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Southern California beach towns on two wheels – Monterey Herald

Southern California beach towns on two wheels – Monterey Herald

I’m torn between loathing and loving Southern California. I’m repulsed by the human congestion, yet seduced by the beachfront cycling lifestyle. After tossing the idea around for a couple of years, my husband, David and I were finally ready to map out the logistics of a weeklong ride from Santa Monica to San Clemente with a rental car shuttle back to our start.

Gear loaded, we hopped in the truck to take our dog, Gem to Fresno for a visit with her husky siblings. Like a couple on vacation with their child safely and happily at camp, we continued our carefree journey south through the Central Valley’s blossoming orchards, stopping at the Sun Maid factory store for a medley of raisin snacks. The happy-go-lucky tone changed as we climbed Highway 5 over the Grapevine where bloated black clouds pelted the road with freezing rain gradually engulfing us in a white cloak of snow for several winding miles. I was so relieved to see patches of blue over Santa Monica that even the dreaded freeway traffic didn’t faze me.

The Channel Road Inn, one of several boutique bed and breakfast hotels in Monterey’s Four Sisters Inns collection, was the perfect base camp for our adventure. David and I revealed in the property’s historic charm, embracing hospitality and classy comforts at the edge of a quiet residential neighborhood, just steps from the beach trail.

Access to free street parking until our return was a good omen as we rode off with our 20-pound pack and the morning sun on our shoulders. Our buttocks made peace with the not so cushy seat as we passed Venice Beach and threaded through Marina del Rey on the 22-mile-long Marvin Braude Bike Trail, named after a Los Angeles City councilman. We stopped at the Redondo Beach Pier to stretch and read about George Freeth, the first surfer in the United States and first “official lifeguard on the Pacific Coast.”

In Torrance, we traded the flat beach path for a climb to the Palos Verdes cliffs. By the time we crested at Malaga Cove, it was going to take more than stunning scenery to keep me happy. The Yellow Vase Bakery’s pastries were tempting, but a Magnum Belgian chocolate-covered-double-caramel ice cream bar from the Cove’s market proved the ultimate caffeine booster. Smile back on my face, we pressed on for another 10 miles to the isolated Point Vicente lighthouse. The sun’s angle and cooling breeze announced it was time to hunker down for the night and Terranea’s bluff-top resort was the closest option. The splurge paid off with a spacious room, superb view, heated swimming pool, patio dining and a moonlit trail for our evening walk.

Looking at the calendar over breakfast, we snapped out of la-di-da mode realizing that President’s Day was around the corner. We needed to book hotel rooms pronto! Our hopes for weekend nights at the Four Sisters Newport Beach Hotel on the Balboa Peninsula were quickly dashed, but a few Google clicks and a stroke of luck landed us a reservation at the Balboa Inn.

We cranked up the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), zigzagged our way to the Point Fermin Lighthouse and braved the Los Angeles Port’s gauntlet of semi-truck traffic and daunting maze of bridges across San Pedro Bay before reaching Long Beach’s tourist-friendly Pierpoint Landing.

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San Clemente Beach Trail is a 2.3-mile stretch of the California Coastal Trail. (David Mullally—Special to the Herald)

The mood got tested at mile 40 before we realized numb rumps were to blame. Tension diffused with humor, we set our sights on Huntington Beach for a Magnum bar energy blast to zip along the last 10 miles to the Balboa Inn. A hot shower and the view from our second floor corner balcony room overlooking the Balboa Pier was a fitting reward after the arduous day. The location was convenient to the Old Spaghetti Factory for a bargain pasta dinner and a side of nostalgia as David reminisced about working here while in law school.

Our planned “rest” stop began with a morning ferry hop to idyllic Balboa Island and ended with a 20-mile loop walk around Newport Beach and the Back Bay Nature Preserve.

Back on wheels, our fifth day of coastal sampling took us around Crystal Cove State Park’s Historic District and 1920’s restored beachfront rental cottages. Powered by a Shake Shack burger topped with a caramel sundae and a frothy vanilla shake, we whizzed out of Crystal Cove toward Laguna Beach The art hot spot gave us a severe case of hotel sticker shock as we walked up to our budget-busting “casita “wannabe in the middle of a parking lot. Switching to an attitude of gratitude for snagging a bed and shower on a holiday weekend, we turned our focus to enjoying strolling along picturesque Heisler Park’s promenade above the pocket beaches and critiquing art. The Faux Paw Artique gallery bursting with amazing ceramics, whimsical paintings and custom accessories was a canine and feline lover’s dream!

Of all the beach communities, Dana Point was my favorite. Richard Henry Dana Jr. referred to this area as “the only romantic spot on the California Coast” in his book, “Two Years Before the Mast,” an account of his 1834-1835 voyage aboard the merchant sailing ship, Pilgrim. On the second to last day, we combined cycling around the historical landmark with hiking the Headlands Conservation trails.

The Blue Lantern Inn, another home run for the Four Sisters collection, exuded peaceful elegance on Dana Point’s promontory overlooking the Riviera-like marina. That evening, the Chart House’s cliff-side patio was an idyllic vantage point for dinner with a harbor view.

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The Queen Mary and the Shoreline Village along Pierpoint Landing Park in Long Beach. (David Mullally—Special to the Herald)

We lingered over the Blue Lantern’s elaborate breakfast on our last day hoping to prolong what had been a fabulous freewheeling week of touring. Our terminus was San Clemente’s Spanish-style hamlet, but feeling ambitious with time to spare, we decided to clock an extra 30 miles coastal round-trip to Camp Pendleton’s Marine Corps base before dinner on the San Clemente Pier.

That evening, basking in the glow and glee of the week’s successful excursion, we got jazzed about returning for a spin through the next string of beach towns to San Diego.

Linda B. Mullally and husband David share their passion for travel, outdoor recreation and dogs through articles, hiking books and photography at www.lindabmullally.com, Falcon.com and Facebook

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Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes Nature Preserve. (David Mullally—Special to the Herald)

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