There is certainly something to be said about exploring an old familiar place in an entirely new way that lends itself to fresh perspectives and new memories. And because I am borderline obsessed with making new memories, I jumped at the chance to partner with my friends at Visit California to promote the Amgen Tour of California, currently happening NOW throughout the Golden State.
The assignment? Trace one segment of the Amgen Tour from San Jose to Monterey to Morro Bay. Now, I definitely did not pedal this entire 200 mile stretch by bike, but I did commandeer a sexy Domane SL 6 Disc borrowed from my friends at Trek Bicycle Sacramento Midtown for a good chunk of each portion of the route which certainly got the job done. Admittedly, I was pretty nervous going into this adventure as it’s been years since I’ve courted a road bike regularly in my Portland bike commuting days. As it turned out, Visit California paired me with a local cycling enthusiast in each of my three destinations to experience the local cycling culture and let me tell you — there’s probably nothing better than seeing a beautiful destination through the eyes of an experienced local who knows the ins and outs of the area better than most, especially when it comes to bike routes.
For more, check out my round-up on the California Now Blog.
San Jose: From Silicon Valley to Santana Row
Our first stop? San Jose’s infamous Santana Row district. I grew up in the East Bay, and have visited Santana Row countless times over the years for post-concert beers and shopping trips with girlfriends, but had never stayed the night in the area before. Turns out Hotel Valencia, Santana Row’s only hotel, was the perfect pitstop. After gorging on the best dinner of our lives at Left Bank Brasserie the first night, I was ready for my first long-haul bike ride along the classic Quimby loop with local cycling enthusiast Ron Aclan: a 18.5 mile journey with 2,500’ elevation climb. Joining us was my new friend Nathanael Billings, Seattle-based adventure photographer. Together, our clan enjoyed an afternoon ride in the San Jose foothills where Ron surprised us with an EPIC charcuterie board and beer tasting pre-prepared in the back of his car. Dinner that evening was at Mt. Hamilton GrandView, where we were treated to a delicious meal of ingredients sourced from a nearby garden and the best views of San Jose, followed by The Fairmont San Jose which I would highly recommend to anyone traveling to the area for business or pleasure. Then, Ryland and I loaded up the bike in the Jeep and off we went down the coast.
Monterey: Does It Get Any Better?
Not only did I grow up visiting Monterey, but I traveled there last year on assignment for See Monterey (my suggested weekend itinerary here) so it was a blast returning and getting to experience the region with fresh eyes. After meeting with the kind folks of Mad Dogs & Englishmen Bike Shop — Carmel’s first and only bike shop in over a century — I fell in love with e-bikes. Of course, it would be hard not to, after cruising down Pebble Beach’s 17 Mile Drive at 20mph! If you’re visiting the region, I HIGHLY recommend renting an e-bike from Mad Dogs for the day. Just make sure to bring a sweatshirt, as it can get a bit chilly when the winds pick up in the evening. We stayed at the newly renovated Embassy Suites Monterey Bay Hotel in Seaside which ended up being a surprising favorite to photograph.
Morro Bay: Put Life On Coast
After our delightful stint in Northern California, Ryland and I made our way down the iconic Highway 1 to Morro Bay. Note: if you do this drive, allow at least five hours. Your phone will tell you a shorter amount of time, but it really does take that long to wind through this scenic highway, especially if you stop and take photos. Thankfully, Morro Bay is worth the effort. It was so fun meeting up with the local Morro Bay cycling team who were very helpful in suggesting local trails for a first-timer to the area. I ended up exploring a lovely path that hugged the ocean, which I’d highly recommend doing during golden hour if you visit. With scenic views of Morro Rock and fresh oysters from Morro Bay Oyster Company waiting after your ride, each mile on the saddle is well worth it. I can only imagine how fun it must be to watch the Amgen Tour cruise through Morro Bay, with the golden coast lighting the way! We stayed at 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites which was comfortable and afforded great views of Morro Bay’s charming downtown. I also enjoyed getting to know Kerri Jackson of Women Who Explore on this leg of the journey. Visiting? Stroll along the piers and sunset and keep an eye out for the many otters!
On The Hunt For Wildflowers
Following the Amgen portion of the trip, Ryland and I decided to explore even deeper and made the drive through San Luis Obispo to Carrizo Plain National Monument in search of wildflowers… and were certainly rewarded for our efforts. I’ve been fortunate to embark on many memorable travel experiences over the years, but some just stand out as exceptionally special. This trip definitely fell into that category. So grateful. I can certainly say that I’m inspired to hop on my road bike more frequently! Bike riding is truly is the best way to experience a new (or old) place. What about you — do you like exploring by bike when you travel?