Our California Central Coast Tour

12 May

Wisely we chose to do another multiday bike tour in California to kick off the year of riding. We did a fully supported tour in Sonoma County and the Pacific Coast just north of San Francisco the Fall of 2011 and loved it. If you want to avoid cool temperatures and rain in the spring, California is generally a good place to do it.

Like 2011 we did our bike tour with Undiscovered Country Tours. Not only did we have the very excellent Scott bikes to use, but this year we both ended up with new 2013 CR1 Pro’s. As some of you know I ride a 2005 CR1 Pro, newly shorn in Campagnolo  Chorus and love it. I don’t know of another bike tour company that uses the quality of bikes UDC does and it’s one of the things that attracted us to them in the first place.

Our tour this time was a small group, just 6 participants and 1 guide. Like our other UDC Tour half of our group was from Canada – another plus for us – we love Canada and Canadians. I liked the small group; it allowed us to get to know each other better including having a few interesting political discussions at dinner. It isn’t too often Mark and I meet people who have similar thoughts on political and social issues given where we live and we both enjoyed it.

Now for the riding. Our group met in the lobby of the hotel in San Jose then we proceeded to the Amtrak station to take a train to Paso Robles where our tour officially began.

Day One – Paso Robles (4/21/13)

Today’s ride was a 23 mile loop around Paso Robles, We had the hottest weather (the only hot weather) of the entire tour. There were a few miles on a busy highway but otherwise we were on backroads with fairly light traffic.

One thing I was quickly reminded of was that not everyone defines rolling hills the same. To me rolling hills are rollers, up and down – no long ascents. To people on the west coast rolling hills are hills that eventually go down. Case in point: we have a local route we do with approximately the same amount of ascent and descent as this Paso Robles loop but it’s continuous up and down. None of our local ascents are a mile long. On the PR loop most of the 1873 feet of ascent was on one fairly continuous long climb so there are fewer downhills in which to recover. The climbs are longer and so are the descents which are fun because they’re usually not straight. Point being at the end of the day we may have roughly the same amount of ascent in feet as here, but the California ascending is more taxing.

*Clicking on the Garmin Connect Images will provide you with more data and detail.


Day Two – Paso Robles to Avila Beach (4/22/13)

Riding towards the Pacific coast is always exciting. Day two took us to Morro Bay for lunch then to Avila Beach where we would spend our next night. It was our longest day of riding the entire trip, 54 miles. Unfortunately we didn’t follow the coast, instead we went inland much of it along a busy highway (with shoulder).

If you look at the profile you’ll see there was a long climb of about 6 miles with the last 2 miles being fairly steep. To make up for that we had a long descent. One section of the descent was fairly steep and I definitely worked the brakes. I’m not used to climbs or descents like these. Notice my hands squeezing those brakes!


Also not used to the volume and speed of traffic we encountered on some of the roads.

We rode from Paso Robles to Avila Beach, stopped for lunch in a cool town on the coast, Morro Bay – home of a Prudential rock lookalike.


Much of the ride though had that lovely bucolic scenery we saw on our 2011 trip along the northern coast and Sonoma county.



Although I take most of my pictures while pedaling along, occasionally I do stop – in this case to get a shot of the beautiful field of California poppies.


All in all a good day on the bike!

As is the norm on bike tours, we had a great dinner on the boardwalk of Avila Beach and stayed in very nice digs at Avila Beach Lighthouse Suites. We slept to the sounds of the ocean.


Day Three – Avila Beach to Santa Maria (4/23/13)

Today’s route took us along mostly rural roads through vineyards and farms as we made our way from Avila Beach to Santa Maria. The ride was similar in mileage and in ascent to our previous day, but vastly different in experience. We had far less traffic along today’s route and far more bucolic scenery. Always a winner for me.

On a fair amount of our route today we had marked bike lanes or separated bike lanes. Another winner.

