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Destination: Southern California

Joy Rides

10 scenic bike trails for real people

June 28, 1998|WENDY THERMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whenever I'm driving the freeway to work and I see a motorist flying by with a bike or two lashed to the bumper, I smile with secret envy. They're off to see the world, or some sublime slice of it, while I'm stuck counting the days until I can do likewise.

Sunny weekends find me trundling along the highways and byways on my industrial-strength mountain bike, enjoying my favorite pastime of sightseeing on two wheels. Often during these rolling reveries I hear the whoosh of spandex-clad muscle machines rocketing by on skinny, gleaming 24-speed bikes. Now, somewhere in my helmeted brain, I dimly understand that they're having a grand time. But to me, the thought of putting nose to pavement to work on pedal cadence or aerodynamic technique is about as appealing as biking in a hurricane.

Ah well, different spokes, different folks. Most people who own bikes just want to enjoy the outdoors, get some exercise and go on family outings. So here are 10 of my favorite rides in Southern California that can be done by just about anyone on an ordinary bike. Most are flat and kid-friendly. All are full of serendipitous distractions and are best enjoyed at a pace below light speed. I call them rides for real people.

1) THE CALIFORNIA CLASSIC

South Bay bike trail

6-36 miles round trip

This is the quintessential beach bike ride, unbeatable for people-watching and first-rate for beginning cyclists. If you're feeling ambitious, bike the entire 18-mile path from Santa Monica to the Palos Verdes Peninsula (flat all the way!) through beach towns made famous by '60s surfing music. Park south of the Santa Monica Pier in the lot at Ocean Avenue and Bicknell Street ($5 to $7) and hop on the paved trail that skirts the sand. You'll soon be cruising beside the carnival-like Venice boardwalk. Slow pedaling here is a must so you can eyeball the parade of characters and costumery (and for safety on this busy stretch). Turn around at the recently renovated Venice Pier (restaurants nearby) or follow the landscape southward as far as your legs will take you. Head up Washington Boulevard about a mile to an off-road path just past the fenced pond. Then pass the Marina del Rey yacht harbor, Fisherman's Village (a good stop for eats), the Ballona Creek jetty and endless rows of laid-back condos at Manhattan and Hermosa beaches. At Redondo Beach, stroll the pier, then head back the way you came.

2) THE PALM TREE TOUR

Santa Barbara

9-mile loop

Sweeping ocean views, tranquil marshland, historic spots. This is bicycling paradise, and you can hit some of the town's best attractions--too far apart to do on foot--without the hassle of driving one-way streets and finding parking. This ride gets extra points for ample food and refreshment opportunities along the way. Park on Cabrillo Boulevard between State and Milpas streets (on Sundays, the beach art show may force you to park west of State or north of Cabrillo). Get on the signed "beachway" and swing east to the peaceful Andree Clark Bird Refuge. Head back west and take a detour to the end of bustling Stearns Wharf. Then pedal north on State Street and right on Canon Perdido to the historic Presidio, tops as a tourist stop in my book. Nearby are the famous Moorish-style courthouse (a block east of State at Figueroa) and the small but well-loved Santa Barbara Art Museum (State at Anapamu Street). Return to your car by turning left at Victoria Street, left at De La Vina, right at Haley and left at Castillo. At the corner of Castillo and Montecito streets are the Victorian-era Fernald Mansion, the Carriage House Museum and the Trussell-Winchester Adobe.

3) MOUNTAIN MEANDER

West fork of San Gabriel River

15.6 miles round trip

Amazing but true: a nearly flat, paved, off-road bike trail in a mountain wilderness. This sun-dappled ride hugs a verdant stream bank and ends atop 1930s-era Cogswell Dam, where you can spot Mt. Baldy looming eastward. Along the way, graceful oak trees and spruce shade the path through the chaparral-lined canyon. It's best to do this ride on a weekday or get there before 8 a.m., as parking quickly fills on weekends ($3 on weekends and holidays). To get to the trail, take the Foothill Freeway (210) to Azusa Avenue (California 39) and go north to the Angeles National Forest. Just past the 27.02-mile post marker (12.9 miles north of the freeway), you'll see the paved parking lot on the left. The trail starts south of the bridge at the "road closed" sign. At 6.7 miles is the Glenn Trail camp, a good lunch stop with picnic tables (and an outhouse). Where the asphalt path turns to concrete, lock your bike and walk the steep hill to the top of the dam--the 360-degree view is worth it.

4) BREEZING BY THE BEACHES

Southward from San Clemente

26-39 miles round trip

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