A doable adventure for those looking for a longer ride is the trek from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, a distance of 95 miles by car or 105 by bicycle, give or take, depending on exactly where in the vast metropolis of L.A. you begin. Some ride up and take the train back, while others spend the night and ride back the next day. I was worried we were not quite up to the challenge of a century ride at this particular time. We also had no intention of taking the usual and more direct route along the coast the entire way, as the stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway (“PCH” to locals) between Santa Monica and the far reaches of Malibu is a harrowing place for cyclists. It’s true that many bike along this stretch, and most do live to see another day, but the high-speed motorists, the narrow shoulder that occasionally disappears, the many surfers preoccupied with loading and unloading their gear from cars parked alongside the highway, make for a stressful experience. So we decided to split the ride into two days, and add some extra miles by routing the first half of the ride through the San Fernando Valley. This meant no need for the stress of riding on PCH.
A ride planned by a friend a few years ago inspired the plan. She invited a group of us to meet at the Amtrak train station in Chatsworth (in the San Fernando Valley) and start the ride from there, following an 85-mile route through Simi Valley and into Camarillo before hitting the coast in the Oxnard/Ventura area, and then heading north to Santa Barbara. We then took a train back to Chatsworth that same evening, where we’d left our cars. I prefer to leave cars out of it entirely, when possible, and we already know how to ride our bikes from our home to Chatsworth, so why not just append our route to Chatsworth onto my friend’s route to Santa Barbara? That brings the total mileage closer to 120, but split between two days, that’s not bad at all. We developed a 60-mile route to get us to Thousand Oaks, and it was another 60 miles from there to Santa Barbara – perfect.
Saturday morning, we fed the cats, made arrangements with our houseguests to feed them while we were away, fixed ourselves breakfast, packed our essentials into a single pannier, and off we went. Knowing we only had to cover 60 miles, we were able to leave without rushing. All we had to do was make it to our hotel in Thousands Oaks. We didn’t get out the door until 9:15 AM, but we had plenty of time to complete our task for the day, even allowing for some stops along the way.
We headed north into Hollywood, and rode over the Cahuenga Pass. It’s not the most pleasant bikeway, but it’s doable, and there just aren’t appealing options for getting over to the San Fernando Valley from central Los Angeles. If you’re willing to approach the Valley from farther east, there’s a much more pleasant route through Griffith Park or the Los Angeles River Trail, but Cahuenga is more direct and it’s not too bad going northbound in the morning. (Southbound is a completely different story: DON’T TRY IT!)
After navigating a few busy, stressful streets, like Lankershim Boulevard, we got onto Vineland Ave’s buffered bike lane to connect us with the Chandler bike path, which continues west, and then north, as the Orange Line Bikeway to Chatsworth. That got us close to the home of a friend, where we took our first rest stop. We were about 30 miles and 3 hours into our journey, so it was perfect timing. We enjoyed a pleasant social call, had a snack, and used the facilities before heading on again. From there, we were close to Box Canyon. That meant a somewhat narrow winding road and a grueling climb, but with gorgeous scenery. We pulled over a few times to catch our breath, guzzle some water, and let some traffic pass us by. The climb was steep enough that we could just manage it, but not without a few stops along the way. I kept thinking I could not recall doing a climb like this on my friend’s route to Santa Barbara a few years ago. As it turns out, we were not following my friend’s route for this part; it was just so much more convenient to go this way from the location of our friend’s house where we’d stopped. If you are planning your own trip out of Chatsworth, you can consider whether you prefer a gentler route heading straight north on Topanga Canyon Blvd to Santa Susana Pass Road, or going west and following Box Canyon Road, with it’s challenge and beauty.
After the climb, Box Canyon Road ended at Santa Susana Pass Road, which took us to Simi Valley. After a short stretch on East Los Angeles Ave, we next hopped onto the Arroyo Simi Bike Path. This is a great bike path that takes you a good 7-8 miles across Simi Valley. From there, we headed southwest on Madera Road, which took us all the way to Thousand Oaks. A little pro tip in case you decide to take this route: when you turn left to head south on Madera Road, DO NOT make a full left turn into the southbound traffic lanes! Instead, take an immediate left onto the side path that runs along the eastern side of the Road. Madera Road at this point is one of those suburban highways and it does not have a bike lane in the road. Luckily, we noticed the side path and crossed over at one of the intersections after a rather stressful stint in the rightmost traffic lane. Later on, Google maps will also guide you onto Country Club Ct, which gives a break from Madera Road and a proper bike lane for awhile. When you get back onto Madera Road, this time, DO NOT take the sidewalk, as it will come to an abrupt end. There is a proper (but unprotected) bike lane on Madera Road beginning at this point. Soon thereafter, Madera Road becomes Olsen Road, which then becomes Lynn Road. While on the Olsen Road portion, we enjoyed riding past California Lutheran University, a place we both knew was in the Thousand Oaks area, but had never seen.
