I picked a spot at the edge of a parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport and put the folding Bike Friday together, under the watchful eye of a cab driver.
Because I was already out west on a three day vacation to Las Vegas, I had taken a few more days to bicycle in Southern California. The weather back home in North Carolina was terrible.
Bought in advance, a one way ticket from Las Vegas to LAX on Southwest was only $44.00. I had arrived early on a Saturday afternoon and had taken the ten minute hotel shuttle from the airport. I had a reservation at that hotel the last night of this trip, five days hence, and they had agreed to watch the bicycle suitcase for me.
Contrary to popular perception, Southern California is not as hostile to bicycles as many areas, certainly not as hostile as my recent trip to the hinterlands around Savannah Georgia.
This was the first trip with my new set of expensive front and rear rechargeable bicycle lights that I keep turned on all the time, as a safety factor.
At 3:00 PM I bicycled off into Los Angeles, heading first towards the beach, then along the coast to San Diego, 140 miles to the south. This first afternoon I hoped to get to Redondo Beach, maybe even Long Beach, by dark.
Looping around LAX airport and heading towards the beach, there were bike lanes and traffic was not heavy.
Parallel to the beach, Pershing Drive goes right by the end of the runways with airplanes from all over the world landing just above my head.
Soon I was able to take a right and bicycle right down to the Pacific Ocean.
To bike along the beaches of Southern California is some of the most scenic urban bike riding in America. There are gaps, sure, and that is part of the problem and part of the adventure. Arriving at the beach here about three miles from the airport hotel, it felt like paradise.
The bike path is right on the beach, this continues for miles and miles, all the way to Redondo Beach and a few miles beyond. Surfin” USA by The Beach Boys lists these towns one by one, and I would be biking through almost all of them during the next three days.
It was about to get dark and there were only a few lodging options. I found this motel in Redondo Beach on Pacific Coast Highway, about six blocks from the beach; low cost, no frills, but certainly adequate, not at all sleazy.
I had eggplant parmesan that night at Mama D’s, seemingly the best option that was within walking distance to the motel. It was a little too family friendly, tons of kids running around as I joined all these people waiting in line for a table. The management was very welcoming. It was a Saturday night; what would you expect? Despite the insane housing prices here, and L.A.’s reputation as being a multicultural stew, some of the beach areas seem almost 1950’s in their outward show of wholesomeness.
The next morning I biked past more evidence of this 1950’s vibe.
Biking south from Redondo Beach there is no beach bike path for about eighteen miles in and around Long Beach CA. One just has to meander through residential streets, trying to stay off Pacific Coast Highway as much as possible. South of Long Beach the delightful beach bike path would resume.
Inland from the beach the neighborhoods become more diverse. It is insane that little houses cost about a million dollars.
But Just Say No to condos and apartment complexes!
My bike ride this day went right through Torrance CA, the childhood home of Jan & Dean. This is just a few miles south of Hawthorne CA, childhood home of The Beach Boys. I passed by an early sixties surfer van! On second look, maybe this was not so romantic, was somebody living in this van, is that why the windows are blocked out? I would see more egregious examples of this later in the trip.
It was Sunday and commercial truck traffic around the ports was negligible. On a weekday I imagine bicycling this stretch would have been terrifying.
On this bright clear day with a temperature in the sixties, snow covered mountains rose in the distance.
On a side street near one of the ports I passed this place at 10:30 AM. Despite my rule about always stopping for great food, I just was not hungry and I kept biking. I’ll bet this is some of the best Mexican food in L.A.
While even older areas around Los Angeles still seem suburban, Long Beach feels urban, like a small city plunked down in the L.A. megalopolis.
The older neighborhoods of Long Beach have attractive hundred year old houses.
The Queen Mary has been parked in Long Beach since 1967. I wished I had been able to bike this far the previous day, so that I could have stayed on the ship as a hotel.
Long Beach does have a beach, and a lovely bike path that extends south, with a couple brief interruptions, for a total of twenty miles, through Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, and Huntington Beach almost all the way to Newport Beach.
I grew up in Virginia Beach and was a decent surfer for a while, although I was so uncool I never hung with the surfing crowd and I mostly surfed alone. Huntington Beach is the home of the International Surfing Museum, which I did NOT visit. I had lunch at a stylish place near the Huntington Beach pier; a California-ish healthy sandwich served by a young guy that looked like a caricature of a bleached blond surfer dude, except that he spoke with an English accent!
Back on the bike I passed through Huntington State Beach where the beach was enormous. On this Sunday afternoon it was all staked out for organized athletic events, especially Ultimate Frisbee and Beach Volleyball. Weren’t these sports invented around here?
The beach narrows down and the mountains come down to the sea just before Newport Beach, one of the wealthiest communities in America. The bike path on the beach stopped. For a while I cycled along the backside of oceanfront homes, and then through the streets of Newport Beach.
