April 24, 2024

How to experience a cycling holiday in LA

LA is the Amsterdam of America,” no one ever said. Los Angeles was even named ‘Worst Bike City’ in the United States Misuse magazine in 2018, citing a lack of protective road infrastructure and a preference for the car that hinders such development. More than five years later, little has changed. Ultimately, LA worships the fast and furious – and luxurious.

I acknowledge this truth while also beating the drum for cycling in LA. Perfect weather, beaches, mountains and cool neighborhoods and a compelling, traffic-busting vehicle make for an excellent combination.

I start north through Santa Monica on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, the famous 22-mile bike path that cuts through the beach and then meets traffic on Ocean Avenue. The coast is no longer visible, but the water makes the bottom of the sky glow. Some local cyclists at a red light compliment my wheels – a rental bike from Helen’s Cycles in Mid City, Santa Monica, which I rate for quality road and mountain bikes. It seems we’re all restless for a ride after the week’s rain.

Joining a group bike tour is a great way to experience LA by bike (Kinza Shenn)

I head towards Topanga State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains, passing through Will Rogers Historic State Park along the way. The ride up is beautiful. The route passes through a hilly, wooded area called Rustic Canyon, and at one point crosses a small stream via a wooden bridge. The roads are extremely quiet and the air feels warm and botanical. That’s true of LA’s most affluent properties: each house is an elegant weirdo, and worth keeping an eye on for the long moments it takes to cycle past.

Read more at Traveling through the US:

Needless to say, things get more spectacular the higher (and harder) the climb is. Will Rogers is a beginner to intermediate elevation climber with views of foaming mountains from the Inspiration Loop Trail. The view from Topanga is blue, mostly ocean, with LA off to the side. It’s pale, strangely peaceful from a distance, and ready to ride with a healthy dose of discernment and strategy. With an approach like that, LA opens up to cyclists, and I prefer to commute by car. What follows is an overview of how to do it properly.

Where to cycle

If you’re on a biking vacation in LA, dive deep into a handful of neighborhoods. This is how most of the city’s residents live, because it is difficult to travel through the city by any means of transportation. The main roads are often the most intimidating for cyclists, and I prefer side streets for their quieter atmosphere. I tend to stick to a handful of destinations and take the bus between them. There is a rack on the bumper of each bus on which two bicycles can be mounted.

Alternatively, there is the Metro Bike Share – a map of the stations in the province shows which neighborhoods are designed for cyclists. The stretch of Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park is sometimes compared to a mini West Coast of Brooklyn. All three are less touristy places with lots to do, see and eat, as well as neighboring Griffith Park for more walks and views. The south side of Griffith offers you the Hollywood sign and observatory. I also enjoyed a route with E-Bike Tours LA that takes you to the more remote “Wild Backside” of the park, with views of the San Gabriel Mountains and the Bee Rock route.

The Griffith Observatory is a steep climb by bike, but worth it for the views (Korak Taylor)

Downtown LA is the densest area in the city for Metro Bike Share stations. The once neglected financial district has undergone a transformation following the pandemic. The arts district includes the new Row DTLA, a converted American Apparel production facility that is now a huge complex of shops, bars and restaurants, with a fun market on Sunday mornings. If you’re cycling there from the DTLA proper, it’s worth taking a detour north along the way, stopping first at Grand Central Market for the historic festival of food and coffee vendors. Little Tokyo is also on your doorstep.

Santa Monica and Venice Beach are close to each other and are skater and bike area. There is life beyond the beach in the city of Santa Monica (while always within a short bike ride). It’s nice to be in the Mid City neighborhood for a less touristy base with great dining options: keep an eye out for cute brunch spots Huckleberry Cafe and Tartine.

Santa Monica beach is a relaxing place to ride before the trail returns to the road (Kinza Shenn)

Venice Beach is also dotted with a mix of chic, indie gems around Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Pacific Avenue, like Hooked for coffee and Great White for brunch. You won’t have trouble finding bikes here, but Jay’s Rentals is my favorite. It’s a beachy, ramshackle local institution on the boardwalk that’s been around since the 1990s, with simple rides that don’t feel expensive.

Who should you cycle with?

There is safety and fun in numbers. I recommend planning both tours and cycling groups; those I meet along the way all agree. You may already be familiar with Critical Mass, a community ride-meets-party operating in the United States. In LA, thousands depart from Koreatown on the last Friday of the month. Total Trash Cycling Club is a trail-based group that cherishes 1990s rock and mountain biking nostalgia (the name is an homage to Sonic Youth). The Mixed Race is a female-led night ride that takes place weekly on Thursdays in West LA. Warning: it’s a quick drop ride, so they won’t wait for those left behind. For a more fun night out, The Family Ride leaves no one behind and welcomes beginners.

Also keep an eye on CicLAvia’s events page around your travel dates. The nonprofit temporarily closes streets to vehicle traffic, encouraging cyclists, skaters and pedestrians. It is a great gathering for the local cycling world.

Bikes & Hikes LA offers tours of Hollywood and LA on standard and e-bikes. If you have the time, I would go for the full “LA in a Day”. With a length of 52 kilometers, it is a rare opportunity to explore all the main neighborhoods in the company of a great guide. You’ll visit West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Sunset Strip, Marina del Rey, and Culver Studios, just to name a few.

On the home stretch you make a pit stop along a series of roller bridges over the canals of Abbot Kinney. With palm trees and houseboats along the water, the scene looks like a painting. If a photo says more than a thousand words, perhaps it represents the Amsterdam of America.

Travel essentials

How to get there

British Airways flies from Heathrow to LAX from £428 return.

Where to stay

Located in the heart of Venice Beach, Hotel Erwin offers bicycle rental and storage.

Hotel Per La in Downtown, with its striking Ristorante Per L’Ora, leans towards the glamorous, metropolitan side of LA.

In downtown Santa Monica, the Ambrose Hotel offers bicycle and e-bike rentals to guests.

Read more at the best hotels in LA

Kinza was traveling as a guest of Discover Los Angeles And Visit Santa Monica

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