48.3 miles/3:41 time




Other scenes from today’s ride:







Day Four – Santa Maria to Santa Ynez (4/24/13)

Today was one of those days on the bike that perfectly captured what I love about riding a bike.

Stable of bikes

Before taking off in the morning, stable of bikes.

The ride started in a light drizzle and fog. Temperatures stayed cool even after the sun chased the fog and dampness away. We rode from Santa Maria thru the cycling town of Solvang before taking us to Santa Ynez, our home for the next two nights.

Typing on my android tablet is too tedious to write much but a few thoughts and memories:

Riding alongside field after field of beautiful crops of lettuce, cauliflower and bright red strawberries.

The speed of the farm workers working in the fields, literally running to pick.


The strong aroma of strawberries, cilantro, licorice.

The remoteness and quiet beauty of Foxen Canyon road.


Lunch at Zaca Mesa winery


The steep little climb right after lunch/wine tasting

Climbing "the wall", a very steep little climb and recognizing I can climb even when the grade is steep, I just have to be willing to suffer.


The thrill of the twisty descent into Ballard Canyon.

Great conversation and coffee with our fellow tour riders and guide at the infamous Bulldog Café in Solvang where the Postal/Discovery teams used to hang out back in the day. Interestingly, every single picture of Lance Armstrong has been removed.



And finally the luxurious Santa Ynez Inn – our home for the next two nights.



Day Five – Santa Ynez Loop (4/25/13)

Day 5 started out great. Our ride was a loop around Santa Ynez through Happy Canyon and an optional climb of “The Fig”. The Fig is Mount Figueroa, a legendary climb in Santa Barbara county. I hadn’t decided whether I was going to do the climb or not, I would decide at the base, depending on how I felt. I didn’t feel great and made the very wise decision to not attempt it. I did ride 1 1/2 miles of the road that takes you to the base of the climb and even it was steep (see the elevation profile on the Garmin details).

Beautiful too.


The plan today was to ride back through Happy Canyon (love that name) and Santa Ynez and Los Olivos past Neverland Ranch (yep) and to wait for the two riders and support van to come down the descent of The Fig.

As the rest of us made our way through Los Olivos I started feeling dizzy and nauseous. I thought I needed food so I had a gel and a pack of shot blocks. I continued to feel worse, but kept pedaling. Mark joined up with me and we waited under the shade of a tree for the others.

Once they arrived and it was time to head back I did something I’ve never done – I got into the support van and quit. I’ve never quit a ride, but I couldn’t go on. I was so dizzy I could hardly stand. Once I got back to the Santa Ynez Inn it went downhill from there. If you’re had food poisoning, you know. If you haven’t you don’t want to know. I’ve had food poisoning 4 times, and this is the worst I’ve had (I’m writing this May 12th and I’m still sick from it, saw my doctor again yesterday)!  I was able to get Phenergan from my local Doc which helped, but we missed our final dinner with our “tour-horts” which we were both disappointed about.

The only thing I had differently than the others, was dinner the night before at Dos Carlitos, apparently the shrimp I had were bad. I wish we had eaten somewhere else!

Day Six – Santa Ynez-Topanga (4/26/13)

Against my husband’s advice I rode the next morning. It was bad enough missing yesterday afternoon’s ride (downhill!) and the last (and best from what I heard) dinner with the group, I wasn’t going to miss the final ride too.

It was an out and back route from the Santa Ynez Inn to Topanga State Park. It was a fairly easy 21 miles, but it took all I had to do it.


The California Central Coast tour was great, and beautiful, but I would rate it below our 2011 California Coast and Wine Country tour which took us through Sonoma County and from Sea Ranch to Bodega Bay along the coast on Highway 1. Both have beautiful scenery – California is scenic wherever you go it seems. Overall though I would give the edge to the 2011 tour – and no, not because of my food poisoning this trip!

Total mileage for the Tour: 229 miles – Total Ascent: 8300 ft.


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For the Love of Bikes Blog by Susan Lash (2009 - 2014) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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