Updated for 2021 with new routes and improved navigation!!!
Are you looking for the ultimate guide to biking in San Diego? You just found it! This piece has locations and descriptions for over 50 bike trails that form the building blocks for San Diego biking. From that, I put together 16 of the best bike rides in San Diego for the weekend rider divided into three sections: Mission Bay / La Jolla, Downtown, and North County. Finally, I took the best of the best and made three epic San Diego Cycling routes for the serious road riders.
I top it all off by providing interactive bike maps for each section and MapMyRide inlays and links for all the rides. Yup, you can navigate through America’s Finest City on two wheels with your choice of interactive maps, KML files, GPX tracks, or even directly off of the MapMyRide app. You see, we take the superlative “Ultimate” seriously around here.
I lived in San Diego for many years and cycled thousands of miles there. I have personally ridden (or at least surveyed) all of the bike rides and cycling routes in this guide. This piece is my way of giving back to the city that I love. I hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together and that it inspires you to get out and cycle San Diego. You also might consider biking in San Diego the perfect activity for a Romantic getaway in Southern California, and we would certainly agree.
Bike Trails in San Diego
If you’re looking for bike trails, San Diego has a few. In fact, our San Diego Bike Trail map has over 50 listed. However, the issue with bike trails in San Diego is that they aren’t destination riding in and of themselves. They tend to be more shortish connectors with a couple of choice exceptions (Silver Strand / San Luis Rey River Trail). Even the famed ‘trail around Mission Bay’ isn’t a single trail, but two or three bike paths pieced together. That’s why this guide focuses on bike rides and cycling routes more than bike trails. However, they’re a great place to start when you’re looking to learn how to bike in San Diego. On a side note, if you’re a woman looking to get into biking, you should check out Jenn’s review of her female specific hybrid bike you’ll see showing up in some of the pictures. It might be just the thing for you.
Here’s the shortlist of the longest bike trails in San Diego, but I have added a little information on each trail on the map if you want to learn more. I have also color-coded the trails to correspond with which bike ride they fit into in the sections to come. In fact, I have color coded all the bike routes, map points, and bike trails. All layers are on all the maps, but the default visibility depends on contact. Also, the MapMyRide snippets that appear throughout this piece are all hyperlinked in the map title to route homepage.
Mission Bay Bike Rides / La Jolla Bike Rides
Biking around Mission Bay or along the Mission Beach Boardwalk is the quintessential San Diego cycling experience. You never know who or what you’re going to see. Imagine every stereotype you have for oceanfront riding, and double it. That’s what riding in Mission Bay is all about.
Just above Mission Bay is La Jolla, the Crown of San Diego biking. Its quiet coastal views (with sea lions and harbor seals too), sweeping vistas from Torrey Pines State Park and Mt Soledad, and opulent mansions in between make excellent choices for more serious riders who are looking to escape the Mission Bay fray.
Below Mission Bay are the San Diego River, Ocean Beach, and Point Loma. The river offers easy access to the interior along paved and protected trails. Ocean Beach has a quirky hippy vibe that’s the counterpoint upscale La Jolla. From the Point Loma vistas, you just see whales completing their Mexican migration. It’s a little of everything that biking in San Diego offers.
Mission Beach Loop (8 miles, 162′ gain)
So you want to see a San Diego Beach? Then come to Mission Beach. Only there’s a few words of warning… The first rule of navigation in Mission Beach or Pacific Beach is to avoid going on Garnett or Mission Bay Blvd if you can help it. That goes for either driving or biking.
Start your visit to Mission Beach by arriving via Mission Bay Drive and utilizing the ample free parking at Bonita Cove across the road from Belmont Park and its iconic wooden rollercoaster. Once you find a spot, you’re ready to ride.
Head bayside south to get warmed up. It’s mellow riding with spectacular bay views. You can ride either Mission Point Park or not, but either way, you’ll work your way to the ocean side, where all the action is. And by action, we mean action in every sense of the word. You’ll find beach sports and boardwalks, with more people than you can shake a stick at. Just remember, this is the beach scene you were after (unless you are riding early in the morning). Also, don’t elbow the gawkers as you bike by unless they really deserve it (just kidding, be kind). There’s a reason that all the rental bikes have bells on them.
