Los Angeles and the bicycle have somewhat of a love/hate relationship. On one hand, L.A. is perfect for riding; the weather is gorgeous, the city mostly flat, and the places to ride bountiful. On the other, riding a bicycle in L.A. means, almost invariably, riding in stressful traffic. Bike lanes help, protected bike lanes help more, but ultimately it’s always nicer to ride without checking over your shoulder every other second.
With that as the preface, all the rides listed below are either entirely car-free, or take place on roads where there is very light traffic. Unless otherwise noted, all of the rides friendly for folks of all fitness levels. They are listed, roughly, in an ascending order of difficulty, from pleasant summer evening spin to a mountainous excursion.
(We’ve included hyperlinks to all the routes in Google Maps. If you’re on your phone they’ll open up directly into Google Maps. If you’re on your computer, Google makes it easy to send the maps link to your phone by simply clicking ‘Send to Phone’ icon on the page. Happy riding!)
Let’s start out with the one you probably don’t know about already. This one’s a secret!
Tucked up in the San Gabriel Mountains above Azusa is the absolutely gorgeous, roughly 7.5-mile long, Devils Canyon Dam Truck Trail. Gently climbing from Highway 39 to the Cogswell Dam, the Devils Canyon Dam Truck Trail is hands down one of the single most beautiful rides in all of Southern California.
The road itself parallels a small, but always audible, creek fed by the upriver dam. Often shaded by trees and mountains, the road offers riders a cool, relaxed, very gently sloped ride through the mountains. No cell service here. It’s just you, your bike, a bubbling brook and the San Gabriel Mountains. Picnic tables are plentiful along the road too, encouraging you to stop and eat for a little bit and take it all in. Just remember that you are in the Angeles National Forest, and that you’ll have to pack any of the trash you create back out with you. Please don’t leave it in the forest.
As for the difficulty, the road gently slopes uphill between Highway 39 and the dam itself. You probably won’t even notice the grade until you turn around and notice you’re going a bit faster. If you want to go up to the dam itself, be warned there is a very short but very steep grade at the end of the road. You definitely don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, the first 7 miles of the road are the main attraction. This is an easy, low intensity ride. Bring your kids.
Aside from being hauntingly beautiful, the road is closed to all public vehicular traffic. You might pass by the car or truck of a public works employee who works at the dam, but they are courteous and are looking out for cyclists and hikers. As you be should too. Pedestrian traffic, especially on weekends, can be high throughout the first mile or so. Once you get past the main recreation and fishing areas, though, it’ll seem as if you’re entirely alone in the forest.
Directions: You’re going into the mountains for this one, so a car is a requirement. Exit the 210 freeway (in Azusa) at Azusa Avenue/Highway 39. Orient your car north (towards the mountains) and just start driving. The road you’re looking for will be 20 to 25 minutes from the freeway, just past the junction of Highway 39 and East Fork Road (you’ll see a bridge). Here’s a Google Maps link with the precise location of the dam road. You can park on the side of the road, or in a parking lot a quarter of a mile back off Highway 39.
Ballona Creek Bike Path
This is a mainstay of my own personal riding. Running between Culver City and Playa Del Rey, the Ballona Creek path lets Angelenos ride 7.4 car-free miles straight to the beach. Though the path first picks up close to the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and National Boulevard, the first mile or so is very bumpy and in poor condition. Your best bet is to get on the path at Duquesne Avenue in Culver City, and ride straight out to the beach.
Just be aware that if you’re going in the afternoon, you’ll likely have to deal with a light headwind while headed out to the coast. On the bright side, this will turn into a great tailwind on your way back! Drinking fountains may be found along the pathway in adjacent parks and parklets.
For extra credit, you can check out the Baldwin Hills Stairs and Scenic Overlook. Situated at the intersection of Hetzler Road and Jefferson Boulevard, the Baldwin Hills is a great outdoor hiking park without the pretension of some other hiking areas in L.A. There are plenty of bike racks at the bottom of the stairs, but if you’re feeling particularly daring, try riding up to the top on Hetzler.
