Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Pro Picks: California's Best Bike Routes

Pro Picks: California's Best Bike Routes
Add these rides—suggested by professional cyclists—to your Golden State cycling bucket list

California has a few distinct advantages when it comes to cycling: year-round mild temperatures, varied terrain, natural beauty, and the honor of hosting the sport’s most prestigious event in America every May, the Amgen Tour of California.

In advance of the upcoming event, we asked some top professional cyclists to tell us where they love to ride most in California. Here's what they said.


Up and Down Mt. Tamalpais, Marin County

57 miles, 8,109 feet of elevation

Tayler Wiles, Team: UnitedHealthCare

This climbing-heavy route is the home turf go-to for Wiles, who resides in the Bay Area town of Fairfax.

“It's my favorite because you start with a beautiful climb past an alpine dam that is literally right out my front door, then you enjoy 360-degree views of ocean on the right and Marin County on the left as you go along the ‘Seven Sisters’ ridge along Mt. Tamalpais,” Wiles says. “Then all the climbing is rewarded by one of my all-time favorite descents down to the coast, followed by crazy beautiful ocean views all the way along Highway 1 until it’s time to climb back up. Just when you start to get beat by the climbing, you get to descend one more glorious time before climbing up Bofax, a narrow, nearly car-free beautiful climb. Once you hit the top it’s all downhill home (nearly).”

Ride it: Try Wiles’ Mt. Tam ride, or check out cycling social network Strava’s guide to San Francisco’s North Bay for other scenic, less-challenging options in the area.


Lake Tahoe

Peter Sagan, Team: BORA-Hansgrohe

As the winner of the 2015 Amgen Tour of California and the record-holder for the most stage wins in Amgen history, Sagan has ridden (very fast) all over the state. The reigning World Champion says that whenever he comes to California, he loves to spend a few days in San Diego and San Francisco before heading to his favorite cycling destination.

“Choosing my favorite ride in California is too hard—there are so many beautiful places,” says Sagan. “I think California is one of the best places to visit as a tourist and ride as a cyclist. If I had to pick one place to ride, that would be around Lake Tahoe. Its combination of high altitude, good roads, and scenic beauty make it a perfect training spot for me. Next time you are there, you might bump into me."

Ride it: Lake Tahoe is a hub for both road riding and mountain biking, and the area boasts many bike shops for easy rentals and local ride advice. To find a route that suits your interests and ability level, check out’s list of 10 Lake Tahoe Road Rides or visit Tahoe South and Tahoe North for ideas on where to rent and ride in the area.


The King Ridge Loop, Santa Rosa

55-, 73-, or 100-mile options

Brent Bookwalter, Team: BMC Racing Team

Andrew Talansky, Team: Cannondale-Drapac

Coryn Rivera, Team: Sunweb

The riding in Sonoma County’s Santa Rosa was voted the favorite by not one but three riders, thanks to its redwoods, vineyards, and vista-filled views north of San Francisco. The cycling community is strong in Santa Rosa, and it’s also where former professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer lives and runs his popular event, Levi’s GranFondo. The loop chosen by these top riders utilizes many of the same roads as Leipheimer’s annual ride.

Bookwalter remembers riding in Santa Rosa for the first time during a pre-season camp with the BMC Racing Team in 2008. “The ride from Santa Rosa blew my mind 10 years ago and still amazes me whenever I'm lucky enough to have the chance to go back,” he says. “Expansive vineyards, dense redwood forests, and the breathtaking cruise to the ocean are all reasons this one stays at the top of my list for California rides.”  

"It's a stunning ride,” Talansky says. “You have a little bit of everything. Rural roads with no traffic. Rolling hills. And my favorite part is the drop back down to the ocean—you can see it from miles away and before you know it, you are right there next to the Pacific. It's incredible." 

Rivera echoes the men after riding this route during the women’s race of the Amgen Tour of California in 2016. “I love riding along the coast and that section was so beautiful and twisty, turning, and up and down,” says Rivera. “I recommend this route not only for the scenery but also for the opportunity to have wonderful wine from the area as well.” 

