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ADV Rides10 Great Reasons To Ride California’s Central Coast

10 Great Reasons To Ride California’s Central Coast

Explore a rugged coast with endless views, pristine forests & relics of the past.

Published on 10.30.2020
California Central Coast Adventure Motorcycle Ride Guide

Somewhere in Hollywood, buried under a pile of discarded relics from the silent film era, is a location scouting map of California. Like a geographical butcher’s chart, the state is carved up into various portions which can mimic nearly any place on earth. From oceans, to deserts, to snow-capped mountains, to people dressed up as Darth Vader popping into a coffee shop for a latte. “130 degrees please, with a dash of cinnamon and midi-chlorians.” This state has it all.

Recent media reports might make California seem like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. Fortunately, screens and reality don’t always line up entirely, and roaming around this elongated left coast state reveals a range of environments unlike anything found anywhere else in the world. Diverse areas featuring rare vistas, flora, and fauna, and all in close proximity to one another, mean just a few days of riding can yield incredible experiences. While the list is potentially much longer, we picked 10 reasons to ride California’s legendary Central Coast. Best of all, you can experience all of these  on a three-day adventure bike ride.

1. A Rugged, Pristine Coastline

California Central Coast Bixby Bridge

The famous Highway 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, begins its scenic tour just north of Los Angeles. After passing through Morro Bay however, virtually the entire road is a 120-mile-long postcard all the way to Carmel. The sheer volume of dramatic vistas at every curve in this extremely serpentine road can be matched  by few coastal rides anywhere.

California Central Coast - McWay Falls
California Central Coast - Moto Guzzi V85 TT

Both natural and artificial highlights greet riders at various points along Central California’s PCH. The highway follows a rugged coastline where windswept cypress trees cling to life on rocky cliffs and giant elephant seals roll up on beaches like barking mini submarines.Bixby Bridge holds the distinction of being one of the most photographed spots in California. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park mixes riverside camping, proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and giant redwood trees well over 1,000 years old. McWay falls is a gem hiding in plain sight, directly below PCH. Having no direct path to the beach, visitors who know where to find this location can simply park on the side of the road and peek over the cliff to reveal a scene looking more like something out of a fantasy movie than anything one would expect to encounter in real life.

2. Explore the Giant Redwoods

California Central Coast - Riding in the Redwood Trees


Picking one aspect from the list above, the Giant Redwoods along California’s Central coast are an experience in themselves. This dense forest immediately adjacent to the Pacific Ocean is a host of trees which have been standing here roughly four times longer than the U.S. has existed as a country. Some 300 feet overhead, the forest’s canopy envelopes visitors here in diffused shadows. Numerous hiking trails snake along the forest’s floor, making this location a great stop to get off the bike for a quick hike up to Pfeiffer Falls, or simply take in the view of these magnificent trees. With a trunk 31 feet in diameter and estimated to be as old as 1,200 years, the Colonial Tree is the largest standing in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Given these trees are estimated to live as long as 2,200 years, this bodes well for visitors being able to enjoy this site for years to come.

California Central Coast - exploring the redwood trees
California Central Coast - REV'IT! Defender Pro GTX suit

This “Mini Yosemite” as it’s known to some, can also be experienced from behind the bars while riding. A short distance to the north, the old unpaved Coast Road begins at Andrew Molera State Beach, and winds through the hills all the way to the Bixby Bridge at its northern terminus. Riders through here will experience wide open coastal grassland views, navigating tunnels of giant redwoods, and some of the best views to be had of Bixby Bridge before again meeting up with the pavement of PCH.

3. Explore Relics of the Past

Natural wonders in the form of 1,000-year-old trees are echoed by artificial curiosities during an exploration of this section of California. Almost hidden, and just mere feet off a narrow paved road twisting through a community of mountain cabins just above Santa Barbara, the Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park is a fortunately preserved and protected collection of brilliantly colored and completely mysterious artwork created by early residents of this land. Age estimates vary, but people were hanging around here decorating the inside of this cave roughly between the time Galileo discovered Jupiter has moons and Isaac Newton was lobbing cannonballs to figure out why fruit falls down.

