Ride Retreats: The Warm California Sun
Orange County Getaway
For the dedicated road cyclist, life buried under snow is no life at all. In the throes of winter, you need to recharge your batteries and get in a solid weekend of warm weather riding. But given that work is always calling, Majorca probably needs to take a backseat this year. When it comes to consistent climates that serve up stunning rides here in the US, it’s hard to beat Orange Country, California. Forget what you’ve heard about theme parks and reality shows, the rolling coast of the Pacific is calling.
Where to Ride
On the first day of a trip, it’s best to take in the surroundings, see the sites, and get some intermediate miles under your legs. From Fashion Island, it’s worth going a little out of the way to ride through Balboa Island. It’s only a few miles from lodging, and to say that it’s quaint and gorgeous is an understatement. Ride through the small streets, imagine living in the luxurious cottages, and grab a few listing leaflets in case you love it and want to stay. Don’t be alarmed by the surplus of golf carts on the road, though. This isn’t a final resting place for the geriatric set, it’s actually because the roads are ridiculously narrow. If you’re hungry from the plane ride, pop into Cinnamon Roll Fair and grab a sweet bite to eat.
From there, take the ferry across to the Balboa Peninsula and take the bike path back up to Pacific Coast Highway. If you passed on the gooey goodies in Balboa, and you’re still hungry, hit up Bib Belly Deli, and then continue along PCH to Laguna Beach. It’s about 15 miles to the city center, and along the way, you’ll ride along majestic shore cliffs that offer up unprecedented views of the Pacific. The route isn’t particularly taxing, but there’re some pleasant rollers to keep your legs working.
Next is a quick drop into downtown Laguna Beach. There’s plenty of shopping, fine dining, and art museums to take in, but that’s better left to the nightlife. Cut left into the city center and head towards the infamous Third Street hill. A proving ground for locals, this short, 33% jaunt is best experienced in the big ring. And more importantly, a quick left after its short summit puts you en route to the “Top of the World” climb. A steep gradient, TOW kicks you up nearly 1100 feet in less than two miles.
But, as it’s name suggests, the view from the top is nothing short of stunning. After a harrowing descent, easy on that right banking corner along the sandstone wall, it’s time to repeat your steps and head back to the hotel. At the end of the day, you’ll have put in around 40 miles and 1600 feet of climbing.
DAY TWO: San Diego Century
Whether you were taught by Frankie and Annette or Keanu and Patrick, we all know that Southern California’s biggest draw is its epic coastline. So, if you’re going to be tackling a century, why not do it along the coast?
All you have to do is simply follow PCH south towards Laguna Beach. You’ll be able to follow this road until a little after San Clemente. There, you’ll find that this route hits a dead end at South El Camino Real. However, just hit a right on Christianitos Road and the bike path will be on your left after the highway. From there, you’ll find your way onto Old Highway 101 until you pass San Onofre. Don’t just blast past this spot, as it’s one of the most beautiful displays of shore cliffs in America.
After San Onofre, you’ll be linking up with the Camp Pendelton bike path. Be sure to have your ID and a helmet, because it’s a military base and you will not be allowed to enter the area without both of these items. After Pendelton, you’ll hit the highlight of the ride — the climb up Torrey Pines. It resides about 60 miles into the trip, and to be honest, it will hurt. Afterwards, though, it’s the home stretch through La Jolla and on to San Diego.
*Note: It’s advisable to download this route to your Garmin before your trip
I recommend stopping in at Pizza Port for a legendary beer selection and some award-winning, damn fine post-ride indulgence food. And now that your stomach is satisfied, the last step is to hop on the Amtrak Coast Liner and head back to Orange County. Don’t get too comfy, though, because the train stops in Irvine — about a 30-minute ride back to the hotel.
How to Get There
You have two options for airports. John Wayne Airport is typically more expensive, yet far more convenient. It positions you right at the mouth of the beautiful Back Bay, which borders Irvine, Costa Mesa, and Newport Beach. Car rentals are right downstairs from the exit gates, and there’s even an oversized luggage drop that’s separate from the baggage carousel. In other words, your bike is almost personally delivered to you.
