Journey of Gold: Exploring California’s Central Coast

Does life inspire cycling or is it the other way around?

This could be a post about my trip to Santa Rosa last September, but a writer’s block has only taking me through half of a two part series.

I should have written about an experience defining a higher purpose to explore with the scarcity of human activity enhancing the beauty of my surroundings, but it’s hard to put into words.

Instead, I just do.




My love for San Luis Obispo and the greater county area has been shared many times before, but through all my travels, I’ve never had the same visceral connection cycling.

Maybe the landscapes haven’t been as definable as I’d liked or my routes have avoided traces of California’s earlier history, but bottom line is these rides weren’t quite as memorable as my most epic ones.

Fast forward to the anomaly that is Mr. & Mrs. CiclaValley’s birthdays being back to back following Independence Day.

This way holiday time for us and while staying in SLO proper was a safe choice, we decided to try Cambria because it is close to the beach.

Having stayed at one of the newer hotels on the coast previously and with a name that could very well been used in Game of Thrones, I didn’t think Cambria had much character let alone history.

Expectations were low, but the town, rides and sidetrips made this weekend a total reinvigoration of my NorCal trip.

I thought my love for the Pacific Coast Highway was regulated to just Marin County and above, but I felt a complete bonding on this trip.

Here’s a photo diary from my trip and hopefully you’ll fall in love with the Central Coast as much as I did.




On the way up, the more modern 101 doesn’t always bypass the historical, but Los Alamos started to boom in the 1860’s. The Union Hotel has been serving the area since 1880 and still has rooms and hosts weddings.




Thursday is the day to come to San Luis Obispo, especially if you can come in the evenings. The main street of Higuera is shut down for blocks for an oversized farmer’s market that attracts a lot of people from across the county.



Not related to the famous local beer & wine makers, but Firestone Grill got it’s name by opening up in tire shop in 1985. They have an amazing tri-tip sandwich that is a necessary stop for me every time I roll through town.




I have an unusual skill to be woken up by the sun even if my room is still just as dark. The advantage is I can get up early and head out of town for a bike ride before the family wakes up.



Those “Share the Road” and “May Use Full Lane” signs seem like cyclists are asking for permission to use the road when it is our right! I like these signs better.





…of course, that goodwill gets a little cancelled out by bike lanes like this in front of the high school. It’s only wide enough to be considered a stripe.




I wasn’t expecting Santa Rosa Creek Road to be so flat for the first few miles. Along the way, you’ll see a number of these century old homes marking the landscape still functioning today.




This truck used to haul around racing cars in a previous life. Now it looks pretty artsy now that rust and such is taking over.



I’ve never seen a more select group of curious cows before. Maybe they were security robots. Technology isn’t there yet, but I imagine we’re close, right?



The road tightened up with some rollers and a lot of tree coverage. There was also a high concentration of wild turkeys along the way. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t pose when asked…



The trees took a step back as the road steepened up. This is where I wished I had my road bike as the grade lingered in the high teens periodically.



As I emerged from the crevasse of shade, the hills just had that magically shade of California Gold thanks to the perfect angle of the sun. I also couldn’t get Huell Howser’s voice out of my head. Oh my!



Funny to see road signs up here. Santa Rosa Creek Road crosses Highway 46 and then turns into Old Creek Road descending to PCH. That would make a great loop, but I didn’t have the time. Instead, I caught a bit of dirt on Cypress Mountain Road.



Cypress Mountain Road is a great short cut to the western winery region of Paso Robles. It’s “closed” to through traffic even though it’s in better shape than you’d find most fire roads. There’s a few people living in homes along the way and others not living at all.





….and oh yes, the pitch was never too much either. It was a shame I couldn’t go on because this road seemed dreamy, but not before…



..I turned around for this. Wiggle your way up enough and your reward is a coastal view. That gave me what I needed that day.



On the way down, there were a number of cyclists riding Santa Rosa Creek Road, albeit on the flatter parts.



After some breakfast, we headed up the coast past San Simeon to Elephant Seal Beach. These guys provide hours of free entertainment. That is, until CV Jr. had to use the bathroom.



We got to Hearst State Beach and there were a number of bikepackers there. This is one of the few places nearby were the beach isn’t rocky and easy to get to.



Next to the beach in old San Simeon is Sebastian’s General Store which has been serving the coast since 1852.



That evening, we strolled up Santa Rosa Creek after dinner. I was a nice, quiet place in the shade that’s a therapeutic place to hang.



This building has gone through a few owners, in the mid-1940’s there would be a fight club among other Saturday night activities when it was a bar.




The Cambria Cemetery is tucked in the hills outside of the main town and dates back to 1870.



This morning, I instead headed north out of Cambria starting up the coast and it was obviously rewarding.





There aren’t many long offshoots from the highway in this area, but San Simeon – Monterey Creek Road is the longest north of town.



The ride was similar to Santa Rosa Creek in that it was flat to start, but steep pitches the deeper you go. A little less tree coverage though.



Some of these roads were uncomfortably steep, but the contrast in light was remarkable that morning.



This was my turnaround point because, I had no idea where this was heading. Plus, if I went down this, I’d have to come back up it too.




After getting washed up, the family and I drove further up the coast stopping at Ragged Point which felt like a holiday campus of fun. Outdoor BBQ, live music, gift shop, gas and more. Almost felt like a mirage.




Ragged Point is also the start of where PCH becomes cliffhangerish all the way to Big Sur. This is as far north as we went, but it put a fire in my belly to return!



Hearst Castle is absolutely lovely, but the folklore of the family rooted in our state’s history is what makes it special. Julia Morgan is arguably California’s greatest architect.



Admit it. You’re tempted to hop it this pool no matter what the consequences.



That evening, the wife and I had dinner alone in downtown while the folks watched CV Jr. There were a number of quirky shops owned by “retirees” making hobbies their new business.




I had been righting in ambient light for a half an hour, but it took the sun forever to make it over the mountains.



I know bike route signs don’t distinguish roads much here in Los Angeles, but seeing it posted here made me feel welcome.





A tough shot to get, but having my shadow stretched out among the grains was pretty trippy at high speeds.



Just wow. Sure, this was similar to the view from the day before, but how could you not love California?



I decided to head further north on PCH this morning and this photo now in an anachronism. The highway was closed north of this point for a year and a half due to slides. It recently reopened on July 20th meaning I’m thinking about riding it now.




I turned around just a few miles north of San Simeon, but the view back was completely golden.



Coming back through Old San Simeon, it was humbling to have a look around without all the tourists. Gave more of a feel for what it was like ages ago.



One last look back. This trip changed me and added the Central Coast to my list of fantastic places in California I need to explore. Soon.