Routing thru LA



Getting through the Los Angeles Area on Tour
(Last major update in 2004 - but much of this information was still current as of 2010)


North - South:  The Coastal Route
West - East:  Los Angeles to Palm Springs (including LAX information)

Other Ideas:  Non-Coastal Options
bulletHigh Desert to San Bernardino/Riverside County
bulletSan Bernardino/Riverside County to Orange County
bulletOrange County to San Diego County Line
bulletSanta Barbara to San Diego via Los Angeles - Inland Alternative


Most bicycle touring through the Los Angeles area is from people following the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route. Unlike passing through the San Francisco area, where there is a relatively small amount of city riding before returning to rural conditions on the coast, there is no way to get around riding in the large Los Angeles metropolitan area.  There are also some tourists who start in Los Angeles and want to head east through Palm Springs.

As a result of Los Angeles' large size and car-capital reputation, many people are terrified at the prospect of cycling through the area. One foreign couple who had wanted to cycle from San Diego to Santa Barbara had asked for the best route through Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, and Palmdale – a rather long detour around LA.

Although there are some areas to avoid due to traffic and/or safety concerns, most of the cycling through the area is not as scary as it's rumored to be - if you're well-prepared.  I can't promise that it will be enjoyable, though.

Since most touring down the Pacific Coast is done from north to south (due to prevailing winds), I provide directions from north to south for clarity.  Directions for Los Angeles to Palm Springs are given from west to east, as many touring cyclists fly into LAX airport to start a tour. 

I live in and am more familiar with Orange County, which is the southern part of the Los Angeles area, so my remarks below are somewhat weighted.

My advice here is meant to be supplemental to the other resources out there – the most common being the book Bicycling the Pacific Coast, by Kirkendall and Spring and the Adventure Cycling Pacific Coast Route map (Santa Barbara to San Diego section).

North - South: The Coastal Route

This is the most commonly used through route, and unless you have other planned stops, this is the recommended way to get through the area. The route enters the Los Angeles area on Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) in Malibu. It then joins the bike path along the beach cities, then rejoins PCH, briefly turning inland at the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The route then returns to the coast again at Seal Beach in Orange County, and finally leaves Orange County and the Los Angeles metropolitan area in San Clemente.

The route is well documented in the book Bicycling the Pacific Coast, by Kirkendall and Spring (which I will call the BPC route) and in the Adventure Cycling Pacific Coast Route map (Santa Barbara to San Diego section). These are both excellent resources, and I would recommend them both, as a supplement to the advice supplied here. There are only minor differences between these two routes, but I prefer the AC routing.

After the route turns inland at the Palos Verdes Peninsula, it goes through ugly industrial areas along PCH before returning to the coast again in Seal Beach. The BPC route stays on the busy Pacific Coast Highway all the way through this stretch, while the AC route gives a better route, going through downtown Long Beach instead on the way to Seal Beach.

After Seal Beach is Huntington Beach.  For those heading inland, the Santa Ana River Trail starts here (see info in the West - East section below).

PCH is very busy in the area immediately south of Laguna Beach. The BPC route takes some side streets to avoid this part of PCH, but I don’t think the detour is worth the trouble, and the people who put together the AC map apparently didn’t think so either.

Both the AC map and the BPC routes are difficult to follow in hilly San Clemente. There’s no one single coastal road through the area, but it’s easier to follow the well-marked Pacific Coast Bicycle Route than tracing the route on a map.

After leaving San Clemente, follow these directions to get through the area of Camp Pendleton between San Clemente and Oceanside.

Note that there's a few sections (PCH/Anaheim St through Long Beach, PCH through Corona del Mar, PCH through Laguna Beach) where there are two narrow traffic lanes in each direction with on-street parking. Since the outside lane is too narrow to safely share with motorists, controlling the lane as shown in this video will prevent being squeezed in between passing motorists and parked car doors.

West - East:  Los Angeles to Palm Springs (including LAX information)

Most people cycling east from Los Angeles fly into LAX airport for a long tour, usually across the Southern US.  The Adventure Cycling Southern Tier Route goes across the Southern US, but the route starts in San Diego.  LAX is an easier airport for many people to fly into, especially those coming from overseas.  One could cycle from LAX to San Diego on the coastal route to use the AC Southern Tier route.  Or as a shortcut, one could cycle from east from Los Angeles and pick up the Southern Tier Route in Phoenix (Tempe), Arizona.

I don't know of a good route heading directly east from LAX.  Therefore, I suggest the coastal route to Huntington Beach (see above) and then heading inland on the Santa Ana River Trail.

