Biking the coast: Swell on wheels


If you’ve ever driven between Ventura and the coastal town of Carpinteria, you’re familiar with the dramatic ocean vistas that beg for attention along the west side of the 101 Freeway. 

While making that drive in recent months, I’ve noticed a new bike path along a portion of the freeway, with bicyclists gliding blissfully alongside the ocean, shielded from traffic by a sturdy barrier. How, I wondered, do you get on that bike path? And is it possible to take it from Ventura all the way to Santa Barbara, which seems a more likely destination?

On a rare, free Sunday, I decided to find out. 

Before setting out, I scoured the Internet for information, but what I found was incomplete. I learned that the new bike trail, opened in September 2014, covers about four miles between Ventura and Carpinteria. But I could find no detailed maps showing how the bike trail connects with other bike paths. 

So, feeling like a true pioneer, I set off with my boyfriend to figure out the route. What awaited us was an epic, 29-mile adventure that took us past breathtaking beach scenery but challenged us with tedious stretches of road and confusing signage.

For those wanting to try this route themselves, I’ve divided this guide into segments. Pick a portion or ride the whole way. If bicycling fast, you can cover the entire one-way route in about three hours.

Starting out: Ventura through Emma Wood State Beach

We began our ride at the northern edge of Ventura, close to parking and the bike trail. You can park for free in a lot off of West Main Street, opposite Peking Street. There is also a bike shop close by, the Ventura Bike Depot, where you can rent bicycles for the day ($35 to $62). 

Begin your journey by heading north from the parking lot onto the bike trail that runs along Main Street. Follow the trail into Emma Wood State Beach, where it continues along the ocean for about two miles until you reach Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). 

Pacific Coast Highway

Get your fill of beach scenery along PCH. This approximately seven-mile stretch is marked by beach after windswept beach. Check out the surfers and seabirds, and gaze at the mountains rising up to the east.

Caution: You’ll be bicycling alongside the road, so look out for traffic. When you first enter PCH from the end of the bike path, there is no safe place to cross to the right side of the road. We rode along the left side until we felt safe crossing to the other side.

Hungry? Pull into Faria Beach Park on the left, about six miles in, for breakfast burritos and coffee at the Faria Beach Cafe. 

To continue, follow the painted bike path along PCH. You’ll leave the coastal views, pass a 101 Freeway entrance and ride under a bridge to Mobil Pier Road. This is where the new bike trail begins.

Oceanfront bike trail

Part of a $102 million California Department of Transportation freeway project, Ventura County’s new protected coastal bicycle trail is nothing short of gorgeous. Where bicyclists used to have to ride on the shoulder of Highway 101, they can now ride on a wide, two-way path beside the ocean, protected from traffic by metal railings. The ocean is within feet of your bicycle, and you can feel the sea-spray on your face.

The path takes you past the small community of Mussel Shoals, where you can stop for an oceanfront lunch at Shoals restaurant inside the Cliff House Inn.

Continue along the path until you hit Rincon Point — you’ll know you’re there when you see the surfers. The path ends at Bates Road beside the entrance to Rincon Beach Park. Here, the signs direct you under a bridge and onto the 101 Freeway.

To Carpinteria and beyond

Rincon Beach (also known as Bates Beach) is a beautiful spot for swimming and picnicking, and a worthy destination in itself.

However, to continue to Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, you will have to ride for a short stretch on the freeway. Follow the bike trail sign onto the 101 North. Then take the first exit — Exit 84 — toward Ojai/Lake Casitas. At the bottom of the exit ramp, turn left onto Rincon Road, then right onto Carpinteria Avenue. The three-mile ride will take you past the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve.

To explore Carpinteria, turn left when you get to Linden Avenue, which takes you into downtown. Otherwise, continue until you pass the Best Western Plus Carpinteria Inn, and turn right on Santa Ynez Avenue, which takes you over a bridge.

Onward to Santa Barbara

After crossing the bridge, turn left on Via Real and you will see the painted bike lane begin about half a mile in. The road is relatively unused by cars, although it runs next to the 101 Freeway, so there are fumes and noise. Continue for about five miles until you reach the small town of Summerland.

Summerland is a cute place to grab a drink, a snack, or browse antique shops. When you’re ready to continue, ride through downtown, past the “Big Yellow House” sign and the 101 Freeway North entrance. You’ll see a sign pointing to the protected bicycle trail on your left.

The trail again takes you out onto a road, North Jameson Lane; continue until you reach Olive Mill Road in Montecito. Carefully turn left on Olive Mill Road and follow it to the beach, where it becomes Channel Drive. Stop and take in the beauty of Montecito’s Butterfly Beach.

The final stretch

When you can bear to pull yourself away from the beach, follow Channel Drive up the hill and past the Santa Barbara Cemetery. Carefully cross Cabrillo Boulevard to the bike path that runs alongside the lake at Andree Clark Bird Refuge. Congratulations! You are now in Santa Barbara!

