* The Santa Ana River Trail in Orange County has to be Southern California's best-kept bicycling secret. It's perfect for non-gearheads who want to spend some easy time in the saddle.
Start at lovely and leafy Yorba Regional Park in Yorba Linda. The 23-mile trail goes all the way to Huntington Beach. But the first 10 miles, to Anaheim Stadium, are good enough for me. There is zero car traffic to contend with, and you don't need to keep a tight rein on the kids because there's plenty of room for everyone using the path.
The first 2.5 miles skirt Yorba Regional Park's endless acres of grass, picnic tables and ponds. At Imperial Highway, a bridge goes over to the west bank. You can leave the trail here and get a bite to eat. Another 3.7 miles brings you to a wilderness-like area with shade trees and flocks of birds, including graceful herons fishing for lunch.
Just before the 10-mile mark, near Arrowhead Pond, is a pocket park with shade trees, water, a restroom, a couple of picnic tables, even a bike rack. The nearby turnaround point is practically within arm's reach of the "Big A" marquee at the stadium.
You probably will be riding into a head wind on the way there, and in the big book of bicycling, that means you're supposed to have a helpful tail wind on the return leg. Sometimes the wind diabolically changes direction, but don't fret. On a hot summer day, you'll want that breeze in your face anyway.
* Long Beach can easily boast that it's one of the most bike-friendly places in Southern California. A 17-mile ride taking in the waterfront, Belmont Shore and Naples probably will have you wondering why you don't visit the Queen City more often.
The one shortcoming of this ride is that it just isn't long enough, says Sunny Haberman of Belmont Heights, a bike path regular. "In the morning, it's especially nice. It's never crowded. The Huntington Beach bike path is just too packed with people. And it's not as windy here as it is there."
You can park at the garage next to Catalina Cruises on Golden Shore ($8 per day). Follow the bike path past the Avalon-bound ferries to the new Long Beach Aquarium and the marvelous dolphin fountain. If it's early in the day and you want coffee or a bite to eat, turn inland and travel a few blocks up Pine Avenue. And check out the Long Beach Bike Station just east of Pine Avenue and 1st Street, the nation's first bike-commuter facility. It's a good spot to fill your tires and grab snacks for the ride.
Back on the waterfront, the bikeway threads past the eateries and tourist shops of Shoreline Village, the colorful fishing scene at Belmont Pier and a must-see 1960s-style coffee shop, Chuck's, across from the Belmont Olympic Pool.
Turn left at Bay Shore Avenue for a leisurely sojourn through the sunbathing mecca of Belmont Shore. Then swing over the 2nd Street bridge for a jaunt around the tiny island of Naples. This Italian-themed citadel is full of splendid homes and gardens. Colorful kayaks ply its canals.
After leaving the island, head back on Bay Shore Drive and take a detour to the right on 2nd Street. This lively commercial strip is brimming with funky boutiques, cool cafes and international cuisine.
Before returning to your car, swing out on the jetty at Shoreline Village, especially if the sun is sinking in the west, for a picture-postcard view of the magnificent Queen Mary.
* The Ventura Promenade and Harbor is the place to chill out when it's a 100-degree scorcher most everywhere else. Summer weather there is virtually always pleasant, and I've sometimes found myself biking in fog.
Even better, this ride is adaptable to all ages and skill levels. "This is the ideal family ride. I have three boys, and we started riding here with training wheels," says Joan Dodge, a school counselor and Ventura resident who was tootling down the path recently with two visitors from Australia. "This whole area is user-friendly."
Indeed, there's no shortage of food, water and restrooms on this 13-mile ride.
Park at San Buenaventura State Beach ($1 per hour), near the Sanjon Road exit of the Ventura Freeway. Pedal west past the pier to the Promenade, a wide concrete ribbon lined with flowers, trees and benches that gives a sweeping view of the coastline and (if it isn't foggy) the Channel Islands. This segment of the ride can be a bit busy on weekends, and it might be best to walk it.
Head inland for a bit when you come to the Ventura River, where there's a peaceful lagoon. When the path hits Main Street, retrace your route to San Buenaventura State Beach and then just keep going.
Soon you'll be sailing past free-form sand dunes, where multicolored vegetation is taking hold as the state rehabilitates native coastal flora. At San Pedro Street, it's a good idea to end the ride if you have young children because the route merges onto city streets.
Pierpont Boulevard takes you through an aging, laid-back beach community. Then a short stretch on Harbor Boulevard brings you to Spinnaker Drive and the Ventura Harbor. This tidy village of shops and eateries caters to both locals and tourists.
Take Spinnaker all the way to the end, where you'll find the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center. The exhibits are few but unusual; you can learn about Pygmy mammoths that once roamed the area and how island foxes are tracked.
* For detailed maps of the trips in this story, see http://www.calendarlive.
com. Calendar Live! also has its own biking guide with skill levels, directions and scenic highlights of biking trails in L.A., Orange and Ventura counties.
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Riding Out the Heat
Make the most of a summer day with a ride along one of these easy bike paths. For detailed maps go to http://www.calendarlive.com.