The biggest bottleneck is in front of World Famous Seafood at Pacific Beach Blvd. If you’ve had enough, you can work your way back bayside from here. However, it’s going to get better soon, even if you have to walk your bike a bit.
As soon as you pass this constriction, the boardwalk opens up just in time to see the guesthouses on Crystal Pier. You’ll need to bring (a darn good!!) bike lock if you want to walk out on the pier because bikes aren’t allowed.
By the time you reach Law Street Beach, you’ll be feeling the flow. Be sure to stop for a while at the bluffs and watch the local surfers catch their sets. When you’ve had your fill of the ocean, head inland across Pacific Beach and return to the bay at Fanuel Park.
This section of Mission Bay, called Sail Bay, has a bay-wide no-wake zone. Watercraft of every description utilize this aquatic oasis without the fear of jet-skiing vermin. You never know what you’re going to see, from paddleboards to paddle boats and kiteboards to fly boards. The views are different, but every bit as spectacular as the beach boardwalk without all those people. If you’re not smiling by the time you get back to your car, maybe biking isn’t for you.
Mission Bay Bike Trail (16 miles, 324′ gain)
The 16-mile loop around Mission Bay doesn’t have the ever-present eye-candy of the Mission Beach Loop, but it does have long, open stretches of trail where you can get a legit workout (with some eye candy sprinkled on top).
If you’re biking around the bay, you might as well start at the Back Bay, where driving and parking are easy. Our map shows you starting at De Anza Cove, but you have plenty of choices, and they’re all good. You just want to ride counter-clockwise, so you’ll hit the good stuff first in case you want to flip it early.
The good stuff starts when you drop into Crown Point Park and continues until you get to Bonita Cove. We just finished describing this trail segment in the Mission Beach Loop section above. In case you missed it, let’s just say it’s the perfect combination of flowing rides and glowing views, like chocolate and peanut butter. To be fair, it’s pretty spectacular crossing over the Mission Bay Drive Bridge, too, especially if you have a bike with gears on it. Although, if you’re attempting a 16-mile ride on a beach cruiser, you’re better (or crazier) than I am.
Working around Sea World isn’t too hard. Sometimes, I take the river passage along Old Sea World Drive instead of the interior route. But I like the gardens around Sea World better than the pitted pavement of Old Sea World Drive, so that’s what I put on the map.
By the time you reach Fiesta Island, you have a couple of choices. The first is if you want to take a lap. Some people skip it; others ride laps on Fiesta Island all day. I usually take one lap and move on.
The next choice is if you want to bike Mission Bay Drive or the Back Bay Trail. If you feel the need for speed, take the road. It’s safe enough and fun riding. The trail will give you better views, which is why I usually ride waterside.
La Jolla Coastal Ride (16 miles, 400′ gain)
We lived in Pacific Beach for years and had our choices of Mission Bay bike rides. We did this ride nine times out of ten because it has an unbeatable combination of stunning scenery and flowy riding. Plus, we’re suckers for sea lions and the world’s best gelato.
This ride starts from Law Street Beach (technically, Palisades Park on the bluffs above the beach but whatever). You can tag this ride directly onto the Mission Beach Loop if you want or find parking in the neighborhoods by the park. Usually, we ended up parking on the other side of Mission Blvd after taking a lap or two. Also, don’t forget the warning above avoiding driving on Garnett, particularly south of Ingraham. You’ll thank us for this one.
After one of the most creative ‘bike only’ connections you’ll encounter, you’re riding down the unofficial botanical gardens of La Jolla Hermosa Blvd. Your first glimpse of the La Jolla Coast is at Sun Gold Point. If the waves are hitting just right, there is a point break about a quarter-mile off point with a 30-second breaking wave. Your next chance to see championship surfing comes just up the coast at Windansea Beach. After the beach, you follow the bike route signs into La Jolla Cove.
