The Best California Bike Routes, According to Pro Cyclist Alison Tetrick

Photo courtesy of Wil Matthews.

The Best California Bike Routes, According to Pro Cyclist Alison Tetrick

By Alejandra Saragoza
April 23, 2020

As communities across the world and in California mitigate health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are shifting our content focus and will not encourage any travel or social activities during this time. We will, however, continue to shine a light on and celebrate the many beautiful aspects of our State with the intention of being a source of inspiration and joy during this difficult period. We will also be providing tips and resources specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic safety measures in the coming weeks. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

“What I love most about riding my bike in California is the views, smells, and beauty you can discover. There are really beautiful roads with great snack spots and fun places to visit along the way. ... We’re pretty lucky with that in California.” —Alison Tetrick

The crisp breeze and warm sunrays surround you as ride along the twists and turns of the road, rushing past the shimmering coastline, fields of fragrant wildflowers, looming trees, and verdant grasses undulating in the wind—it’s impossible not to feel an intimate connection to California’s spectacular landscapes and natural wonders when you’re cycling, which is precisely why pro cyclist Alison Tetrick fell in love with the sport. 

Given her impressive cycling career, you’d never guess she learned how to ride a horse before she knew how to ride a bike. Raised on a cattle ranch in the Central Coast town of Los Alamos, Tetrick spent more time horseback riding in the hills than she did playing organized sports. But she has always had a competitive streak and wound up playing collegiate NCAA tennis at Abilene Christian University in Texas, where she earned a degree in biochemistry with an emphasis in molecular biology. It wasn’t until she graduated that she found herself on a bike—albeit reluctantly. 

Bay Area resident and iconic cyclist Alison Tetrick has raced across the world, winning numerous national and international titles.

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“After finishing my tennis career, I still had a bit of a competitive edge,” Tetrick recalls. “And my grandpa—who started cycling at the age of 60 and who has 17 masters national championships—always told me I’d be an amazing cyclist. But I was like, ‘Grandpa, that’s super dorky. I’m not doing that … here’s the deal: I’ll do triathlons because they involve a bike.”

The rest, as they say, is history—and as it turns out, her grandfather was right all along. Tetrick started bike racing to ramp up her triathlon training and won her first few cycling races. Merely two months later, she was a Category 1, the highest category of racing for women. Two months after that milestone, USA Cycling invited her to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, and she nabbed a spot on the national team. Since then, she’s gone on to race with professional teams all over the world and to win numerous national and world titles. 

“Cycling wasn’t necessarily intuitive for me to do, because I’m not an adrenaline junkieI don’t crave speed or dangerbut it was something I was gifted at and I fell in love with,” Tetrick says.

The bike brought me a lot of joy in exploring and appreciating the good things in life. " Alison Tetrick

The bike brought me a lot of joy in exploring and appreciating the good things in life.

But it hasn’t always been easy. The tenacious athlete has also experienced a devastating bicycle crash and overcome a shattered pelvis and a traumatic brain injury, with her difficult journey to recovery culminating in a revelatory, life-changing achievement: winning the 2017 Dirty Kanza—a premier, 200-mile-long gravel race through the Flint Hills of Kansas—and smashing the women’s course record in the process.

Now known as the “Gravel Queen,” the 34-year-old Petaluma resident balances her cycling career with her professional career in corporate communications. She chatted with us to share her favorite cycling routes in California (and where to stop along the way), her essential biking gear, and her tips for aspiring cyclists. 

Best Cycling Routes in California 

Here are Tetrick’s top rides, plus her suggestions on where to fuel up when you need sustenance.

Tetrick enjoys bike rides along Highway 1, where she can admire the sparkling shores and stop at local eateries during her journey.

Highway 1

“[From Marin County] I go north on Highway 1 and make a stop in Point Reyes Station; there’s a great bakery there called Bovine Bakery,” Tetrick says. “Then I continue north. I often stop in Marshall because I love the Marshall General Store. It’s a local favorite with amazing seafood and fresh oysters—plucked right from the Tomales Bay—plus great views and a really good wine selection. You can also keep going north to Nick’s Cove and the town of Tomales. … It’s a really nice ride and pretty safe, especially once you get a little farther from tourism. The food’s always local, the people are pretty chill and friendly, and the views are to die for. I think it’s some of the best riding in the world.”

Make a trip out of it: Getaway Guide: Point Reyes

Petaluma to Eureka

“This ride is amazing,” Tetrick gushes. “You go through Mendocino and the Lost Coast. … It’s so insane; you don’t even know how it still exists, but you’re just riding along on a paved road and it’s the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen. The photos I have of the Lost Coast will blow your mind. There are also really good snack stops (though they are few and far between), and of course, the views are incredible.”

