The 12 Best Bicycling Paths in California

two people ridinng bikes on a paved trail with Yosemite Falls in the background

John Elk/Getty Images

California is lousy with purpose-built bike paths—seriously we’re talking in the triple digits. You could ride twice a week for a year without ever repeating a route and see frolicking dolphins, fruiting vineyards, Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome, snow-topped mountains, or swaying palms and Venice street performers without ever getting off the bike or engaging the kickstand. Couple that easy accessibility and gorgeous scenery with the Golden State's annoyingly great weather most of the year and you'd be hardpressed to find reasons not to roll out. This guide details 12 of the best paved paths for two-wheel treks from Napa and Sonoma down to San Diego.

01 of 12

Marvin Braude Bike Trail, Los Angeles

The Strand Santa Monica

Brian Eden/Getty Images

Go for a spin in the SoCal sun mere steps from some of LA's most famous stretches of sand on the 22-mile bike path locally known as The Strand. Formally, it's called The Marvin Braude Bike Trail and it can take cyclists on a long but mostly flat journey from Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades to Torrance County Beach in the South Bay. It passes through beloved beach towns like Manhattan Beach, Marina Del Rey, and Hermosa Beach and by iconic locations like the Santa Monica Pier, LAX, and Venice's Muscle Beach gym or skate park. It is easily broken up into more digestible parts for casual rides and is dotted with parking lots, public restrooms, and places to pick up food and drinks. Pull off to watch a beach volleyball game, take a swim, get a beer, buy sunglasses along the Venice boardwalk, or stroll one of several piers including the one in Manhattan Beach that features an aquarium. Rent wheels at any of Perry's nine outposts.

Be warned: this path is always extremely crowded and is shared with walkers, joggers, skaters, scooters, rollerbladers, and tourists who stop on a dime to take pictures of the sunset. (Which by the way is a great time to enjoy The Strand.)

02 of 12

Yosemite National Park

Half Dome rock formation in Yosemite National Park

Carol Highsmith / Visit California

Take in the postcard-perfect sites like Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, the elegant and stunning Ahwahnee hotel, the retro chapel, the wide meadow, Swinging Bridge, and Mirror Lake that make Yosemite a national treasure from the seat of a bike. The 12-mile loop typically takes two hours to complete depending on how often you stop to take pictures and how much you are affected by the altitude. There are three spots in Yosemite Valley to rent rides. Summer is the high season and demand for rentals from the three stands (Curry Village, Yosemite Valley Lodge, and next to the Valley Village Store ) is high. Consider coming for autumnal color changes or a brisk winter ride before major snows sweep in.

03 of 12

Presidio & the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge on a Sunny Day
Ed Freeman / Getty Images

At 1,491 acres, The Presidio, a military base turned national park in the northeast corner of San Francisco, makes up about five percent of the city. The park has about 25 miles of paved or hard-packed bike routes chock full of coastal cliffs, beaches, forests, and historical buildings. You can see Alcatraz, the city skyline, Karl the Fog rolling in, and the largest public collection of Andy Goldsworthy art installations in North America without slowing down. You can also hop off and join a pick-up game of soccer, eat at a food truck, or walk through the exhibits at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

It's also a quintessential San Francisco treat to roll across the Golden Gate Bridge (1.7 miles each way), which can be accessed from the Presidio Promenade or Crissy Field. Bikes are allowed on the east and west sidewalks 24 hours a day toll-free with the western side reserved exclusively for bikes. Once on the other side, explore the Marin Headlands or grab a cocktail and local oysters at Cavallo Point Lodge.  

04 of 12

Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail (MBCRT)

Monterey Bay Coastal Trail with a biker and a couple walking

Courtesy of Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau

Opened in 1986, the MBCRT is a fantastically scenic way to see the cities that populate Monterey Bay while getting your heart pumping. From Castroville (the Artichoke Capital of the World) to Marina to Seaside to Pacific Grove (known as Butterfly Town USA), the 18-mile paved route hugs the coastline along the old Southern Pacific Railway route and takes users past fields of produce, dunes, boat docks, lounging seals, playful sea otters, cypress trees, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row of John Steinbeck fame, Old Fisherman's Wharf, rocky outcroppings, luxury homes, and carpets of vibrant ice plants. Big Sur Adventures offers guided e-bike tours and rentals.