From Lynn Road, we hung a right onto Hillcrest Road. After a couple miles, that brought us to our destination for the evening, the lovely Premier Inns of Thousand Oaks. Okay, maybe not exactly lovely, but perfectly adequate for our needs. They were nice enough about letting us bring our bikes into the room, which had plenty of room for them, but we couldn’t get a room on the ground floor, so had to lug our bikes up the (external) stairs and wheel them around a maze of angled breezeways to get to our room, all the while bathed in the stench of cigarette smoke. I hadn’t realized the room I had booked was a “smoking” room, but the way the whole place smelled as we made our way to the room, it seemed perhaps all of their rooms are smoking rooms. We were looking for an inexpensive place to crash for the night, and that’s what we got. We were also able to walk to a nearby strip mall that offered lots of restaurants to choose from. We enjoyed a nice dinner at Stella’s, and, along the way, spotted an IHOP that was positioned perfectly for grabbing breakfast when it would be time to head out in the morning.
Day two started out with a hearty breakfast at IHOP, which put us in position to continue west on Borchard Road. After about two and a half miles, Borchard fed us into Rancho Dos Vientos, and then to Portrero Road. There appears from the map to be a more direct option, but we liked the scenic route. And next is where the ride gets extra fun: going west on Portrero serves you up with a few gentle rollers, and then, despite not having climbed any significant hills, you get treated to a delightful descent into the coastal flatlands. A memorable thrill.
We continued through farmland, heading towards Port Hueneme (pronounced hu-NAY-mee, although it always sounds to me like folks are saying “wuh-NEE-mee”). We rode past acres of strawberry fields, which smelled delicious, and resisted the urge to stop and try to “sample” the sweet-smelling fruit.
As we entered the residential areas of Oxnard, it was interesting to see the neighborhoods and various styles of apartments and houses, imagining this is where the workers of the nearby fields are living. As we got closer to the water, the homes gradually became larger. We rode though the Channel Islands area, taking Channel Islands Boulevard, which I’d not seen before. Closely packed houses, some quite large, line the channels, with boats docked in front of each one. It’s quite picturesque, and you just can’t ride by and not take photos. From there, we turned north, following Harbor Blvd into Ventura.
Soon thereafter, we came to the entrance to the bike path along Ventura Beach, where we found ample opportunities for a restroom break, and much to our delight, an ideal place to stop for lunch. Right along the bike path, is the Jolly Oyster, which has two trailers and several picnic tables. At one trailer, you can buy fresh oysters to take home and prepare yourself. At the other, you can buy prepared oysters to eat right there. The menu offered several appealing choices. We shared one plate of raw oysters, and one of grilled, plus had some scallop ceviche. It was awesome. We felt like we’d won the lottery to have stumbled across such a perfect lunch spot at just the right time.
After our little feast, we filled up our water bottles and continued north on the beach path. Okay, well there was an odd little section shortly thereafter where we had to wangle our way on a road (not so clearly marked to guide cyclists) for a short bit before the beach path resumed, but from there on out it was quite delightful riding along the ocean, separated from the cars. We rolled along with that beautiful soul-enriching ocean view for nearly 30 miles into Santa Barbara.
We rode into town, not sure of where we wanted to hang out next, until we came across Dune Coffee Roasters, along Cota Street. We parked our bikes next to an outdoor table and enjoyed some refreshments as well as some interesting characters, making it a true Santa Barbara experience. Actually, we later took the true Santa Barbara experience to a more typical level by heading over to State Street, which is closed to cars and filled with people. There we parked our bikes again, and slurped up some margaritas. We followed that with a slow roll around town and found ourselves a little park where we could hang for a bit before heading to the train station for our ride back to L.A.
The platform at the Santa Barbara train station was quite the party scene. There were lots of folks in good spirits, many part of a large group that appeared to be celebrating an occasion together. The atmosphere was noisy and rambunctious, but luckily didn’t veer into obnoxious. Once the train arrived, we secured our bikes in the lower level of the special car for bikes, and proceeded to find us some seats on the upper level. Turns out the party from the platform was continuing in our car of the train, and we enjoyed their good humor for our ride home.
And thus ended a fantastic Memorial Day weekend.