Directions: Parking is plentiful along Duquesne Avenue and in the neighborhood surrounding the beginning of the path. If you fancy yourself more a car-free type, the Expo Line also runs nearby. From the La Cienega Station, you can ride southwest along Jefferson Boulevard (which has a good bike lane, just watch out for doors) until it intersects with Duquesne, at which point you’ll turn right. Alternatively, the La Cienega Station is very close to the actual start of the Ballona Path, meaning you don’t have to ride on Jefferson at all if you don’t want to. There are also entry points at most major streets (and some residential) the path crosses under on its way to the beach. Play with the maps to see what works best for you.
Marvin Braude/Pacific Coast Bike Path
Paradise is riding your bicycle along the Pacific coast. I challenge anyone who disagrees. The Marvin Braude Coastal Bike Trail is 22-miles of pure beach beauty. Stretching between Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades and Torrance Beach, the Marvin Braude Bike Trail offers a uniquely Southern California experience. It also just happens to connect directly to the Ballona Creek Path, meaning that if you want to ride from Culver City all the way to Palos Verdes, you can!
We’re sure you know about this path, but we’re plugging it here anyway because it really is that great. Riding conditions along the path are usually pretty mellow, but the path can often get crowded and sandy, especially on weekends and especially on the portions that run through Santa Monica and Venice. Weekday evenings, especially now that sun sets much later, will be perfect. There are lots of facilities along this path at regular intervals. L.A. County provides a helpful map that highlights amenities along the path.
It’s important to note that the path is interrupted on the coast twice. In Marina del Rey, the path circumnavigates the Marina. The only thing to note here is that you’ll ride along Washington Boulevard for a short bit. There is a good bike lane here, and traffic is usually very courteous in this area since there are so many people riding bikes. A similar thing happens in Hermosa Beach where you’ll have the choice of riding along either The Strand (often crowded on weekends), or Hermosa Avenue (very chill).
Directions: This is an extraordinarily accessible path. Because you’ll have a bicycle, you won’t have to pay exorbitant waterfront parking fees. Just find a residential area close to the coast, park your car, and ride to the path. Rumor has it there’s now a train that goes to the coast now too.
The Rose Bowl
While it’s not particularly scenic, you’ll be in good company while riding at the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl Loop consists, basically, of a 3-mile loop around the stadium, its parking lots, and a golf-course. Cyclists and joggers alike use the loop for basic training, and the loop is generally good for just getting some good exercise in.
While not quite as adventurous as some of the other rides listed here, the Rose Bowl is a great place to get in shape. The loop is gently sloped, giving you a chance to practice going both uphill and down. Traffic is light and respectful, given there are lots and lots of other bikers and runners in the vicinity. Etiquette dictates that, since you’re on a bike, you remain to the left of the marked barriers that distinguish space for walkers and runners, and the street itself. There are also drinking fountains and bathrooms up closer to the stadium.
Aside from when there’s an event, there’s never a bad time to ride at the Rose Bowl. Even at night, there are lots of people around and the roadways are mostly well-lit. Just remember if you are riding at night to have both front and rear lights.
Directions: Drive to the Rose Bowl as you normally would, and park anywhere! Parking is free, so long as there isn’t an event going on. A dirt lot at about 176 West Drive, Pasadena is an ideal spot to park if you’re riding around the stadium.
Various River Paths
If you want to ride far without much hassle (or good scenery for that matter), you can count on a number of different river paths that run throughout the region. The L.A. River Path, the San Gabriel River Path and the Rio Hondo Bike Path all offer basically the same thing; very long stretches of very flat “Class 1” bike path. These are very long routes that pass by great swaths of Los Angeles, not unlike a freeway for bikes.
A bit closer to L.A. is another iteration of the L.A. River Bike Path running between Griffith Park and Elysian Park. This 7.2-mile stretch is great for riding, however it’s been closed for most of 2016 since the city decided to use it as an El Nino barricade. El Nino has come and gone (mostly gone), but the pathway is still closed. Hopefully it will reopen soon.
The Arroyo Seco Path, passing through northeast Los Angeles, is another good, albeit short, option. The Arroyo Seco Pathway is just under 3 miles long.