Make a trip out of it: Getaway Guide: MendocinoGetaway Guide: FerndaleTraversing Trails: The Lost Coast

Raised on a cattle ranch in Los Alamos, Tetrick loves returning to her hometown in Santa Barbara County.

The Coast Ride

The ride from the Bay Area down to Santa Barbara [via Highway 1 and Highway 101 South] is amazing,” she says. “I stop in Solvang and Los Alamos so I can ride by my old house. And I know all the fun spots where I can stop and eat and enjoy. In Los Alamos, there’s a Central Coast barbecue shack called Charlie’s; I used to ride my horse to Charlie’s after working on the ranch all day and get a tri-tip sandwich—they have the best tri-tip sandwich ever. I also grew up going to Paula’s Pancake House in Solvang, which is pretty famous. But there’s also Ellen’s Danish Pancake House in Buellton, which is not as fancy but has (dare I say) better Danish pancakes. The trade-off is that Paula’s has mimosas and Ellen’s doesn’t.”

Make a trip out of it: Getaway Guide: San Francisco, Getaway Guide: Half Moon Bay, Beach Day Itinerary: Santa Cruz, California Coastal Spotlight: Monterey, Getaway Guide: San Luis Obispo, Getaway Guide: Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara County

“In Solvang, I also love to ride up to Figueroa Mountain. When the wildflowers are blooming, it is gorgeous; you have lupins and poppies and shooting stars. It’s a long climb, so on a scale from one to challenging, it’s challenging—but it’s doable. You don’t have to go fast, and it’s not a very long ride. And with it comes the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean from the top of Figueroa Mountain. It’s pretty special.”

Whether she's riding in the mountains or along the coast, Tetrick always brings her essential cycling gear. Photo courtesy of Wil Matthews.

Essential Biking Gear

Whether you’re planning a short bike ride or a multi-day excursion, here are the cycling accessories Tetrick recommends.

The Basics: An appropriate bike, a helmet, glasses, components, a cell phone, a credit card, an ID card, and plenty of water are essentials for any ride. Tetrick often uses her Camelbak to carry water, especially for longer journeys. (Fun fact: Camelbak is a California-based outdoor gear company.)

The Fuel: It’s important to carry your own nutrition with you, too, particularly if you’re riding off the beaten path or you’re not sure where you’ll be able to stop for food along the route. Tetrick relies on GU Energy Lab’s stroopwafel, energy gels, and chews to stay energized.  

The Cool Gadgets: It can be convenient to have additional equipment and accessories for your biking adventures. Tetrick always brings her navigation and flat-fixing products from Lezyne, a San Luis Obispo–based company. The GPS unit is especially handy for mapping cycling routes and finding offline maps when cell service isn’t available. Take it from Tetrick: “It’s not like you can call an Uber wherever you go, so you need to be prepared.”

Tetrick became the "Gravel Queen" after winning the legendary Dirty Kanza gravel race and setting a new record. Photo courtesy of Wil Matthews.

Pro Tips for Aspiring Cyclists

Feeling motivated to pedal along a new California bike path but not sure where to start? Here are Tetrick’s top three tips on how to start cycling. 

Tip #1: Get a properly fit, quality bicycle. “You want a comfortable and reliable machine to tackle your region’s bike paths, parks, and open spaces,” Tetrick explains. “When I first started riding, it was intimidating to me. I didn’t have all the gear, and I was afraid about the technical aspect. I spent time working with my local bike shop and practicing riding it in a safe environment (like an empty parking lot or office park) before I hit the open road.” 

Tip #2: Start small. “It may seem daunting to get out on your bike, but you can cover so much ground and explore the great outdoors,” she says. “Begin with small rides and pick a goal, whether it be a targeted event such as a mountain you want to climb or a bakery that you want to visit, and start building up to that.”

Tip #3: Find a buddy. “Having an accountability partner and a riding buddy is great,” Tetrick advises. “Check out your local cycling clubs, bikes shops, or bicycle coalitions to find like-minded people who will support you and get you out of the door and onto the open roads!

What cycling route will you try first? Let us know in the comments.

Alejandra Saragoza

Alejandra Saragoza

Alejandra is a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, Via, Tourin…

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  • Pedro | May, 12

    Great guide. I'd love to do the Highway 1 route. It is too hard to reach Stinson Beach in this route? Thank you for sharing Reply

    • Alejandra Saragoza | May, 12

      Hi Pedro! You can definitely reach Stinson Beach by bike using Highway 1. Just note that there'll be some climbs and twists and turns, and you'll want to plan your route depending on where you're coming from. Happy cycling! Reply

      • Pedro Ceballos | May, 12

        Thank you very much for your answer. I really hope I can go to the Bay Area next October, we'll see. I love autumn colors while biking there. Reply

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