Ride it: Follow the GranFondo loop for the most challenging version of this route, copy Rivera’s 2016 Amgen Stage 3 ride for 73 miles, or opt for the 55-mile version as detailed by the Santa Rosa Cycling Club.


Santa Barbara Wine Country Loop, Solvang

63.7 miles, 4,500 feet of elevation

Alison Tetrick, Team: Cylance Pro Cycling

Tetrick is a California native who grew up riding horses in Santa Barbara County before moving north of San Francisco to Petaluma, where the former cowgirl now lives and trains. When she returns to her roots, she opts for her favorite tour of the area, which begins in the Danish village of Solvang.

“Starting off with Danish pancakes and heading up Mt. Figueroa, you can see the most beautiful views,” she says. “I recently did this climb with the poppies blooming and the Pacific Ocean was serene. I even had time for a pit stop near my childhood ranch in Los Alamos to have a Santa Maria-style tri-tip sandwich. We love the challenge of a good climb, and the views and feeling of accomplishment make it all worthwhile!"   

Ride it: Pair your challenging 96.5-mile ride with an equally hearty tri-tip sandwich in the Santa Maria Valley. For tamer routes in the region, check MapMyRide for Santa Maria, try the local DIY Santa Barbara rides, or join an organized wine and cycling tour group.


Iowa Hill Loop, near Auburn

65 miles, 6,923 feet of elevation

Evan Huffman, Team: Rally Cycling 

Huffman, who grew up in Elk Grove and now lives east of Sacramento in El Dorado Hills, has two favorite rides starting near Auburn, about 35 miles northeast of the state capital.

One is the 65-mile Iowa Hill Loop around Auburn State Recreational Area, and the other is a climb on Mosquito Ridge Road. “[They are both] just really scenic rides that are very remote, so no traffic with a lot of climbing,” Huffman says.

Ride it: Take the Iowa Hill Loop for a 64.7-mile route with 6,923 feet of elevation, or climb Mosquito Ridge Road for a 68.2-mile route with 8,586 feet of elevation.


Palomar Mountain Climb, San Diego County

91.4 miles, 8,694 feet of elevation

Jess Cerra, Team: Hagens Berman Supermint

Palomar Mountain is somewhat of a rite of passage for San Diego cyclists, and it has made multiple appearances on the Amgen Tour of California route. “It’s an iconic SoCal climb that is so unique because you can be at the beach and several hours later be on a mountaintop,” Cerra says. “There is really no better training, and you will enjoy the views of the entire valley as you snake through the wooded switchbacks to the top.”

Once you reach the top of the 12-mile ascent, apple pie, cookies, and a bottle of Coca-Cola are waiting at the general store and Mother’s Kitchen. Experienced riders can follow Cerra’s favorite way to do the climb—a 90-mile loop on quiet country roads past Lake Henshaw, with a mid-ride stop at Dudley’s Bakery (she recommends the white chocolate pecan cookie). For a shorter option, park near the bottom of Mt. Palomar and do just the climb—a tough ride on its own.

Ride it: Tackle Cerra’s challenging 91.4-mile Palomar route, or park near the bottom and climb the 11.6-mile South Grade

Looking for more routes across the state? Strava has put together athlete-curated city guides for the most popular routes in several destinations. Check out their guides for BakersfieldFresnoLong BeachLos AngelesOakland, San Francisco Bay Area (East BayNorth BayPeninsulaSouth Bay), SacramentoSan Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.


Rachid Dahnoun

California: Outdoor


What's Hot Now
California: Outdoor

Winter 2017’s epic rain and snow may be old news, but its stormy consequences keep unfolding in wet-and-wild ways across California. This year’s...

Discover the San Francisco Bay Area

Less than 10 miles from the surfer’s paradise at Santa Cruz, another classic California experience awaits: towering redwood trees. Set in the Santa Cruz...