The first challenge is getting to the coastal route from the airport.  The tunnel on Sepulveda (Highway 1) under the LAX runways is posted "no bicycles".  Although this is likely an illegal bicycle ban, the tunnel has fast traffic and narrow traffic lanes.  Therefore, many touring cyclists may prefer an alternate route out of the airport.  Folks from the bicycle touring email list suggested the following two options.

Option 1

bulletFrom LAX exit east on Century
bulletTurn right (south) on Aviation
bulletTurn right (west) on Imperial
bulletImperial dead-ends at the beach  

Option 2

bulletExit Sepulveda north (lots of traffic)
bulletLeft on Westchester Pkwy.
bulletLeft on Pershing
bulletRight on Imperial and one block to the entrance of Dockweiler State Park and the beach bike path.

Another alternative is public transit to get out of the airport area.  The MTA site is here, and a system map is here.  A free shuttle (don't know if it can carry bikes, boxed or unboxed) goes from LAX to the Metro Green Line.  Then you can transfer to the Blue Line and join the coastal route in Long Beach

After about 40 miles of the coastal route, one reaches the Santa Ana River Trail in the southern end of Huntington Beach, just before Newport Beach.  The Santa Ana River Trail goes inland here following - you guessed it - the Santa Ana River (actually, it's a concrete channel) and ends about 30 miles later at Green River Road in Corona.  It is paved all the way, so you will not have to ride on dirt.  To see the trail on a bike map, go to the OCTA Bike Map.  Click on the wording "Orange County Bikeways Zoomable Map" at the bottom for a bigger view.  The trail is the continuous red line that goes northeast, then turns east.

The BCCIE webpage gives directions from Grand Terrace (near San Bernardino) to Green River Road in Corona. Of course, you will need to reverse the directions to go from west to east.  Most people will only want to follow these directions as far as Riverside, since Grand Terrace takes you too far north if you want to ride to Palm Springs.

[The BCCIE website seems to be down, here is my copy of what used to be on it]

  Linden (exit UCR campus)      
0 L Canyon Crest 0.2 S  
0.2 R University 0.4 W  
0.6   University Village (Staging area) 0.6    
1.2 L Chicago 2.4 S  
3.6   becomes Arlington at Alessandro 1 S becomes W  
4.6 L Victoria 6.7 SW  
11.3 R La Sierra 0.8 NW  
12.1 L Indiana (careful at Grand, 15.8 miles. Indiana goes to the left. 3.7 SW  
15.8 R Neece (Indiana ends at this point) 0.3 NW  
16.1 L Magnolia (will become 6th St. in Corona) 4.2 W Possible pit stop at the Cleveland Nat. Forest ranger station office at 17.5 miles) (if open)
20.3 L Passeo Grande (suggested staging area) 4.2 S  
R Frontage Road immediately W  
21.0 L Serfas Club Drive 0.7 S  
21.4 R Palisades Dr 0.4 W dead-ends at Green River
23.0 R Green River Drive 1.6 W  
23.9   Cross over the 91 freeway 0.9    
  continue on Green River Drive continue S  
25.1   Enter bike path on the left. (Not a suggested staging area) 1.2    
  Featherly Park      

Here's a cue sheet that will get you from Riverside to Banning.  (Actually, it goes all the way to Indio, east of Palm Springs)  Disclaimer: I haven't tested this route, so I don't know how current it is, but I doubt it has changed much.

To get from Banning to Palm Springs, you can reverse this route from Day 4 (Palm Springs to Hemet via Banning) of the San Diego Christmas Bike Trip.

(There are probably some small gaps between the route sheets above - someday I'll fix them.  In the meantime, ask if you have any questions!)

Other Ideas:  Non-Coastal Options

One bicycling e-mail list subscriber was looking for directions from the high desert (Victorville area) to San Clemente (in Orange County) and then on to San Diego.  This advice is given in the first three sections below.  More information on following the I-15 corridor is available at the CABO website.

High Desert to San Bernardino/Riverside County

The only paved route over the mountains is by riding on I-15 over the Cajon Pass for one or two exits.  I-15 is legal for cyclists between Oak Hill Rd./SR138/Cleghorn Rd.

