The Best Highway — to Avoid

EL SEGUNDO, CALIFORNIA

It’s one day before Phil’s Cookie Gran Fondo. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn – El Segundo. Yesterday I did a short test ride after I rebuilt the bike. I reserved a rental car and would pick it up at 2:00 p.m. I had time for a ride. Even a long ride.

Bike trail in Santa Monica

Pro cyclist, Krista Doebel-Hickok, posted a ride yesterday on Pacific Coast Highway. It looked like a recommendation and I scrubbed plans for a shorter ride (35 miles) and decided I would do this. A quick search and I found a site called Spinlister that referred to PCH From Santa Monica To Malibu as the “perfect California bike ride.”

In fairness, there were some warnings that this trip wasn’t for everybody. But I decided it was good enough for me. The views of the ocean, the sound of the surf breaking on the beaches, and the smell of the fresh salt-water air would offset any negatives the highway experience might throw at me. Right?

El Segundo Trailhead

The trip through El Segundo to the beach was through a mostly residential area with lots of stop signs. I counted 12 and most were four-way stops with traffic so I had to stop and put a foot down for each one. It wasn’t bad, in fact, it was a pleasant ride. But it wasn’t one where average speed would be great.

Presented without comment

Once I made it to the beach I got on a bike trail. It was the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. It is generously wide and weaves back and forth along the beach. At Culver City, it becomes a combination of urban bike paths and bike lanes through Venice. There I picked up the bike trail again.

Riding between the water

In Venice, the bike trail next to the ocean got very crowded. I am sure it was nothing on a Friday morning in October compared to a Sunday in August. Large parts of the trail were two paths. One was marked exclusively for cyclists while the other was for pedestrians. Despite the presence of the large green markings for Bikes Only, this did not stop many people from walking among the cyclists. We shared the trail with many roller-bladers who were logically welcomed on this path rather than with the walkers.

Rollerbladers. Welcomed,

The trail came to an end north of Santa Monica and then the adventure on the Pacific Coast Highway began. This is a four-lane highway with a small shoulder. There are stretches where cars and parked, and worse, a food truck. The food truck, in order to open to customers on the grass side, parked right up to the white lane. Cyclists have nowhere to go except into the traffic lane.

World-famous Santa Monica Pier

Traffic here, Santa Monica to Malibu, was heavy. While a Friday morning around 10:00 a.m. seems better than rush hour or possibly weekends, it may not have been. Bumper-to-bumper traffic creeping in this stretch would be safer than the cars whizzing by at 50-55 mph.

Diversion off PCH and through Malibu
Malibu Road – it runs parallel to PCH for 2.5 miles

My ultimate destination was Point Dume Recreational Area. There were no signs to the area from the south as I went in through a residential area. It looks like a beautiful area for hiking with absolutely wonderful overlooks. It is here where there are some of the best viewing areas for humpback whales migrating from December to March.

Point Dume Natural Preserve

Going north, there were a number of pinch points where I had to merge onto the highway. At each one I stopped, took a photo, took two looks behind me to make sure it was clear. And I relied heavily on my Garmin Varia radar.

Food trucks blocking the PCH shoulder

Going south, there were a lot more times that I had to ride in the traffic lane. Despite the presence of one sign which said Bikes May Use Full Lane, I wondered if any drivers saw the sign. More importantly, I felt that none cared.

Point Dume

I was so thankful I got back safely to Santa Monica and picked up the trail again. I diverted to In-N-Out Burger in Culver City. It was busy and I found a dad with his son, maybe 13 years old, and told the son I’d give him $1 to watch my bike while I went in to order. It was perfect.

In-N-Out Burger, Culver City

I head back to El Segundo to pick up my rental car. On the trail.

I gave him one dollar to watch my bike

The bottom line is the ocean views and saltwater air did not counter the angst of riding on the PCH. I would not recommend this stretch of road. I’m glad I did it once but I am not looking to ride it again.

To be certain, this is only the stretch from Santa Monica to Malibu which is a 💩 show. About eight miles north of Point Dume on the PCH is where Mulholland Highway meets the PCH. We ride this stretch north during Phil’s Fondo. And this stretch is fine for most road cyclists. Wider shoulders and no pinch points. Also better ocean views. In short, avoid PCH from Santa Monica to Malibu. But further north, enjoy the ride.



DISTANCE: 69.5 miles
AVERAGE SPEED: 15.3 mph
WEIGHT: 177 lbs