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05 of 12

Mission Bay Bike Path, San Diego

Mission Bay San Diego

Brigitte Blättler/Getty Images

3220 Bayside Walk, San Diego, CA 92109-7759, USA

San Diego is blessed with numerous bike paths. Not to mention lots of mountain biking trails for more rugged journeys). All are a treat for the eyes, lungs, and leg muscles but Mission Bay is a good place to start your two-wheeled exploration of America's Finest City, especially as a tourist or a family. MB comprises 4,200 acres of land and water surrounded by 27 miles of shoreline and sandy beaches. The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition has envisioned a 12-mile route of mostly flat all-paved pathways that cut through numerous parks and wildlife habitats, provide a straight shot to the San Diego skyline, and fly past SeaWorld, marinas, and much of the interior of the bay. There are plenty of restrooms, picnic areas, and water fountains. Rent bikes in and around Mission Bay or along Mission Boulevard. Fair warning: if you want to complete the entire loop, you will have to share the road with cars for a few short sections. Elongate your ride by connecting to the San Diego River Trail or the Mission Beach Pacific Beach Boardwalks, where there's good people-watching, pickup beach volleyball games, and places to refuel.

06 of 12

Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, Sacramento

Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail in autumn with fall colors.
Eric Buell / Getty Images

Winding through the American River Parkway for 32 miles from Folsom's Beal's Point to Discovery Park in Old Town Sacramento (adjacent to downtown), the JSMT is one of the nation's longest multi-use recreation trails. For the most part, it parallels the American River shaded by cottonwoods, oaks, and willows. Parks, swimming holes, fishing areas, restrooms, water fountains, and picnic spots are plentiful. You can add 12 extra miles by adding the Lake Natoma loop at the Folsom end of the trip. May run into equestrians at trail crossings and bridges.

07 of 12

Joe Rodota Bike Trail, Santa Rosa

mustard on Joe Rodota Trail

Courtesy of Sonoma County

The 8.5-mile, off-road paved trail named after the first director of Sonoma County Regional Parks runs between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol parallel to Highway 12. Much of it follows an old rail line and features bridges built atop train trestles. Surrounded by mountains, Joe Rodota Trail meanders past the pastoral perfection of farmlands, patches of mature trees, and the 30,000-acre Laguna de Santa Rosa, the largest freshwater wetlands complex on the Northern California coast that’s home to more than 200 animal species.

The ride is particularly spectacular in spring and fall for obvious reasons. Elongate your adventure by connecting to the West County Regional Trail in Sebastopol. It will take cyclists another 5.5 miles to Forestville

08 of 12

Ventura County: Rincon Bike Trail

Rincon Trail by Highway 1

Carrie Bell

Starting at Carpinteria State Beach’s Rincon Point, a popular surf break, and heading south to the beaches just outside Ventura city limits, this asphalt path runs between US-101 and the Pacific Ocean. It is so close to both that you can't be sure where the wind in your hair is coming from. Best done on a sunny day, this trail is mostly flat and family-friendly although the cars rushing past on the freeway can be unnerving. It is rarely crowded as it starts and ends between cities but the sightlines straight up the mountain and out to the crashing waves are worth the extra effort.

There are many exit points at which one could lock up their bikes and run down to the water for a swim or watch dolphins playing. For longer, more challenging adventures, connect with the Omer Rains Coastal Bike Trail which takes you all the way to San Buenaventura State Beach, the Ventura Promenade which wheels you past the pier, the Ventura River Trail, and the big daddy Ojai Valley Bike Trail. The scenic path covers the 10 miles between Ojai and Ventura and provides pastoral foothills scenery and a steady incline. Ventura Bike Depot can get you kitted out for any of these rides.