After coming down from the mountains into the LA Basin, one must then take surface streets roughly paralleling I-15 down to Corona.  

bulletEnter southbound I-15 at Oak Hill Rd.
bulletExit I-15 at Cleghorn Fire Rd. (first exit)
bulletW on Cleghorn Fire Rd.
bulletS on Cajon Blvd (Old 66)
bulletE on Kenwood Av. (go under I-15)
bulletS on Devore Rd.
bulletS on Lytle Creek Rd.
bulletSW on Duncan Canyon/Summit
bulletS on Etiwanda
bulletW on 4th/San Bernardino
bulletS on Milliken/Hammer/Main to downtown Corona

San Bernardino/Riverside County to Orange County

From Corona in Riverside County there are two ways into Orange County:

  1. Continue down surface streets near I-15 to Lake Elsinore, then Ortega Highway (74) up and over the Santa Ana Mountains. I would only recommend this way if you avoid the weekend traffic and rush hour traffic during the week. You'd be going uphill on the narrowest and twistiest part of the road.
  2. Pick up the Santa Ana River Trail outside of Corona to head westbound to Yorba Linda/Anaheim Hills in Orange County. Cyclists are not allowed on the 91 freeway between Green River Rd. in Corona and Gypsum Canyon Rd. in Anaheim, and the river trail is the only legal alternative.

Directions from downtown Corona to Orange County via the Santa Ana River Trail are below. These roads may not appear on a typical road atlas, so it would be best to go to Yahoo maps or a similar website for this information.
bulletStart in downtown Corona
bulletS on Main
bulletW on Ontario
bulletSW on Paseo Grande
bulletW on Green River
bulletW on Santa Ana River Trail to Orange County

There's a shorter route from downtown Corona to Orange County via the Santa Ana River Trail - jump into the middle of the Grand Terrace to Huntington Beach page.  (Grand Terrace is near San Bernardino.)   The directions end at Green River Road - just take that west all the way to the end to get the river trail.

If you don’t need to go to Orange County, there’s certainly no problem with heading south on Temescal Canyon Rd. (roughly parallel to I-15) toward San Diego.

Orange County to San Diego County Line

There are two good choices here:

  1. Continue on the Santa Ana River Trail for another 25 miles, which will take you all the way to the end of the trail in Huntington Beach. Once you’re in Huntington Beach, the coastal route to San Diego can be used.
  2. Leave the Santa Ana River Trail in Yorba Linda/Anaheim Hills, then surface streets to Orange, then inland along Santiago Canyon Road (S18), then through the eastern edge of Mission Viejo, then back to the coast via San Juan Capistrano.

The first option is flatter, but I find the river trail a little boring, so I usually recommend the second option.

The Orange County Bikeways Map is available as a downloadable Adobe Acrobat file from the Orange County Transit Authority website.   It’s a good resource for navigating the surface streets of Orange County.  See also my riding in Orange County page, which also has elevation profiles of Santiago Canyon Road.

Most of the major arterial roads in the county are 6 lanes, plus a bike lane in each direction. Speed limits are often in the 50 mph range, but on-street parking is generally prohibited, thereby not providing any major inconveniences for bicycle travel.

The following is the route I worked out for the couple on the e-mail list.  At the point where Santiago Canyon becomes El Toro Road it is still possible to stay inland and then return to the coast at San Clemente, but I think they were looking to get back to "civilization" after coming out of the canyon.
bulletStart at Orange County/Riverside County Line
bulletW on Santa Ana River Trail
bulletS on Gypsum Canyon
bulletW on Santa Ana Canyon
bulletS on Santiago/Wanda (Imperial/Loma is a 12% grade alternate)
bulletE on Villa Park/Santiago Canyon
bulletS on Jamboree
bulletSE on Santiago Canyon
bullet(scenic detour – turn left on Live Oak Canyon – not shown on the county bikemap, but this road appears on most maps – there’s a campground at O’Neill Park)
bulletSantiago Canyon then becomes SW on El Toro
bulletSE on Moulton/Golden Lantern
bulletArrive Dana Point – follow the coastal route from there.

Santa Barbara to San Diego via Los Angeles - Inland Alternative

Another couple was looking for an inland route through Los Angeles, since they had already planned some stops in certain places (including Disneyland).  I only really helped them with the Orange County section, but coming from Santa Barbara they went eastbound, roughly paralleling the 101/134/210 freeway.  Then they went into Orange County roughly paralleling the 57 freeway to get to Disneyland.  After Disneyland, they took a route similar to the one above through Santiago Canyon to get to San Diego.

The route went something like this (warning - you'll have to complete the gaps between these streets yourself!):
bulletE on Roscoe Blvd. through the San Fernando Valley
bulletE on La Tuna Canyon over the hills to La Crescenta
bulletE on Colorado Blvd. through Pasadena
bulletE on Foothill Blvd. from Pasadena to Glendora
bulletS on Grand Ave. to Diamond Bar
bulletS on Brea Canyon into Brea
bulletS on Kraemer/Glassell to the city of Orange
bulletE on Katella/Villa Park Rd./Santiago Canyon Rd. to connect to the Orange County to San Diego route above 

Page Last Edited (though probably not for content): 14 September 2010