California Central Coast - Chumash Painted Cave
California Central Coast - Chumash Painted Cave

A similar example of this cave art exists at Painted Rock, an alcove of rock which Native Americans began decorating with sacred images between 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Located in the heart of the Carrizo Plain National Monument, this rare desert ecosystem is home to a variety of wildlife, one of the largest undisturbed alkali lakes in California, and numerous relics from the farming attempts that began in this harsh environment around the late 1800’s. Both the environment and wildlife which can be found here lead to the area’s nickname of “California’s Serengeti.”

For history buffs preferring more recent curiosities from the industrial age, the Solvang Motorcycle Museum is a must-see for any rider passing through the area. Tucked away in a nondescript business complex, walking through the door underneath the small sign marking its location reveals a singular collection of rare and vintage motorcycles, including names such as AJS, BMW, Ducati, Gilera, Matchless, Moto Guzzi, MV, Norton, Triumph, Velocette, and Vincent.

4. Rare Wildlife

Wildlife viewing can perhaps be a nuanced thing, most fully appreciated by a trained and experienced eye. A birdwatcher, for example, can likely spot something and from it’s markings identify the genus and species, and perhaps offer some interesting information about it. For the rest of us, seeing a living thing that weighs more than two bowling balls and has a wingspan nearly double the length of the average adventure motorcycle is impressive, in a monster-truck-like way. The California Condor fits this description, and riders passing near the Bitter Creek Wildlife Refuge might be offered a glimpse of one of these behemoth creatures soaring above the rolling hills.

California Central Coast - Elephant Seals
California Central Coast - San Simeon Elephant Seals

If oversize birds aren’t your thing, California can go much bigger. Seal Point seems to hold no extraordinary qualities when compared to its neighboring beaches, yet it’s been chosen as a primary breeding ground for California’s elephant seals. Up to 16 feet long, and weighing in at roughly 5,000 pounds, these massive coastal residents contradict their size with how easily they traipse around the beach here. Something as long as an average pickup truck and weighing nearly twice as much shouldn’t be able to move like that, and their bark can rival just about any vehicle’s horn for imposing volume.

California Central Coast - Carrizo Plain Pronghorn Antelope

Speaking of moving around, for speed freaks, California has you covered as well. Over long distances, the Pronghorn American Antelope is the fastest land animal in the world, and second only to the African Cheetah for top speed. Herds of these “speed goats” can be readily seen throughout California’s Carrizo Plain.

5. Extraordinary Sunsets

The West Coast is blessed because the earth spins counterclockwise. This prograde rotation means each evening, anyone riding along California’s coast will experience a day concluding as the sun dips below a horizon made up of the Pacific Ocean. As the golden hour fades to the magic hour the entire environment becomes a brilliantly lit studio for a time. Opportunities to photograph during these sunsets are ideal, as is simply sitting back to take in the view.

California Central Coast - San Martin Top
California Central Coast - Coast Ridge Road

Vantage points such as San Martin Top and Prewitt Ridge, offer rugged options to experience this display. Posting up on any given beach is also a good choice, as clear evenings become the great equalizer of vistas, and the entire California coastline is bathed in an equal share of pristine light.

6. Camping At Its Best

As long as you’re stopping to take in a sunset, best to pick a spot you don’t have to move from once darkness settles in. Fortunately, many of these same vantage points for taking in the sunsets along California’s coast also offer pristine camping options. Certain times of year, particularly in the summer months, the marine layer can be oppressively thick all the way down to the water’s edge. This gloomy blanket can be escaped by simply riding up into the mountains anywhere along this whole stretch of coastline.

Camping San Martin Top
Motorcycle Camping Pewitt Ridge
Motorcycle Camping Big Sur

At some point, riders will find themselves suddenly going from thick, almost fog-like clouds, to popping out into blinding sunlight, revealing a vivid landscape of trees growing on what appear to be islands of land floating on a sea of clouds. Dirt roads and paths wind through these trees, dotted with campsites. Aromatherapy in the form of pine trees mixed with salt air, is backed up by an almost comical soundtrack of sea lions barking from the ocean below, only about a mile or so away as the crow flies.

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Author: Jon Beck

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October 30, 2020 5:59 pm

Excellent article.

November 7, 2020 2:00 pm

A prong jumped out from behind a bush near Clayton New Mexico just as I was passing by on ride a few years ago. It jumped right over me so close I could have reached out and grabbed his little richard.

November 18, 2020 5:18 am

Anyone have any opinions about someone traveling to California and doing this with the current lockdown situations? Thanks.


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