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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

7. Endless Bends

Regardless of the destination, California’s Central Coast region offers a density and diversity of “motorcycle roads” unlike almost anyplace else on earth. Planned carefully, a rider could work out a route that can potentially lead to arriving home with more center tread than sidewalls.

California Central Coast - Gibraltar Road

Positioned nearly dead-center in the state, the only paved connector between highways 1 and 101 is Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. While paved over its entire length, this is definitely not a “beginner road.” Endless tight curves, occasional sand in the road falling from the hills above, and a complete lack of guardrails, means a lapse in concentration on this road are likely not forgiven. The reward is an almost dizzyingly twisty path featuring ocean views from high above, riding through a dense forest canopy, gigantic live oak trees in vast grasslands, and the available option of riverside camping.

California Central Coast - Gibraltar Road

Moving inland, Interlake road and highway 58 carry riders towards the Carrizo Plain via a well-maintained path of sweepers, largely devoid of traffic. Even less company can be found on the racetrack-like curves of Hudson Ranch Road. In an almost ironic way, getting closer to the dense city of Los Angeles reveals a library of famous, high-quality motorcycle roads. Malibu’s Decker Canyon, the aptly-named Stunt Road, Latigo Canyon Road, and Mulholland Highway with its famed “Snake” are all part of this lexicon of lanes known so well in the motorcycle community.

8.  Ideal Dirt Roads For Big Bikes

California Central Coast - East Camino Cielo Road


As much good pavement as can be found on a ride through Central California’s coast, nearly as many unpaved routes are available as well. Descending from roughly 4,000 feet above Santa Barbara, West Camino Trail is fun, scenic, and throws in just enough challenges to keep things interesting on a fully-loaded adventure motorcycle.

California Central Coast - Coast Ridge Road
California Central Coast - Carrizo Plain

Through gaps in the forest, Plaskett Ridge Road provides views of the Pacific to the west and inland valleys far below to the east. Veering off this road for the short out-and-back trip to San Martin Top is well worth the detour just to take in the singular views of the Pacific Ocean from that spot, or pick a campsite and remain for the evening. The Old Coast Road is a well-maintained route between Andrew Molera State Beach and the Bixby Bridge. Views of the coastal mountains and ocean beyond can be taken in at the southern and northern ends of this 10-mile-long road, and towards the midsection, riders are treated to a tree tunnel and a couple of bridge crossings over the flowing Little Sur River and its South Fork Little Sur tributary.

9. Keep Cool in the Summer

California Central Coast - Coast Road

One of the summer challenges faced by adventure motorcyclists in California is oppressive heat in the deserts and many of the inland mountains. Average summer temperatures can hover around 100 degrees in some of the lower-lying deserts, and Death Valley holds the distinction of having the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth (134 ºF). Turns out, having the largest ocean in the world parked next to a favorite riding area is convenient. The Pacific air mass pushes its influence just far enough into California that riding the coastal mountains is entirely comfortable year-round. Clashes between extremes in inland versus coastal temperatures result in pervasive morning fog along the coast, however that usually burns off by mid-day to reveal enchanting ocean views.

10. Endless Ocean Views

California Central Coast - Malibu

California’s coastal mountains largely run parallel to the coastline, creating a grandstand for seeking out views of the Pacific Ocean. Among the nosebleed seats in this stadium are Camino Cielo West and San Martin Top, each providing views from as high as 4,000 feet.

Bixby Bridge Big Sur California
The beach in Malibu, CA

Through much of its length, PCH provides a front-row vantage point, highlighted in places such as San Simeon and Malibu. Both natural features and human infrastructure add to these scenes in places like the massive Moro Rock or expansive Bixby Bridge. For an up-close view, Oceano Beach offers one of the only spots in California where you can actually drive a vehicle on the sand next to the surf. 

