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!
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!