We’ve all probably seen those lists of the top 10 motorcycle rides in the USA – typically a rehash of the same roads again and again. As the leading expert on motorcycle riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway I make an effort to get out and see those other top 10 motorcycle rides to see how they stack up to the one I consider best. I’ve just returned from riding the last good section of the Pacific Coast Highway in California and here’s my biased opinions of how they compare.
Over the years I’ve ridden all but one of the good sections of the Pacific Coast Highway. The fact that there are good and not-so-good sections on the long western ride is one major difference between the two roads - there are no “not-so-good” sections on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The scenery is stunning and beautiful as the coastal road traverses the high cliffs and rocky beaches along the western shore. The one remaining section I just finished riding is the Big Sur area in central California.
Located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Big Sur area is found just south of Carmel. Further south the seaside road is pretty built up with homes and businesses and sections of freeway and holds little appeal to me as a pleasant and scenic motorcycle ride. Same to the north as you get into the San Francisco area. While this area was nice, my top pick for the best section of the Pacific Coast Highway would be the section through Oregon, though this is a good one.
Contrary to what you might expect, the Pacific Coast Highway is not entirely on the coast. It diverts inland in many places, away from the cold ocean waters into the rolling dry hills. To the north in Washington and Oregon, that sometimes takes you into the redwood forests, and a brief section did so near Big Sur. Mostly though, these inland diversions run you through the dry and rolling hills almost monotonous in appearance. You won’t find the lush green landscape of the eastern mountains covered with trees.
While the terrain is almost desert dry, it’s more likely to be chilly than hot. The frigid waters of the Pacific cool the coastline even in the midst of July to where you’ll want some warm gear with you. The cold water also creates a thick sea fog which reaches far inland and usually doesn’t pull back to reveal the views until the afternoon. Riding early in the day is too often a disappointment when the thick fog hides the views you’ve come so far to see.
The greatest contrast between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Pacific Coast Highway is the amount of traffic. While there are curvy and engaging sections of the road, you’ll rarely be able to enjoy carving through them as there is almost always a car, RV, or commercial traffic to slow you down just when you want to crank it up. While there can be times of traffic on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the ride is constantly scenic, always 2 lane, and without interruption for it’s entire 469 mile length.
The Pacific Coast Highway should be on your bucket list of places to visit on your motorcycle tours. It deserves to be on the top 10 best motorcycle rides lists, principally for the scenery, but not the riding experience. There’s just too much traffic and diversions onto highway and through towns and cities. Honestly, I find riding the canyons and mountain passes in California much better riding on a motorcycle if you more enjoy an engaging and challenging road with little traffic impair your ride.
I had a good experience renting from Racy Rentals in Los Angeles – if you’d like to see about a rental bike go to http://www.racyrentals.com/
- Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here - AmericaRidesMaps.com
Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. Isn’t it time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely? It can transform your mountain riding experience. Total Rider Tech