Continue on the bike path, crossing to the beach side at Milpas Street. Keep going until the historic Stearns Wharf is on your left. Stroll the wharf, where you can eat, shop and take in marine life at the Sea Center (part of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History). Or turn right from the bike path and follow State Street into downtown, where you can also browse shops, people-watch, and grab some food and drinks. Alternatively, you can collapse in a heap on the beach. Well done! You made it!

Returning home

The great advantage to this route is that you don’t have to bicycle back. Amtrak operates trains from Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. A one-way ticket from Santa Barbara to Ventura costs as little as $15. You will need to reserve a space for your bike when you purchase a ticket. Go to amtrak.com or call 1-800-USA-RAIL. Happy riding! 

Police bike tour seeks funds for Israeli cyclists


“We ride for those who died” — that’s the motto of the national Police Unity Tour (PUT), a grueling, three-day bicycle ride in which teams of police officers from across the United States pedal to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. The annual spring event is held to honor the memory of officers killed each year in the line of duty.

This year, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Lisa Herman wants to extend the tour’s motto to include a Jewish scope. Herman is gathering support to bring over two officers from Israel’s Northern Command to ride with the Southern California team in honor of Deputy Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer, who died last December after sustaining critical burns in the Carmel Mountains wildfire.

Tomer, then chief of the Haifa Police Department, was driving behind a bus of prison guard cadets that was surrounded by flames en route to evacuating a local jail. Tomer, 53, had been the highest-ranked policewoman in Israel.

“The way she died was so tragic and heroic. I felt it would be meaningful to ride for her on the tour,” said Herman, a field course coordinator for the LAPD Training Division.

As the Carmel fire blazed out of control in early December, Herman watched the news in horror as more than 40 people lost their lives in Israel’s worst natural disaster in recent decades. She contacted the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles about inviting a couple of Haifa law enforcement officers to ride in the PUT, and the Israeli government responded with enthusiasm. Karen Ofer, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) medic, and Mor Shlomo, a combat fitness trainer, were selected from among their peers to travel to the United States for the tour.

Herman, a member of the Happy Minyan, is now looking to raise $8,000 from the local Jewish community for the pair to participate. The funds would cover airfare, food and lodging, entry to the tour and bicycling equipment. So far she has raised about $7,000 from congregations including Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob, B’nai David-Judea and Sinai Temple, and also from the Israeli Leadership Council. The tour’s entry fees go toward the construction of a new law enforcement museum in Washington, D.C.

Herman says she would also like to raise a few thousand dollars extra to send back to Israel to help replant the charred Carmel Mountains, rebuild homes gutted in the blaze, and aid victims of burns and trauma from the area. The fire burned about 12,000 acres of land and consumed 5 million trees.

Commemorating Tomer during the 2011 tour would be especially significant because this year marks the 100th anniversary of women being able to serve in the LAPD, Herman said.

The Southern California PUT, slated for the week of May 8, will include about 200 riders from local police departments, sheriff’s departments and other law enforcement agencies. Starting in Somerset, N.J., the group will bike approximately 250 miles to the U.S. capital over three days. Along the way they will attend memorial services in the hometowns of slain officers in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Local residents and police usually come out to wave flags and show their support, Herman, who has ridden in the tour for the past three years, said.

On the third day, riders from all participating states will join ranks, and the group, expected to include about 1,500 cyclists, will ride the last 50 miles to the National Mall together. The event will culminate in a candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, at which the names of officers slain during the last year will be read. The televised vigil typically attracts up to 20,000 attendees.

Herman served in the IDF as a combat fitness trainer in the early 1990s — an experience that later led her to join the LAPD. She believes inviting Ofer and Shlomo into the PUT would help strengthen U.S.-Israel ties.

“It’s one more way for Israel to be represented in a positive light,” she said. “This is an important time for Israel to come out and talk about security, and the tour would offer a unique opportunity for [the officers] to get to know law enforcement agencies from all over the U.S.”

LAPD special forces have done joint training with Israeli officers in the past. This spring, an LAPD bomb squad will travel to Israel to glean expertise from bomb technicians there.

“Any cause that will shine a better light on our relationship with Israel is important to us,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, who helped raise funds for Herman’s campaign. “The connection between the U.S. and Israel is a strong one that goes beyond financial support. Interaction between the two countries is beneficial to both.”

Not only would the Israeli officers benefit from riding in the PUT, their presence would also be a boon to members of local law enforcement agencies, said LAPD Sgt. Gil Curtis, president of the PUT’s Southern California chapter.

“I think it would be a great opportunity,” Curtis said. With the officers riding alongside each other, “you gain a sense of camaraderie and sharing a common goal, and also being able to learn about policing issues from a different country. It would be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

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