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
Courtesy of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Top California Yoga Retreats

These unbelievable resorts offer the perfect serene getaway for yoga, meditation, and relaxation

If your desire is to improve your yoga practice and recharge in a beautiful place, California offers some world-class options any time of year....

Picture Lake/Alamy

California’s Epic Waterfalls

Record precipitation means water is flowing better than ever—go see these waterfalls while they’re still at their peak

Winter 2017’s epic rain and snow may be old news, but its stormy consequences keep unfolding in wet-and-wild ways across...

8 spots where you can camp out close to the Pacific Ocean

Is there anything more serene than falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves under a canopy of stars? Whether you “rough it” in a tent or post up in a fully equipped RV, you can have the...

California’s Best Coastal Campgrounds
Stephen Simpson/Getty Images
Cody Duncan/Getty Images

How to Explore the Channel Islands

Spend a day—or a week—in this idyllic national park off the Central Coast

This chain of five islands—Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, and San Miguel—is rich with untouched natural beauty and a California...

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Pro Picks: California's Best Bike Routes

Add these rides—suggested by professional cyclists—to your Golden State cycling bucket list

California has a few distinct advantages when it comes to cycling: year-round mild temperatures, varied terrain, natural beauty, and the honor of...

Culinary Institute of America at Copia
Bob McClenahan Photography/The CIA at Copia

8 Great Learning Vacations in California

Cook like a pro, make cheese, or even get on a Hollywood stage at one of these fun classes

Everyone knows that if you want to learn to surf, California is the place to do it. But the great talent that the Golden State has to offer is...

David H. Carriere/Getty Images

California’s Spring 2017 Wildflower Forecast

Where to find this year’s extraordinary bounty of blooms, from poppies to lupine and chocolate lilies

The most abundant winter precipitation to hit California in a decade has flower aficionados budding with optimism about the...

California’s Best-Kept Secrets

Discover 8 of California’s Best-Kept Secrets

These remote and surprising spots fly under the radar for even the most well-versed California travelers

Think you’ve seen all of California? Think again. We traveled to eight different remote locations to showcase some of California’s lesser-...

Coachella Valley’s Desert X
Photography by Dakota Higgins/Courtesy of Doug Aitken Workshop

Coachella Valley’s Desert X

Go on this “wonderful treasure hunt” of outdoor visual art before it ends on April 30

You don’t have to be an art aficionado to appreciate Desert X, a 16-piece collection of visual installations housed in a unique gallery—...

CLIF Bar/Mason Mashon

The California Questionnaire: Greg Long

Although he’s traveled the globe in search of big waves, this professional surfer will always call California home

California native Greg Long has carved out a name in the world of competitive big wave surfing by conquering the most challenging waves on the...

10 Super-Scenic California Road Trips
Jeffrey Murray/Getty Images

10 Super-Scenic California Road Trips

Follow these classic routes for magical scenery and worthy stops

The Highway 1 road trip that passes through Big Sur on California’s Central Coast is perhaps the most famous scenic drive in the...

Clint Farlinger/Alamy


Redwoods, salmon, and California’s largest tribe all thrive in this small North Coast town

Klamath is so far north that many people assume this tiny town is in Oregon, not California. Set along its...

The mountains are calling and I must go.
John Muir
Photograph by Peggy Sirota

The California Questionnaire: Gabrielle Reece

The former volleyball champion and model—now an author and fitness guru—shares her California favorites

After retiring from a successful beach volleyball career, Gabrielle Reece didn’t slow down—instead, she kept adding to her résumé: mother,...

Find whitewater rafting fun for all—from newbies to nerves-of-steel experts

Think of a river, and chances are you’ve got your own daydream. Maybe you want to float on inner tubes, or maybe your style is to careen through raucous rapids in an eight-person inflatable raft....

Groveb/Getty Images
Spotlight: Mammoth Lakes
Rebecca Garrett

Spotlight: Mammoth Lakes

Snowy winters, wildflower summers

Surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the west, folks in this laid-back mountain town know they’ve got a good thing going. It’s a land of...

