Tour Report: Orange County to San Diego
Memorial Day Weekend 1998
Tour Preparation & Packing
Due to the holiday weekend, I had planned to reserve campgrounds in advance. The AAA
campbook mentioned that reservations could be made up to two months in advance - so in
late March I called to make reservations, and to my surprise the campgrounds were full. It
turns out that the AAA book was wrong and that camping reservations for California State
Parks can be made up to seven months in advance.
I called Doheny State Beach and confirmed that they had a small hiker/biker site - no
reservations, first come, first served, with a limit of only 5 people. I wasn't able to
get a hold of San Elijo State Beach, so I assumed that its hiker/biker site was similar.
Our main packing dilemma was how to fit two people's worth of gear onto one tandem bike
for two. We each used a rear pannier for our personal stuff, and used the front panniers
for cooking gear, food, and stuff we wanted access to while riding (like our jackets). I
got a big stuff sack for the two sleeping bags, and another stuff sack for the two
Thermarest pads. We arranged these two bags and the tent across the top of the rear rack
like three logs. The total weight of the bike and gear was about 105 pounds.
Saturday, May 23
Orange (California) to Dana Point, 35 miles
After some last minute packing, we rode down to Laguna Beach, where we would pick up
Pacific Coast Highway and follow the Adventure Cycling route to San Diego. We stopped for
lunch, and we were already being asked, "where are you riding from?" I briefly
thought about lying and saying Seattle or San Francisco or some other far away place, but
I mumbled "Orange" and then highlighted that we were riding to San Diego for the
After lunch we headed south on PCH. Traffic was a little hairy, with 2 lanes of traffic
in each direction, and parked cars on the side of the road. We got a bike lane/shoulder
and less traffic after passing South Laguna.
A steep downhill through Dana Point helped us test our brakes. We made a pit stop at
the bottom of the hill, and our rims were quite toasty from only using the cantilever
brakes. After that, we didn't mind carrying a couple of pounds of extra weight for the
additional drum brake!
Since Doheny State Beach is the first state campground when travelling south from the
metropolitan Los Angeles area (the closest one to the north is near Malibu, about 85 miles
away), we arrived early at 2 PM to secure a hiker/biker spot. The hiker/biker site was in
a small area right behind the restrooms, and there was already one tent set up, so we
immediately staked a claim to some real estate. Within an hour, two others with tents
showed up, filling the site to capacity - we were glad to show up early!
Later in the afternoon, the owners of the first tent - a couple from Europe - showed
up. They were touring on two single bikes and had gone separate ways for the day to do
some shopping. This was their final stop on a four month tour starting in Central America
and ending in the U.S. I asked if they needed some advice on how to get to the airport,
but they had some friends who were picking them up at the campsite and driving them to Los
The campground was fairly noisy during the early evening hours, but luckily the noise
died down after 10 PM. Unfortunately, the trains would wake us up momentarily every couple
Sunday, May 24
Dana Point to Cardiff by the Sea, 45 miles
I was finally able to get the Whisperlite International stove to a slow simmer this
morning (it usually has two settings: off, or full blast), and I was able to cook pancakes
without burning them! After breakfast, we chatted with the European couple about their
travels before heading off for the day.
After riding along the coast through Capistrano Beach, the ride took us through the
coastal hills of San Clemente. We found it easier to follow the "bike route"
signs through San Clemente instead of using the Adventure Cycling maps.
South of San Clemente, a severly damaged bike path was the only alternative to the
freeway to get to the old road through San Onofre. Luckily, the damage was restricted to a
short downhill section at the beginning of the path. The old road (not open to automobile
traffic) roughly parallels the freeway and connects to the campground at San Onofre State
Beach. We rode several miles along the road through the campground, with train tracks and
freeway to the left, and campsites to the right.
After the state beach, we rode on another old road before crossing under the freeway
and to the entrance gate for Camp Pendleton. Camp Pendelton is a large Marine base along
the coast which is bordered on the north by the outer Los Angeles suburbs, and on the
south by the San Diego suburbs. As such, the freeway is the only way for automobiles to
get from Los Angeles to San Diego, but cyclists are allowed to ride through the roads on
The guard seemed rather perplexed when we stopped at the open entrance gate. I expected
him to check our identification or sign us in, but he just waved us through.