La Jolla Cove is one of the most amazing places in San Diego. You must visit the sea lions at the cove and the harbor seals at Children’s Beach. You also have to try Bobboi Gelato, trust us They have vegan and dairy-free options, so there are no excuses. If you’re not ready to commit, stop in just as for a sample. Highlights also include the Lorax Tree in Scripps Park and the waves crashing at Boomers at high tide. When you’ve had enough, hug the coast on the way back and try another ‘bike only’ connection from Crystal Dr back to La Jolla Blvd.
Mt Soledad & Torrey Pines Climbs (23.3 miles, 1925′ gain)
If people think San Diego coastal riding is flat, they haven’t climbed Mt Soledad. This route has almost 2000′ of climbing with panoramic ocean views and beachfront riding. It’s actually three climbs in one, once up Mt Soledad and up and down on Torrey Pines. Other people come to Mt Soledad to get their hills in on a ‘mansion tour’ that summits four times and never takes the same road twice.
I started this ride at Kate Sessions Park, a local favorite with easy access and ample parking. It would be perfectly feasible to start from De Anza Cove and take the Rose Canyon Trail to the Felspar Connector and then head up. Either way, you’ll end up summiting Soledad and soaking in views that stretch north to Orange County and South to Mexico.
Heading down Via Capri is definitely on the steep side, but it sets up a beautiful climb through Pottery Canyon on Torrey Pines Rd, which is only trumped by the climb up the Torrey Pines Park Road. (Note, park rules only allow southbound riding on the park road). Make sure you stop at the glider port to watch pilots sailing the thermals rising up from Black’s Beach. Oh, and that hairpin turn on the La Jolla Shores downhill is nothing short of epic.
The return through the La Jolla interior is pretty good, but if you haven’t ridden the La Jolla Coast lately, I would take the Cave St Connector down to La Jolla Cove and come back via the coastal route. If you did park in De Anza Cove, I would come back via Fanuel Park and the Mission Bay Trail and see what’s happening on Sail Bay.
Ocean Beach and Cabrillo National Monument Climb (22.2 miles, 1112′ gain)
For hard-core riders, this is another coastal climb with sweeping views and 1000+ feet of climbing. For the casual crowd, this is a connector to good time vibes mecca of Ocean Beach and the views of Sunset Cliffs. You could even put together a bike, beach, and brew tour. We’d take the beach cruisers over to the OB all the time to grab a burger or watch the sunset, but we’d still bring our BAL (Big Ass Lock). In fact, the combination of big locks and cheap bikes was our go-to standard if we wanted to park our bikes anywhere in Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, or Ocean Beach.
This ride starts from our old Bonita Cove and heads over Mission Bay Bridge before some nifty navigating gets you into the heart of Ocean Beach. Tourists will want to go to Hodad’s for a beach burger, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll get the VW bus table. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we think the burgers are better at BO-beau kitchen + bar (which appears to be temporarily closed. Thanks 2020 ). More nifty navigating gets you to Sunset Cliffs. From there, you either have to start climbing or head home.
If you don’t want to turn back towards where you started, then you should climb up the aptly named Hill Street on your way to Cabrillo National Monument. Be sure to appreciate Rosecrans National Cemetery of the way by, both for the aesthetics and the sacrifices made for our country. After paying for your park entrance, be sure to check out the viewpoints from the visitor center and enjoy the incredible descent (and climb back) to the tidepools. Note, there are only a few hours on a few days in the spring when you can actually go tide pooling, but the ocean views on the way down make it all worthwhile.
Mission Trails Hill Climb (35.2 miles, 1804′ gain)
Our next route is a 35-miler with almost 2000′ of gain. A little bike math will tell you that you could be making some combination climbing Soledad and cruising the coast for this distance and elevation. Most days, staying coastal would be your best bet, with a few notable exceptions. You can get out of the marine layer by heading inland, especially during the May Gray and June Gloom. You also might want to see the spring flowers blooming in hills. Or perhaps our tired of sweeping ocean views or just a sadist. Maybe you’re just heading up for Taco Tuesday in Old Town and have no intention of climbing any hills. Whatever, let’s start the ride.