CLIF Bar/Mason Mashon

The California Questionnaire: Jeremy Jones

The professional snowboarder’s biggest conundrum is deciding which Sierra Nevada adventure to tackle next

As a pioneer of big mountain snowboarding, professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones has climbed treacherous backcountry peaks all over the world just...

Search for Nemo and Dory's ocean friends on the edge of the Pacific

California’s western border is edged by oceans, bays, and other tidal waterways filled with life. While you're not likely to run into Nemo (unless you're lost like Dory), you will find popsicle-...

David Gomez/Getty Images

Trip 4 days 10 stops

Wild North Coast

Wine, Romance & Sunsets
San Francisco

Start your trip to one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to explore “the City by the Bay” park your car and explore by foot, bike, and unique public transportation. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a...

Crescent City

The last stop on this spectacular road trip ends at the very last city in California. Only 20 miles south of Oregon, sea-faring Crescent City is home to the northernmost of California’s lighthouse stations. Overlooking the town’s harbor, the 1856 Battery Point Lighthouse, built with 22-inch/56-...

It [Pinnacles] represents what nature often does, all the great conflicts and tensions are there, of volcanic activity and fault lines, and the sort of geology of it is just spectacular to see on display.
Ken Burns
Bring your board or just watch pros catch big air at these skate parks

What started as a fad in the late 1950s and early '60s morphed into a global phenomenon–and a multibillion-dollar business that’s now recognized across the planet. But the soul of skateboarding...

Pink Helmet Posse
Get into the coastal vibe

Maybe it’s the sun-streaked hair, the frequent smiles, the eyes always gazing west, looking to the horizon to see when the next set might roll in. It’s the unmistakable look and vibe of a...

Rachid Dahnoun/Aurora Photos

Spotlight: Lake Tahoe

Majestic peaks encircle a turquoise-blue, year-round playground

Blue as a topaz and circled by majestic peaks, this High Sierra gem straddling the California-Nevada border is a bucket-list essential. Where else...

Kodiak Greenwood

Spotlight: Big Sur

Art and nature merge on this rugged coast, one of California’s most spectacular settings

Welcome to one of the world’s most unforgettable stretches of coastline. This roughly 90-mile-long stretch of redwood- and fog-trimmed waterfront...

Get insider tips on visiting our top natural wonders

Ask a local the best things about California, and somewhere at the top of the list would be the sheer beauty of the place. See for yourself with this dream list of incredible national parks, with...

California is blessed to have the most designated National Parks in the United States.
See a few amazing wonders of the sea first-hand

Each year, about 20,000 gray whales make an epic 6,000-mile/9,656-km journey between Alaska and Mexico—and then back again. These whales travel from feeding grounds in the Bering Sea to mating and...

Michele W/Flickr
Feel really, really small at these wow-worthy parks

Get ready to look up—way, way up. California has the biggest, tallest trees on the planet. Discover them at outstanding parks and preserves dotting the state. Coast redwoods, some...

Kai Schrieber/Flickr
Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the continental U.S., at 3.3 million acres.
Where to see buildings and settings fit for a king (or queen)

Think of castles, and you probably imagine a turreted wonder in Europe. But California has its own surprising crop of palaces and estates fit for a monarch, created by people with imaginations as...

Stuart Black/Getty Images
Endless explorations in any setting

Imagine being in the desert beneath a clear night sky. You’re peering up, through binoculars or a small telescope, with an astronomer at your side, helping you find distant nebulas and galaxies....

Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Fly Fishing

Cast a fly in blue-ribbon waters

Between the volcanic summits of Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen flow some of California’s most celebrated fly fishing rivers. Blue-ribbon waters lace...

There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.
Edward Abbey
Explore these urban oases

While you might think of a city park as an appealing splash of green amidst the asphalt jungle, California’s urban parks stand out as cultural hubs, with outstanding and innovative...

California State Capitol