If you choose to bypass renting a car, taxis are simple to come by — no one takes a taxi in Orange County unless they’re drunk or traveling. Fare is typically under $20 to get you to Fashion Island, and the trip is a short one — around 10-15 minutes.
Long Beach resides a little over 20 miles up the coast from Newport Beach, but it’s also one of the least crowded airports that you’ll ever fly in or out of. Flights here are typically cheaper, but fewer airlines include this airport in their flight paths. In the end, if you don’t intend on renting a car, you’ll pay for the difference in the hefty cab fare.
Whatever you do, don’t fly into LAX. You’ve been warned.
Where to Stay
Hotels are fairly centralized in this area, which is why I recommend staying right in the middle of the action in an area called Fashion Island. An outdoor shopping playground for locals, Fashion Island plays host to a wide array of lodging budgets. If you’re looking to land right in the middle, I recommend the Island Hotel Newport Beach. But if all-inclusive luxury resorts are more of your thing, and you’re willing to spend $500+ a night, head down PCH a little bit further and stay at the Resort at Pelican Hill.
Once you’re checked in, it’s time to build up your bike and hit the road. If you’re opting for a rental, I recommend calling Bike Religion in advance to your arrival. You’ll find high-end rental options to choose from, amazing customer service, and charming Australian accents. Owned and operated by John Tzinberg and his wife Rachel, you’ll find retired-pro experience and Oz personality oozing from the rafters. Any of the staff will also make you privy to the area’s best rides and destinations.
You have a big riding schedule, but food and drink are an eternal must when on holiday. Around the hotel, there’s pretty standard fare, consisting of nearly every chain restaurant that you’ve ever heard of, but you can eat that back home. If you want a more personalized experience, without losing your paycheck to a lobster, make the short trip out to neighboring Costa Mesa. Between the Lab and the Camp, you’ll find food suited to nearly every diet.
For the adventurous: A block down the street, you’ll find a host of amazing Japanese Restaurants. Yes, there’s sushi to be had, but more impressively, there’s Kansai style cuisine. Check out Oki Doki or its neighbor, Anjin.
For the spender: If you’re in the mood for intimate arrangements and soulful Cuban fusion, give Habana a try. In the mood for American soul food? I recommend dropping into Memphis for greens and bourbon.
For the Vegan and Vegetarian: Native Foods is a must-try for the non-carnivorous. However, if fake meats aren’t your thing, you need to go to 118 degrees — one of Orange County’s only raw vegan dining establishments.
For the Budget-minded and starving: Whip up an insane Japanese burger creation at Umami Burger or get a dose of local flavor at the institution known as TK Burger.
Best Bourbons: Memphis is known for a fairly extensive list of bourbons and cocktails, which will make for an effortless evening should you choose to dine-in.
Best Beer Selection: If you’re looking to put a couple down and stumble back to your room, the Yardhouse in Fashion Island reportedly has the largest collections of beers on tap in America. Just make sure to bring your ID, as they’re real sticklers in this department — I’ve been refused service with a passport.
Best Club Space: By far, Mesa has the most impressive ambience and personalized service in the area. The bartenders are knowledgable, impromptu movie nights are common, and the ceiling opens up on warm nights to show off the starlit skies.
Best Gay & Lesbian Bar: The Tin Lizzie Saloon is the oldest gay & lesbian bar in Orange County — dating all the way back to the 1950s. Regulars are commonplace, and here, you’ll find the absolute stiffest drink in town. This locale is on the small side, so expect to do more drinking and pool playing than dancing.
The Fast Track
Where to Stay: Island Hotel Newport Beach, Resort at Pelican Hill
Bike Rentals: Bike Religion, Dana Point Location (M-F 7-7, Sat 7-6, Sun 9-5)
The Route: Scenic route from the hotel to Laguna Beach
Where to Go for Lunch: Big Belly Deli, MENU, (M-Thurs 11-10:30, F-Sat 11-12, Sun 11-10:30)
Snack Time: Cinnamon Roll Fair, Call For Hours 949.673.4522
Restaurants: Oki Doki Izakaya, Anjin, Habana, Memphis Cafe, Native Foods, 118 degrees,Umami Burger, TK Burger, Pizza Port – Ocean Beach
Libations and Spirits: The Yard House, Memphis Cafe, Mesa, Tin LIzzie Saloon