Directions: We’re a bit more open ended here since you have lots of options. Study the maps, figure out where you’re able to get on to the paths, and just go!
Arguably the best urban park anywhere, Griffith Park can offer you all sorts of different styles of riding. If you want a relaxed easy spin around the park, you can ride along Crystal Springs Drive and Zoo Drive. If you want a little climb (highly recommended) thrown into the mix, you can complete a loop by adding in Griffith Park Drive. These two routes are easy, have good pavement and have sizable lanes/shoulder areas to ride on. Traffic is rarely a problem, but can the park can get very busy on weekends.
But say you want something more—a workout you might say. Griffith Park has lots of hills, most notably Mount Hollywood. Mount Hollywood is crisscrossed with a multitude of ridable roads that let you elevate both your body and your heart-rate above where they usually sit in the city. One of my personal favorite rides is to circle through the park, climbing up Commonwealth Avenue to the Griffith Park helipad, over Mount Hollywood, and back down to Vermont Canyon. This route has two climbs, punctuated by some flats and descents.
If you are climbing in Griffith Park, be sure to visit the observatory too.
Directions: You should already know where Griffith Park is. Parking is free throughout the park, often permissible on the side of the road. Park close to where you want to ride, and then just start riding. You could also always ride to the park!
This park flies under the radar. Despite being just 10 minutes away from downtown Los Angeles (by car or bike!), it’s often only sparsely filled. Even on the weekend, it’s easy to find your own private quiet space in the park. The park’s roads were recently totally repaved too, meaning that you’ll be riding on very smooth, very grippy asphalt. Elysian Park is beautiful. It’s L.A.’s oldest park, and offers a cornucopia of transplanted tree species mixed with excellent vistas of downtown L.A.
To be entirely honest, Elysian is probably not the best place to go if you haven’t been on a bicycle in years. It is a hilly environment. None of the hills are particularly large or steep, but you’re definitely climbing throughout. Though cycling and hiking aren’t exactly the same thing, consider Elysian Park roughly akin to the amount of effort you’d need for the Wisdom Tree Hike, to the top of Mount Hollywood, or even to the Hollywood Sign (to which you can also ride your bike!).
If you’re new to climbing on a bicycle, the most efficient way to do it is to use an easy gear and spin quickly. Your legs will probably feel like they’re burning, but that means you’re doing it right. None of the hills in Elysian Park will take you too long to climb, and you’ll be treated to fun downhills and some excellent views. Drinking fountains and bathrooms may be found throughout the park.
Directions: You’re allowed to park anywhere inside of the park’s boundaries. This map shows basically everywhere you can ride in the park. If you are planning on visiting Elysian, Park double-check and make sure there isn’t a Dodger game scheduled at the same time. Traffic is impossible when there is.
Okay, I just had to include this one. If you’ve been riding a lot in the city and are bored of Elysian Park, Griffith Park and the beach, you should really dabble with riding in the San Gabriel Mountains. Riding to the top of Mount Wilson is a great introduction to the vast play-place just north of our city known as the Angeles National Forest. It’s about 19 miles and 4,500 feet of climbing from the foot of Angeles Crest Highway to the top of Mount Wilson.
By any metric this is a challenging climb. You’re looking at roughly two to three hours of riding from the base of Angeles Crest Highway (at Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada Flintridge) to the top of Mount Wilson. You can find water at the ranger station at Clear Creek Junction (the first junction after heading into the hills) and again at the turnoff for Mount Wilson Road (the second junction). The payoff is a fantastic view of the greater Los Angeles area, and the satisfaction of having just climbed a mountain on your bike. Indulge at the Cosmic Cafe.
Traffic is usually light, though can get heavier on weekends. Weekend mornings and evenings are great, as well as mid-day on weekdays. Absolutely avoid commuting hours, however, as Angeles Crest is used by very fast-driving Palmdale commuters who don’t want to sit on the 14 freeway.
Directions: Again, directions are open ended. There’s plenty of unrestricted residential parking close to the beginning of the route up. The Gold Line also passes relatively close to Angeles Crest Highway. It takes roughly 30 minutes to ride from the Memorial Park station to the foot of Angeles Crest.
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