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09 of 12

Mammoth Lakes Town Loop

Two people riding bikes on a trail in opposite direction with rocky vegetation and snow covered mountains in the distance

Courtesy of Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Mono County and Mammoth Mountain are world-renowned destinations for mountain biking, but the Town Loop is a worthy albeit calmer, less challenging adventure providing lungfuls of pine-scented alpine air, cloud-dotted blue skies, and infinite views of snow-capped mountain peaks. It encircles the scenic community of Mammoth Lakes with a large part of it sitting off-road away from cars. The Loop can take you from neighborhood to neighborhood and deposit you at breakfast or at a bar or used as exercise if you tackle the whole almost 7-mile loop.

It is the central component of Mammoth's cycling network as many of the town's other paths feed into it, including the College Connector, Main Street Connector, and Lodestar Connector. Rentals, including electric bikes, are available at Footloose Sports and Wave Rave. Don't forget to mind the elevation when planning how long and far you intend to ride.

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Napa Valley Vine Trail

Napa Valley Vine Trail next to a station for the Napa Valley Wine Train at dusk

Courtesy of DavidGordan144/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Only two major roadways, Highway 29 and the Silverado trail, go through the Napa Valley and they often get congested with cars, especially during harvest. The Vine Trail can be a solution for folks who want to avoid sitting in traffic if they're willing to go pedal-powered. The plan is to eventually link the Vallejo Ferry Terminal and Napa River Wetlands and Calistoga's hot springs on the other end of the valley. It will be comprised of 10 sections, each named for the city or American Viticultural Area it passes through, totaling 47 miles.

Currently, various segments are done including a mile-long Calistoga section near Clos Pegase Winery and Sterling Vineyards and a 12.5-mile stretch between Kennedy Park and Yountville. The trail is particularly stunning when you are riding in the spring when a blooming mustard blanket covers the ground between vines to one side and the Napa Valley Wine Train rolls past on the other.

11 of 12

Big Bear Lake Alpine Pedal Path

lake and mountains in Big Bear at sunset

Courtesy of Visit Big Bear

Another hot spot for mountain biking, beginners or folks looking for a tranquil ride can wind their way down the paved Alpine Pedal Path on the north side of the great lake for the best of tall trees, cabin chic, and crisp clean air. Or use it as a starter route to acclimate to the breathtaking (literally!) elevation.

The 2.5-mile trail starts near North Shore Elementary School and travels along the shore until the solar observatory. To circle the whole lake is a casual 15-20 mile ride; 40 if you tack on the Baldwin Lake loop but this is not all off-road jaunt.

12 of 12

Ballona Creek Path, Los Angeles

empty bik batch with water on either side of the path

Focqus, LLC / Getty Images

This 7-mile trail transports riders from trendy Culver City to the Ballona Wetlands and on to the beach in Playa Del Rey where it connects to the aforementioned Marvin Braude. It follows along the old north bank maintenance road from when the creek was cemented to manage flooding. Since it was first established in the 1970s, the path, the creek habitat, and the surrounding greenways have been improved greatly to include interpretive signs about area wildlife and ecology, a couple of parks and playgrounds, ornate entrance gates, and benches for resting. It's mostly flat although there are steep up-and-down parts whenever the path goes under major streets. There are murals and street art and in the spring wildflowers pop up in more natural sections of the creek.

For about the last mile, the Marina Del Rey bay appears to your north and ups the scenic quotient with sailboats and gleaming highrises. Once you reach the end, lock up the bikes and walk along the breaker to get a better look at the beach. The closer you come to the ocean, the busier it gets.

Enter through gates at Syd Kronenthal Park, Duquesne Avenue, Overland Avenue, Purdue Avenue, McConnell Avenue, Inglewood Boulevard, Centinela Avenue, or Sepulveda Boulevard, Free street parking can be found at most entry points.

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The 12 Best Bicycling Paths in California