The San Diego River Trail is decidedly decent, especially if the tides are high and you can watch the birds in the marshland. Also, along with the Pacific Highway, it’s the best way to get past I-5 and into the interior. You can follow my route or take Fashion Valley Road to Friars, it’s a bit of a coin flip, but you want to follow the route to get through Kearny Mesa and be careful with the interchanges over I-15.
The Hwy 52 bike trail has great pavement but is light on views. The money section on this ride is heading downhill through Mission Trails Park. The park’s rugged peaks and arid valleys give you a glimpse of what San Diego was like before Europeans arrived. Hikers might be trying the legs on the 5-peak challenge, and rock climbers might be scaling the crags, but you’re just rolling through.
It’s pretty much a sled ride all the way back to Fashion Valley. There’s a little navigation to cross over to the shield bike lanes at Calusa St or Napa St at the Mission Valley YMCA. But, if you miss the turn-in, you’ll just have to (carefully) cross Friars to get to Old Sea World Drive and back to your car.
Mission Bay to Downtown San Diego Bike Route (8.21 miles, 128′ gain)
Our last Mission Bay Ride takes us from Mission Bay to Downtown San Diego. The connection is more straightforward than you think, and the views of the San Diego skyline and harbor are mind-blowing. Where else in the world can you see tall sail ships docked next to an aircraft carrier?
Star from Bonita Cove again and work your way over to Ocean Beach. You’ve already read this before, so I’ll spare you the details. This time, you have to (CAREFULLY) cross over to Nimitz and head over to Spanish Landing. You could take the trails into Liberty Station for the food court, Stone Brewery, or Slater’s 50/50 Burgers from here before heading around the harbor.
Before long, you’ll start seeing views of the skyline through the docked sailboats like you’ve seen on countless postcards. The Maritime Museum has a pair of tall ships and a Russian submarine, but the USS Midway aircraft carrier dominates all vessels in the harbor. The best view of the Midway is from the Unconditional Surrender Statue, which again you’ve seen on postcards. This segment ends at the bike hostile boardwalks of Seaport Village. You can either flip it here or try your hand at some of the Downtown San Diego bike rides in the next section.
Downtown San Diego Bike Rides
Riding in Downtown San Diego is beautiful and can be very rewarding, but it comes with challenges. Bike hostile Seaport Village is easy enough to bypass, but there are still trolley tracks and traffic everywhere. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to work your way interior to Balboa Park, but you have to get around pinch points of I-5 and 163. We’ll talk about biking in Balboa Park without offering a specific route.
Other rides from downtown include the Bayshore Bikeway, one of San Diego’s signature rides, and the Sweetwater Trail, which gets you around pinch points and into the bikeable (if somewhat suburban) Chula Vista Hills. Two more things to note. The Saturday morning Little Italy Farmer’s Market is one of the best in the city, and parking is easier (and cheaper) on Sunday.
My final thought about biking in (or to, or from) is that there are many ways you can use the incredible public transportation system on your bike rides. Take the trolley to Old Town, the Coaster train to Ocean Side, or the ferry to Coronado. They carry bikes easily and regularly. The ferry shuttle is a standard part of the Bayshore Bikeway, and I love riding the PCH North to South closing the loop with the Coaster train.
The Bayshore Bikeway (22.4 miles, 329′ gain)
As I said before, this is one of San Diego’s signature rides. When I lived in Tucson, I rode this on almost all of my San Diego excursions. However, after living in San Diego, I began to like the Mission Bay rides better.
If you’re a local rider, you have to ride the Bayshore Bikeway one at least once. If you’re coming in from out of town to bike San Diego, you will want to do this ride to visit the Hotel Del on Coronado Island or to add mileage onto another ride, like the Mission Beach to Downtown Ride. You might even be riding the Bayshore Bikeway as part of a massive cycle route, like you’ll see later in this post. In any case, you’re going to want to bike around the bay to Coronado Island and then take the ferry across to either the Broadway Pier or Convention Center.