Planning Your Trip

Riding Terrain: While the riding is very high quality, a trip through California’s Central Coast is all about scenery and vistas. The list of possibilities to see on a ride up this enchanted coastline is perhaps best explored without specific destinations in mind. There’s a lot to take in, so riders could very easily find their own gems for a “best of” list. This route is roughly 80% asphalt and 20% dirt with a total of about 800 miles. Most of the dirt options are relatively mellow, with a few rocky or sandy (or muddy in the winter months) challenges mixed in here and there. The route outlined in the tracks is a more fast-paced three-day trip. Adding an extra day should allow for more time to pause at the highlight spots, and arrive early enough at a camping or lodging destination to take in what’s there.

California Central Coast - East Camino Cielo Road

Infrastructure is sparse at best along this coastline, and nonexistent in some cases. Depending on the range of one’s motorcycle, topping off with fuel at Gorda is recommended should one want to veer up into the mountains at that point and do some exploring. Staying on PCH, it’s only 35 miles from Gorda to the next available fuel station in Big Sur, so range is only a consideration should one want to do a lot of exploring in the mountains between Highways 1 and 101.

Weather: While temperatures average mid 40’s to mid 60’s in winter, and high 50’s to high 70’s in the summer, the thick marine layer combined with sometimes fierce winds can result in this coastline feeling extremely cold. Wide swings in early/late temperatures compared to mid-day mean carrying at least an extra layer to have handy is recommended. Averaging 280-290 sunny days per year, the chances of good weather are high outside of traveling during the wettest period around February.

California Central Coast - Old Coast Road

Camping/Lodging: Numerous world-class campgrounds are scattered all along California’s Central Coast. Limekiln, Plaskett Creek, Kirk Creek, and Pfeiffer Big Sur to name a few. Supply and demand applies heavily to these prime locations along the coast however, and reservations often need to take place weeks, or even months in advance to find a spot. Fortunately, more adventurous travelers can simply point their bikes up into the hills and seek out places to tuck away in the forest among several of the designated camping areas. For those riders looking for more refined surroundings, Ventana Big Sur, Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur Lodge, and Big Sur River Inn are among the many options available to riders not toting their own accommodations along on the bike.

Closures: Check for closures before leaving on your trip. Several of the more developed campgrounds were closed during our recent trip due to COVID-19, as well as the beach drive in Pismo and the Solvang Motorcycle museum. Also there is a ‘Road Closed’ sign at the intersection of West Camino Cielo Road and Rufugio Road but the road was easily passable on an Adventure Bike. Also check for fires in the area during the fire season. Some campsites may also have fire restrictions.

Gear We Used

During our expedition along California’s Central Coast, we rode through a variety of different terrain and weather conditions. We chose equipment for the trip we could feel confident would keep both our bikes and bodies protected.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite products we used during the trip:

You can read more about how these products performed during our expedition, on our Tumblr Page.

Maps and GPS Tracks

We’ve put together a route through Central California’s Coast that will allow you to visit all the places mentioned in this Ride Guide and more during a 3- to 4-day trip. Detailed GPX tracks and a larger interactive map are available for download free.*

* Terms of Use: Should you decide to explore a route that is published on ADV Pulse, you assume the risk of any resulting injury, loss or damage suffered as a result. The route descriptions, maps and GPS tracks provided are simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due diligence. It is your responsibility to evaluate the route accuracy as well as the current condition of trails and roads, your vehicle readiness, personal fitness and local weather when independently determining whether to use or adapt any of the information provided here.

View Larger Map

Photos by Stephen Gregory

Author: Jon Beck

Jon Beck is fulfilling a dream of never figuring out what to be when he grows up. Racing mountain bikes, competitive surfing, and touring as a musician are somehow part of what led Jon to travel through over 40 countries so far as an adventure motorcycle photographer, journalist, and guide. From precision riding for cameras in Hollywood, to refilling a fountain pen for travel stories, Jon brings a rare blend of experience to the table. While he seems happiest when lost in a desert someplace, deadlines are met most of the time.
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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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