reyes National Seashore may be best known to hikers, beachcombers, and wildlife-watchers, but it's also a fantastic destination for adventurous cyclists. The bulk of the bike trails here are off-road and shared with walkers and horseback riders, so they're best for more experienced cyclists. But if you've got the skills and the equipment, they're well worth your time: trails here will take you through forests, along coastal land, and past much of the wildlife the National Seashore is legendary for.
If you enjoy photo-snapping as much as biking, you can even cycle along several of the trails favored by HI-Point Reyes front desk agent and photographer extraordinaire Lacey Bediz. Pack up your camera and lens and bike along the Estero Trail, the Tomales Bay Trail, or the Bolinas Ridge Trail for a glimpse of the settings that inspire Lacey and other serious photogs every day.
If you go: Stay at HI-Point Reyes, the only accommodation within the boundaries of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Half Moon Bay
A quaint little town on the Pacific Coast, Half Moon Bay is an easy stop on Highway 1 between HI-Point Montara and HI-Pigeon Point. Half Moon Bay's got a compact downtown area that's a breeze to cycle, but the town's real draw for bikers is its Coastside Trail. Connecting four different beaches over the course of three miles, the trail makes it easy to take in the rugged coastline without dealing with rugged terrain. Rent bikes in town by the hour or the day at Bike Works, about a mile inland from the southernmost part of the trail, or bring your own cycle and store it at your hostel.
For more cycling fun while the sun's still out, why not take in views of the city skyline on a Bike the Bay tour with one of our three San Francisco hostels? For adventures further afield, head up HI-Portland Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon. Our Portland hostel's a great jumping-off point for cycling adventures around town and around the entire Pacific Northwest. Plus, this hostel's super bike-friendly, with dedicated cycle storage, a fix-it station, and a $5-per-night discount for guests staying over during bicycle tours!