It is eleven miles of mountainous coast south from Newport Beach to Laguna Beach. Part of the way I had to bicycle on Pacific Coast Highway, which at least had a bike lane shoulder. I later passed through Crystal Cove State Park, which has an off road paved trail.
Back home in Chapel Hill I have a good friend, songwriting partner, and blogging coach named Dan. He grew up in Laguna Beach. His son Peter, who grew up in Chapel Hill and was on the same high school cross-country team as my son Jack, is now in Laguna Beach, living in part of an uncle’s house. Peter works at a high-end oceanfront hotel called the Inn at Laguna Beach. He very thoughtfully got me a super discount on a room. I insisted on a selfie with him.
Yes, Dan says some of the rhythm of Laguna Beach has been lost since his childhood, since the odd wayfaring surfer can no longer afford to live there, or even eat or sleep there. Still, I like Peter’s description of “shockingly beautiful.” My description is “terrifyingly nice.”
I walked around just as the sun was going doing down, which it does in an artful way every afternoon over the Pacific. Crowds stand around Heisler Park, just to soak in the feeling. Sure, there were foreign tourists brandishing selfie sticks, but aren’t I a tourist also?
That evening I ate and watched the Chiefs / Patriots game at one of the few semi-affordable places to eat in Laguna Beach, surprisingly good shepherd’s pie at Hennessey’s Tavern.
The next morning I biked around Dan’s old neighborhood, which rises up from the ocean on a hillside on the south side of town. Everything looked relaxed and low key. Spoiler alert: these houses are all now worth millions of dollars.
People seem to want reminders of the Beach Boys glory days, like an early sixties van.
Next to someone’s restored Mercedes convertible, a Woodie.
I turned from this Laguna Beach neighborhood and stated biking south on Pacific Coast Highway. It was still more than a day’s ride to San Diego.
Ten or fifteen miles south of Laguna Beach is the small community of Dana Point. The Boujour Cafe seemed a nice local spot to snag breakfast. Wrong. Way overpriced and pretentious.
Satiated by my $ 28.00 breakfast I continued down Pacific Coast Highway through San Clemente. There was a bike path pretty much the whole way.
Camp Pendleton, a U.S. Marine base, covers about eighteen miles of coastline, separating the southernmost part of the Los Angeles metro area with the northernmost points in the San Diego area. On a bicycle coming from the north, there is no real fence where the military base starts. The bike path along the coastline transitions into a pedestrian and bicycle path on a semi-abandoned highway between Interstate 5 and the beach.
This was too good to be true, an empty highway on a beautiful coastline with no cars, perfect weather and wind at my back. Ten miles into this bicycle perfection the path abruptly ended at a parking lot, right at an exit for I-5. Just beyond, in a third direction, was a military checkpoint. No, the soldier at the gate would not let me bicycle further south without some kind of permit that takes more than a day to obtain. The only way south was on I-5. There had been no sign warning me of this. Twenty years ago Alex and I had bicycled this stretch without obstruction.
I was stuck. I was not going to bicycle on I-5 unless absolutely necessary. I called an Uber, who showed up right away and cheerfully took me and the folding bicycle the remaining eight miles. He dropped me off in the streets of the beach town of Oceanside.
It was one or two in the afternoon, I had not had lunch yet, and it was still forty miles to San Diego. I decided to stop for the night at one of the beach towns along the way south. The lucky town turned out to be Encinitas. Along the way, biking was on the main highway or on parallel residential streets. Most of the way it was quite safe but a few stretches were dicey.
Encinitas, while not downscale, seemed not as deliberately upscale and self-important as some other beach towns along this strip. I want to give a big shout-out to the EconoLodge in Encinitas. A room there cost way less than a hundred dollars and was immaculately clean. There was even a decent free breakfast. The hotel was run by members of a southeast Asian ethnic group I could not distinguish.
The Italian restaurant a few doors down was not as affordable and the food not all that great. The conversation at the bar, however, was lively.
The next morning it was only about thirty miles to downtown San Diego but there were several large hills and complicated neighborhoods to navigate in between.
I did cycled up a very large hill / small coastal mountain, the top of which was covered by groves of what I assume are torrey pines.
The famous golf course Torrey Pines, owned by the city of San Diego, is right near the highway.
I headed to the right off the main highway and descended a long hill into the wealthy beach town of La Jolla. I imagine somewhere in here is Mitt Romney’s house with the car elevator leading to a four car garage.
Pacific Beach seemed much more democratic, as in democratic with a small d.
San Diego is unique in that its airport with only one runway sits right near its central city and on the waterfront. I biked along San Diego Bay by the airport, heading towards downtown.
The downtown Amtrak station was built for the Santa Fe railway in 1914. It is like going to church to take the train.
I had managed to get here in time to make the 1:35 PM departure, three hours to downtown Los Angeles. I could wheel the bicycle right onto the lower level of the train car.
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