Riding the ten miles through the base, we passed a Boy Scout camp, various official
buildings, tank crossing warning signs, old tanks along the side of the road, and
cookie-cutter style marine housing. However, we were most surprised at the number of
cyclists passing through the base.
We exited the base at Oceanside, which promptly returned us to civilization as we know
it. In a haste to find a place for lunch, we settled on the first place we could find that
had an outdoor patio where we could keep our bike at arm's reach. The food was OK, but the
service was horribly slow - we suspected we were being singled out for some reason and
Traffic on Coast Highway through Oceanside wasn't very pleasant - we passed the same
bus about seven or eight times. Once we got to Carlsbad, traffic lightened up, and a
separate bike lane and a beach view - complete with beach goers and surfers - suddenly
There were a few rolling hills in Carlsbad - going uphill, we even passed an unloaded
We passed through the (relatively) small communities of Leucadia and Encinitas.
Unfortunately, we didn't have too much time to stop, since we wanted to get to our
destination in time to secure a campsite. We arrived at San Elijo State Beach in Cardiff
by the Sea a little after 3 PM. The campground personnel were very friendly, asking us
where we came from, how far we'd gone, etc.
Unlike Doheny State Beach, the hiker/biker campsite was a "real" campsite -
it was the same size as a normal campsite, and not tucked in wherever they could find
space. There was plenty of room - we only had to share it with a small family local to the
area, who had brought their gear in by foot and bike.
The campground was on some bluffs overlooking the ocean. After dinner, we walked down
the stairs to check out the beach. There wasn't really a beach - just some rocks where the
ocean met the cliffs. Lots of surfers and boogie boarders were out in the water, trying to
enjoy as many of the waves as they could before sundown.
Monday, May 25
I couldn't get a repeat performance of yesterday's pancakes, since I got the stove too
hot, and I forgot to grease the frying pan. Oh well, a good excuse to finish our bananas
and granola bars we had bought.
When we checked out of the campsite, the attendant in the booth noticed that another
group had stayed at the hiker/biker site. He asked if we had any problems, and we told him
everything went OK. He inquired as to our next destination - we said we're taking the
train back home. So he gave us directions to the train station.
The train station in Solana Beach was about a 2.5 mile ride from the campground. We had
some time to kill, since the next train that took baggage left at 1 PM. We strapped the
sleeping bags, tent, and mattress pad together, and we checked these in with the panniers
at the station. We locked our tandem to a nearby rack and walked around town.
Solana Beach also had a small town feel, with the shops lined up Cedros Ave. Most of
them wouldn't open until 11 or 12 with the holiday, though. So we crossed the train tracks
onto Old Hwy. 101 and hung out at a coffee house & juice bar for a while. Afterwards,
we checked out camping gear and other stuff at the Adventure 16 store.
Before the trip, I did some research and found out that the San Diegan trains that run
from Santa Barbara to San Diego have bike racks in the baggage cars that accept unboxed
bikes. I wasn't sure how this was going to work out with a tandem, though. When we had
bought our tickets earlier in the morning, we found out that they charge $5 for single
bikes and $10 for tandems.
When our train arrived, we brought the unloaded, unboxed tandem to the baggage car
before boarding the train. I never did get a first hand look at the racks, since all I had
to do was lift the tandem up to the attendant in the baggage car, and she took care of
When we got off the train in Santa Ana, we walked over to the baggage car. By the time
we got there, the baggage car attendant was handing our tandem down to another attendant.
Our panniers and gear were sitting right next to the tandem on the baggage golf cart. Wow,
that was real easy!
We strapped everything back on the bike and rode the seven miles back to our house. The
last mile - the steep hill on Newport Ave. before our house - was the hardest riding of
the whole trip. We climbed the hill at a snail's pace of 4 miles per hour, but at least we
had a low enough gear to do it in.
We got home safe and sound at 3:30 PM - just in time to shower and change for a holiday
dinner at the in-laws' house that night!