The Pacific Coast Highway spans 659 miles of California's coastline between San Francisco and San Diego. It is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the United States and draws visitors from across the country who are interested in seeing California's most iconic cities. Have you ever considered a road trip to the Pacific Coast Highway?

A motorcycle ride along the California's Pacific Coast Highway is an epic adventure through some of the most beautiful coastal sceneries in the United States. One summer, the year after graduating Univ. of Connecticut, as many know as UConn, I took an across country trip to California to see and experience the Pacific West Coast!  

California has always been portrayed to me in a romantic way. I’ve been fascinated with exploring the Golden State for as long as I can remember.

My hunger for that exploration was amplified after a road trip I took with a friend in the Summer of 2017. As soon as I started riding motorcycles, I knew that’s how I wanted to experience the Pacific Coast. I wanted to lean my way through corners on two wheels under the California sun without a care in the world. I mapped which roads I would take, found the taco stands and doughnut shops I’d hit, and marked which cliché tourist spots my fanny pack and I would grace with our presence. I was ready to soak up the sun and hit the road.

On The Road: California State Route 1

Bright-eyed and ready for adventure, I rode out of San Francisco on my way to Monterey for the first leg of my trip: 120 miles along CA-1. This was the culmination of months of planning and years of dreaming. I wound my way down through Half Moon Bay, engine between my legs, road inches from my toes. I began to get a feel for the tight corners and the excitement running through my veins.

As I crested a hill and gazed into the Pacific, my dreams were mildly shattered. “Fog? Where did all this fog come from?” I hadn’t bothered to check the weather forecast before I left. California is always warm and sunny, right? At this point I pulled over and fumbled into a sweatshirt I brought with me, grumbling the entire time.

cannery row

Now, you’re probably getting the sense I’m not a very savvy traveler, and you’d be right. However, what I lack in common sense, I more than make up for with blind determination. It’s not like this should have been a surprise to me either. I’d been to the San Francisco bay before and I definitely should have known better. Pain builds character, right?

So, I bundled up and hopped back on the motorcycle. After I warmed up and got over my own stupidity, I began to really enjoy myself and the new-found rhythm with my bike. Twisting and turning my way towards the Pacific Ocean, I admired how the road sliced into the hills.

Monterey: Laguna Seca Raceway

In addition to riding the Pacific Coast Highway, I wanted to do a bit of sight-seeing and explore the places I was passing through. Not only is Monterey home to a world-renowned aquarium, the area is also blessed with the Laguna Seca Raceway, a true Mecca for any motor racing enthusiast.

Laguna Seca is one of the most recognized race tracks in the world. This is largely due to the nearly untamable 8th turn, affectionately dubbed “The Corkscrew”. A blind crest leading into back to back left-right turns while simultaneously dropping nearly 60 feet in elevation. As a driver, it’s a lot to process all at once. It’s been the site of many famous passes in motor racing history, as well as many famed crashes. Obviously, being as talented and skilled (not to mention humble) as I am, I’ve absolutely mastered the Corkscrew on the Xbox. So, it was a bit jarring when the professional racers competing that day didn’t take my unsolicited advice as well as I would have hoped.

No matter, it was still mesmerizing to see drivers who actually knew what they were doing attack the Corkscrew and make it look simple in the process. I was only a spectator this time, but I will absolutely return one day and try my hand at the famous corner, maybe after a little more practice with a controller first…

Further South: Solvang & Santa Barbara

The next morning, I was ecstatic to get back on the hog and start the next leg of my trip. Sun on my back, Pacific to my right, and bike purring for 250 miles south through Big Sur towards Santa Barbara. It’s rare to find a road in great condition; potholes, frost heaves, and countless other annoyances often litter your path. Such was not my experience through Big Sur. I had never seen such a well-manicured road! The previous year, mudslides had knocked out large chunks of Route 1, closing it off while they made repairs. The result of this effort was pure bliss for me. I could lean the bike with such confidence. I was attacking corners one by one and coming out on top, each a separate victory. I was racing in my own personal MotoGP event and loving every second of it. I was a rebel in my own mind, but that’s not to say I looked the part. Just imagine a pasty kid going way too fast for his own good, smiling to himself like he just escaped from the local psychiatric ward. It was wonderful.

In-between my near psychotic bouts of euphoric joy, I managed to meet many wonderful locals and fellow adventurers. One such local was an older gentleman named Steve. As we got to know each other, I learned about his life and what brought him to California. He grew up in Singapore where he studied software engineering, later moving to Silicon Valley for a 30-year career in the field of Electronic Design Automation. He had since retired, but still loved to learn. Steve was now taking classes on subatomic physics and quantum mechanics. As he explained the complexities of the universe to this baffled kid who barely passed Calc 2, I asked him about the many guitars on his walls, hoping to change the subject to something I might be able to follow. He had no fewer than 23 guitars scattered around his home and could absolutely shred on every single one.

Even more impressive, he lost most of his right hand in a factory accident from his youth. He showed me the special prosthetic attached to his thumb, which allowed him to strum so well it would give Hendrix a run for his money. When he played too energetically, his device would often detach itself and fly across the room. Grumbling to himself, Steve was forced to stop playing and spend a few minutes searching under couch cushions. I love Steve.

The Halfway Point

590 miles from my foggy San Francisco start, I finally made it all the way to San Diego, my halfway point before turning back. After a lengthy visit to the Leucadia Donut Shoppe, I headed back the way I came. While mostly uneventful, one experience stood out and made me feel like a true bad-to-the-bone biker.

North of San Francisco, many folks on two wheels spend time cruising along Route 1 near Point Reyes. Riding north along the twists and curves, I found myself amidst a pack of four other young bikers. We were riding together when the Honda in front of me locked its rear wheel going around a right-hand turn. The rider squealed across the oncoming lane and headed straight towards the edge of the road, which dropped off at a steep cliff. As his life was undoubtedly flashing before his eyes, he jumped off the motorcycle in an attempt to save himself. The bike slid on its side along the asphalt spitting sparks and shrieking terrible noises with him not far behind. I watched as both man and machine tumbled off the edge of the road and heard a friend of his shout “I think Paul just died!” We all screeched to a halt and sprinted over to the edge, fully expecting to see Paul at the bottom of the cliff squished like Wile E. Coyote.

Looking over, we found the smoking motorcycle and an unhurt, but very wide-eyed Paul caught in the scrubby bushes about 5 feet below. After making sure everyone was alright, we lugged the motorcycle back onto the road and breathed a collective sigh of relief. The only thing badly hurt was Paul’s ego. Seeing the commotion, other bikers stopped to help. Soon, we had half the state mending the bike and swapping stories.

As my week of motorized adventures came to an end, I finally understood why California is considered one of the best places in the world to experience on two wheels. The Golden Coast completely captured my heart as well as my throttle. I absolutely plan on returning to tame the serpent-like roads many times over.

As I made my way back home, I was reminded of something a very wise roommate once told me: “You live on two wheels, you die on two wheels. Everything else is just a cage”. He might actually be a little insane, but that’s alright, the sentiment is nice.

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