Do you need maps or guide books to cycle the Pacific Coast Highway?

SEPTEMBER 12, 2013


Before I (James) started riding the Pacific Coast Highway, a well meaning friend told me I wouldn’t get lost as long as I kept the ocean on my right hand side.

For some stretches of the journey this simplistic approach to navigation was effective, but there were also numerous occasions when rather more thought was needed.


Pacific Coast bike route signs were quite common but we wouldn’t want to rely on these alone to find our way to Mexico.

You don’t see the ocean for long sections of the journey and there are numerous towns and cities to navigate. Much of the PCH is actually pretty well signposted with ‘Pacific Coast Bike Route’ signs, but I certainly wouldn’t want to rely on these alone.

Pierre and I used a guide book and a set of maps to help find our way down the length of the USA’s west coast.

Often simply referred to as ‘The Book’, Tom Kirkendall and Vicky Spring’s Bicycling The Pacific Coast was an invaluable source of information and we would highly recommend it to potential PCH cyclists.


It’s detailed turn by turn directions are great and the extra information is incredibly helpful. This varies from where the last grocery store of the day is located to which campsite accepts hiker/bikers or has showers etc.

The majority of riders we met were loosely following the same route set out in ‘The Book’, which meant we bumped into a lot people again and again in camp and on the road. If your aim is to enjoy some solitude on a bike tour then this may not appeal to you, but for Pierre and I the camaraderie we found among fellow riders was a real highlight of the journey and we’re grateful to ‘The Book’ for helping us meet fellow PCH riders.

Despite ‘The Book’s’ strengths, its maps aren’t great and if you deviate from the route set out you can soon find yourself lost. This is why we also took the Adventure Cycling Association’s set of five maps dedicated to the Pacific Coast Highway. They provide a detailed route created by cyclists for cyclists. However, at around $70 they aren’t cheap and we met people who simply picked up state cycling maps along the way, which is another option.

Adventure Cycling Association Pacific Coast maps.

Adventure Cycling Association Pacific Coast maps.

As a general rule, ‘The Book’ didn’t mind taking you on a few busier roads and freeways whereas the Adventure Cycling Association maps did everything it could to avoid these. However, the busier roads and even the freeways were almost always fine and often fun to ride on, featuring huge shoulders and courteous motorists. We found the alternative routes offered by the maps often added unnecessary extra miles and hills to a day’s ride.


James riding towards the Avenue of the Giants. We generally found the busier highways and freeways featured large shoulders and courteous drivers. They were usually flatter than alternative routes which resulted in fast miles.

We based much of our journey on ‘The Book’ and used the maps as a back up. But we never stuck too rigidly to either, making sure we explored new places, took recommendations from new friends and created our own unique journey down the USA’s Pacific Coast Highway.


Is Malibu’s stretch of Pacific Coast Highway safe for cycle tourists?


The dangers of riding along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu have been highlighted by an eight-year-old road safety campaigner, but is the stretch of highway too risky for cycle tourists?

Duna DiVito took to YouTube to show how riders are squeezed into a narrowing shoulder next to a concrete barrier that was erected to protect the road against landslides.

The youngster said: “It’s too dangerous for the bicycle because there’s not enough room in between the car lane and the concrete wall.”

A number of accidents, including the death of a 36-year-old woman last year, have given this scenic section of road a bad reputation.

Before riding through Malibu myself earlier in the summer, I (James) was told horror stories by local people and fellow cycle tourists about the dangers ahead. Despite this I emerged unscathed and rather enjoyed experiencing a beautiful and iconic part of the west coast.

Parked cars, some poor sections of road and narrow shoulders did add risk, but being alert to these dangers, wearing bright clothing and riding as safely as possible minimised the threat. While it’s true much could be done to improve cycle safety in Malibu, I didn’t feel particularly vulnerable despite the area’s reputation.

According to the Malibu Times, action is already being taken to increase safety with plans having been approved for six-feet wide bike lanes along eight miles of the Pacific Coast Highway in the west of the city.

As a cycle tourist, I’m thankful to people like young Duna Divito and other safety campaigners for putting pressure on the authorities to do more for bikers. But if you’re cycle tour takes you through Malibu before improvements are made, I’d recommend being as visible as possible, riding carefully and being alert to the dangers, so you can enjoy your ride.

Because after all, enjoyment is why we began cycle touring in the first place.

September 5, 2013

Ever wondered what it’s like to bicycle the Pacific Coast Highway?

Ever wondered what it’s like to ride the Pacific Coast Highway? Or perhaps you’re keen to relive some memories of a past trip?

Well check out the videos below from the good people at Blackburn.

The bicycle company has been sponsoring a group of everyday folk to tackle two of the USA’s most challenging bike rides – the Pacific Coast and the Tour Divide.

If you look closely you might even spot myself (James) and Pierre making a cameo appearance, although sadly we weren’t one of those lucky sponsored riders.


4 responses to “Do you need maps or guide books to cycle the Pacific Coast Highway?

  1. Hey fellas
    Cracking web.
    I read that you think its quite an achievable route in 6 weeks. How about in about 24 days! We are a 4 ball. We all have cycled multi day events. Such as 500 milers in 6 days. This clearly a big step up. We will travel exceptionally lighter than you guys. We will have less than 1 of your front panniers on the back. No camping – although does seem the best way to do it. Just time is a little of the essence so weight is an issue.
    Did you cross over to Vancouver Island at all? I am wondering about the crossings and timings?
    We are looking to go in late May 2014. Any view on best time to go….
    Sounds an amazing trip you boys had – am hoping ours is as much a craic as yours. Am sure it will be.

    • Thanks Tim, sounds like you’re prepping for cracking adventure. I don’t see any problems with your timeframe if you’re all fit cyclists who are used to riding long distances day after day.

      Are you looking to average about 80 miles each day? That’s very achievable, particularly if you are travelling light. I took a couple of months but spent a week in LA, and week in San Francisco, as well as numerous other stops.

      My only advice would be to book accommodation in advance whenever you can. A lot of the PCH has plenty of places to stay, but some stretches may need planning.

      I headed south from Vancouver overland to the USA border so I didn’t go to Vancouver Island. However, I have made that ferry journey in the past a few years ago. It’s pretty regular and from memory takes a couple of hours, perhaps a bit more. The ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, if I remember rightly, is about the same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s