The map shows you starting from the Balboa Landing Pier, but don’t ask me how you got there. Maybe you parked at the Convention Center, or perhaps you biked down the Embarcadero. In any case, soon enough, you bike out of downtown and into National City, which is kind of an industrial ghost town on weekends. The bike lanes are pretty good, but the scenery is lacking. It’s the kind of place you’d pull an old RV up for a weekend of boondocking. Coastal Chula Vista isn’t much better, but the South Bay Salt Works pink salt piles are pretty neat. At least it’s a fast track to the start of the Silver Strand Bike Trail.
The riding is a little better on the Silver Strand because you’re on a dedicated trail, but the views are only slightly better. You’re so close to the water and yet so far. The few fleeting glances of the San Diego Bay filled my parched Tucson soul, but it’s nothing compared to the water world you’ll see around Mission Bay.
The views improve as you get to Glorietta Bay and are stellar if you detour on the Coastal Rail Trail to the coast. You’ll want to take a lock so you can explore the memorabilia of the historic Hotel Del and shop or eat at the ferry dock. The excellent views continue as you get back on the trail to pass under the Coronado Bridge and ride the waterfront to the ferry. You can’t bike on the Coronado Bridge, so you’ll want to take a ferry back across the bay to close the loop.
Sweetwater Trail / Chula Vista Climb (25.2 miles, 1370′ gain)
You cross the Sweetwater River on the Bayshore Bikeway and see this trail heading up the river. I had images of a trail that continued up the river to the mountains. It doesn’t do that, but it does get you around pinch points on the 805 and 54 and into the bike lanes of Chula Vista.
The bike trails around Telegraph Canyon aren’t much nicer than the bike lanes, so I’d head up to Lower Otay Lake on the roads and form a loop for the return home. The views across the lake, especially from the Centennial Trail, are special because you see the juxtaposition of blue water and arid landscape.
Biking in Balboa Park
I love biking in Balboa Park, but I just don’t like biking to Balboa Park. Seeing the park’s historic buildings from your saddle is so special, and I love crossing over the Cabrillo Bridge to sit under the ancient fig trees of the west park. I even like heading up to North Park for tacos and treats. The parking at Balboa is good enough that you can park and ride before heading out elsewhere.
Another thing about biking in Balboa Park is that about half the trails you’ll see on Google Maps are mountain bike trails, so check the park map to confirm your route. Or just poke around and see what you can see. It’s all good.
North County San Diego Bike Rides
Pacific Coast Highway Bike Ride (35.3 miles, 1229′ gain)
When I envision riding the Pacific Coast Highway, my mind sees my bike decked out with saddlebags hanging off of everywhere. Because you can use the train as a bike shuttle, you can stretch this ride into Orange County and put in a full century without ever loading down your bike. You can also flip it at Torrey Pines and cut out a lot of the climbing and the need for a shuttle at all.
The catch is, it’s better to ride south because your bike lanes are next to the ocean, so you’ll get better views. Even then, there are usually parked cars blocking some of the scenery.
From the Oceanside Transit Center, you work your way as far south as you can before entering the PCH because the bike lanes don’t start until south of Vista Way. From there, you just ride south and enjoy the view.
There’s a decent climb right after Torrey Pines State Park. If you parked at the Oceanside Station, you could swing over to the Sorrento Valley Station if you’re not feeling it. We usually start from Old Town, take the train northbound, then ride back to the car. The ideal train shuttle depends a lot on where you’re starting from and how far you want to ride.
Biking Borrego Springs (20.2 miles, 443′ gain)
Since we aren’t recognizing East County, we’re putting this ride here. It’s definitely a desert ride with spring wildflowers and intense summer heat. It’s one of the few desert routes we would take because there are mellow roads instead of miles of shoulderless highways. Perhaps most importantly, you get to ride by the Borrego Springs Sculptures.
