Saddle Up For San Diego

The Sydney Morning/The Age Traveller

13 February 2016

 

See the sights at a slow pace in the most bike-friendly city, writes Tatyana Leonov.

San Diego’s undulating topography is a cyclist’s paradise. Scenic routes meander along seafront boardwalks, challenging tracks spiral their way up wily hills, and plenty of charming neighbourhood runs take cyclists through the vibrant tapestry that is San Diego.

The seaside city is almost always sunny (rain is so rare that when it drizzles some locals don massive waterproof jackets), the annual average temperature is a balmy 21 degrees, and whatever time of day it is, everyone seems to be smiling. So it’s no big surprise that cycling here works.

San Diego also holds claim to some of Southern California’s most famed bike rides (including the Silver Strand, a picturesque 17-kilometre run along the thin strip of land that connects Coronado and Imperial Beach) and although there aren’t many dedicated cycleways as of yet, the biking infrastructure is rapidly improving and there are plenty in development.

The existing cycle lanes that are on roads feature extra-wide buffers (painted segments that divide the road from the bike path) and in September 2014 a law was passed in California, declaring that motorists must give cyclists a 0.9-metre buffer when passing (previously drivers were expected to maintain a safe distance from cyclists, however the distance was not stipulated).

About half of the states in the US have dedicated cycle buffer zones, California joining the fold in late 2014. So San Diego’s move is not pioneering. What makes San Diego punch above its weight, though, is the general attitude to cycling.

A growing number of residents are using cycling as a way to commute and for visitors, hiring a bike offers a fun way to check out the city’s sights. Travellers can rent a hotel bike (Hard Rock San Diego offers guests free bike rental) and pedal alongside locals who are happy to chat scenic routes, or join 35,000 or so bike enthusiasts every August for the annual Bike the Bay event, or rent a DecoBike and explore the city at their own pace.

Andy Hanshaw is the executive director of San Diego County Bike Coalition, a non-profit organization that advocates for cyclists’ rights and works on outreach programs and encourages people to ride. He explains that San Diego is an ideal destination for cyclists.

‘‘Our stunning coastline, the improving infrastructure and the DecoBike scheme all points to San Diego as a city that’s on the move when it comes to cycling and cycling culture.’’

Launched in Miami in 2011, the bike share DecoBike initiative spans five cities, with San Diego the latest to make the list. A convoy of 1800 DecoBikes spread across 180 bike stations make up the sophisticated network, offering both tourists and residents access to areas otherwise far away by foot.

Many of the popular neighbourhoods, such as North Park, South Park, Hillcrest and the museum complex grounds of Balboa Park, are easily accessible by pedal power.

There are plenty of guided tours that take in San Diego’s key sites, and holidaymakers with an international driver’s licence can hire a car. A DecoBike is a nice in- between – flexibility on itineraries and timing and the ability to stop whenever and wherever desired. If hardcore cycling is the objective there are plenty of challenging routes to undertake. If a leisurely pedal as far as the next block ... or brewery (San Diego is renowned for its top-notch craft beer) is the goal, that’s fine too.

San Diego is home to more than 60 kilometres of buffered bike lanes, DecoBike fees are hourly, and many of the cafes and breweries allow cyclists to bring their bikes inside – so you can sit down and soak up chilled-out San Diego before venturing out on the next adventure.

 

CHOOSE YOUR RIDE 

CYCLING NOVICE: Whatever your travelling style (walk, skip, cycle, slow, fast . . . anything goes) you’ll fit right in pedalling along Mission Beach boardwalk. The beachfront course is flat and it’s near impossible to veer off track. If you need to catch your breath there are often street performers entertaining passers-by.

WEEKEND WARRIOR: This 40-kilometre Bayshore Bikeway loop trails through various regions in San Diego County and utilises a mix of bike lanes and separated bike paths. You can also cycle a portion of the loop, the Silver Strand being the most popular section.

MEAN MACHINE: An expedition to Point Loma peninsula is well worth the uphill challenge. The route takes in spectacular vistas of the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay to the west and downtown San Diego and Coronado to the east. There is a small fee for entry into the national park, but there’s plenty to explore, including an old lighthouse, a historic radio station and the magnificent Cabrillo National Monument.

 

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION: visitcalifornia.com.au

GETTING THERE: Qantas flies to Los Angeles from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Virgin Australia flies to Los Angeles from Sydney and Brisbane. Onward connections to San Diego are available via various carriers, including United Airlines and Delta Airlines.

 STAYING THERE: Hardrock Hotel San Diego has 420 rooms and suites (spanning 12 different accommodation categories). Rooms start at $US199 ($280) per night. See hardrockhotelsd.com.

BIKING THERE: For more on general biking in San Diego see sdbikecoalition.org. For DecoBike station maps and pricing see decobike.com. For information on Bike the Bay see bikethebay.net.


Tatyana Leonov travelled as a guest of Visit California.