Over 130 sculptures rise up from the desert sand, primarily artist and welder Ricardo Breceda’s work. You’ll see dinosaurs, dragons, insects, horses, elephants, and so much more. You will not see them all by road bike since there are some dirt roads that aren’t going to be fun to cross, but you’ll see enough to blow your mind.
North County Loop (35.1 miles, 1373′ gain)
Our North County Loop joins the San Louis Rey River Trail with sections of the Inland Rail Trail and some bike lanes to get you from Oceanside to San Marco. The River Trail is legit nice, but the Inland Rail Trail is still a work in progress. The whole loop has decent riding throughout without too much climbing.
From San Marco, you drop to the coast, but be sure you stop and enjoy the view of the Flower Fields. They are in bloom from early March through early May. (which, coincidently, is the best time to be riding the interior of San Diego). During that time, you should also find the strawberry stands open. I think that strawberry shakes are the ultimate biking recovery fuel, especially with fresh-picked strawberries!
Since you’re heading north, you might consider taking an interior crossing through Carlsbad on the Coastal Rail Trail and stopping for a bite to eat at Café Topes on the way before returning to Oceanside.
Black Mountain Loop (19.4 miles, 1883′ gain)
There are many reasons to live in Poway, including excellent schools and safe neighborhoods and some good reasons to visit. My reasons for visiting include ice skating, scuba lessons in Saber Springs, rappelling off the Cara Way Bridge, and hiking Potato Chip Rock. Destination biking was never a reason for me to go to Poway.
I was, however, part of a biking club at my office in Kearny Mesa, and we’d routinely head up Kearny Villa Road to Palmadero and then climb Scripts Poway Parkway to Highway 67. This route didn’t form a loop and was optimized as a lunch ride from my office at 163 and Balboa.
I would recommend a more general route that forms a loop on the bike lanes and travels around the Black Mountain Open Spaces Park. It still gets you out and riding Poway, but now you’re riding a loop through a park. If you have the legs, ride the out and back up Scripts Poway Parkway to stare out into the open desert across Highway 67. There was always something serene about looking into the vast open spaces of the San Diego desert.
San Diego Cycling Routes
Our final installment of this piece is three San Diego Cycling Routes that put together all the building blocks for San Diego biking into three stellar routes.
The first route, the So-Cal Century, utilizes the Pacific Surfliner to get you up to the San Clemente Station, and you head south through Camp Pendleton before getting back onto the San Diego bike routes you know and love. This route is “the bucket list ride” for Southern California. There are specific rules for Camp Pendleton bike access that require you to get a pass from the Oceanside visitor center, and these passes don’t appear to be being issued at the moment (thanks 2020 ). So this ride might have to wait on your bucket list unless you have base access through other means.
The second route is the North County Metric Century (100 km). The magic sauce here is utilizing the Lake Hodges Bridge to connect our two north-county loops. You could easily envision taking the long way around each of these loops and turning this into a full century ride if you wanted.
The final route doesn’t have any secret elements. It just combines all the coastal climbs with the Mission Bay Bike Path. I would still be tempted to pass up the second climb up Mount Soledad for a trip down the La Jolla Coast, but I really wanted to claim 1 KM of climbing for the route. If you’re riding 50-miles with over 3000′ of climbing, you can read a bike map well enough to decide for yourself.
Final Thoughts on Biking San Diego
There are more than 1,715 miles of bikeways in the San Diego region, and it’s growing every day. They crisscross the city like veins in a body carrying bikes and riders safely about in their everyday life. Biking is a lifestyle in San Diego with gorgeous weather and forward-thinking city planners. I never owned a car the whole time I lived there.
I tried to put together rides out of this vast network that formed interesting loops, had stunning views, and showcased everything that makes San Diego great. I am sure that I missed a few good rides. So, I would love to hear about your favorites too.
Please also let me know if something has changed with the information in this post, especially closures and new trail construction. There are a couple of projects, like the I-5 Corridor Trails and the Inland Trail, I am watching with eager anticipation. Also, please let us know when Camp Pendleton starts issuing recreational bike passes again. Until then, and as always, ride safely and stay classy San Diego.
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