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San Diego: Bucket list ride along the coast

Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial provides panoramic views across the Pacific Ocean and the city of San Diego. Photo by Dan Shryock 

This article originally appeared in Cycle California! Magazine

By Dan Shryock

The tiered climb to Mt. Soledad was a challenge, a slow, steady push for nearly four miles up Soledad Mountain Road near the San Diego coastline. The bike lane through this residential neighborhood tilted as much as 10 percent in spots yet each peddle stroke was worth the effort when we finally reached the top. 

The Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial with its towering white cross, at an elevation of 823 feetis one of San Diego’s iconic landmarksFrom the memorial, one gets a 360-degree view of the Pacific Oceanmountains, coastline and city below. 

Mark Oemcke, my old friend and Southern California cycling partner, targeted this climb weeks earlier.  As we rolled into the parking lot ready for rest and rejuvenation, wdiscovered we weren’t the only ones putting in the effort that day. Sixteen members of Team Tai Nam, a San Diego-based amateur riding club, were scattered on the grass, each finding their own form of recovery 

Riders took pictures, checked their bikes and soon, like, us, would be making their way north along one of the most picturesque rides imaginable – the San Diego coastline. 

This was a bucket list ride for me. Our family lived in San Diego for many years before moving to Oregon. I had not discovered cycling at that time, however, and didn’t realize the opportunity in my own hometown. Once I started riding, I couldn’t shake the idea of getting back to ride along the coast. 

Years later, finally was straddling my Specialized at the Cabrillo National Monument on the southernmost point of Point LomaAt 8 if to signal our start, the sound of the National Anthem echoed from outdoor speakers at Naval Air Station North Island (Coronado) to the east. It was time to go. 

Mark led me from the Point Loma Tide Pools north through nearby neighborhoods, across Mission Bay, through La Jolla, down from Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and on through the beach towns of Del Mar, Solana Beach, and Encinitas. The experience exceeded expectations. 

So many options 

Our planning started months earlier as we considered where to take this ride. Should we start at Oceanside in the northwest corner of San Diego County and head south through a succession of beach communities? Or, start on the south end and create a loop? Do we want to do some climbing or simply enjoy a flat peaceful day on the bike? After all, we completed a grueling ride along the Sunrise Highway to Julian only the day before. 

San Diego’s diverse coastline provides so many entry points, so many terrains that we could start just about anywhere and enjoy a good ride. In the end, we decided to take advantage of this diversity and sample just about everything. 

Ride with a friend 

Many choices bring many decisions. Which roads should we take? What are the safety concerns? Mark’s experience here made our decisions easy but once on the bike I quickly realized an out-of-towner would have a hard time navigating this ride alone. It’s best to ride with a local who can guide the waysomeone who is familiar with intricate road systems, high-traffic areas, and shortcuts around problem spots. Mark guided me around potential danger. 

He also knew how to make the most of each highlight along the way. We started at ocean’s edge on Cabrillo Road with an expansive ocean view before short 350-foot climb from the waterline to Fort Rosecrans and on to Cabrillo Memorial Drive. We then glided down and through neighborhoods as a reward for the early work.  

That would be the day’s mantraGood, hard riding is quickly rewarded. 

We made our way along busy Nimitz Boulevard, past SeaWorld San Diego and on to bike paths through Mission Bay where we rode slowly to avoid collisions with runners, walkers and small childrenOnce we reached the Mt. Soledad summit and restarted with Team Tai Nam, we plummeted down Via Capri and Hidden Valley Road with descent grades as steep as 16 degrees that tested our fortitude, brakes, and hands. 

Torrey Pines and the grand glide 

After passing through La Jolla Shores and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus – watch out for a shortnasty climb at Scripps – our route led us to North Torrey Pines Road and what would be an exhilarating downhill glide. 

At first, I was disappointed when Mark said our route would not follow the narrow roads of the Torrey Pines reserve. For safety reasons, no northbound downhill cycling is allowed in the parkWe were relegated to the main road and its traffic. 

Thanks to the City of San Diego’s recent road maintenance, however, we enjoyed a wide shoulder and perhaps the smoothest, fastest, pristine asphalt possible as we sailed nearly two miles and more than 400 feet down to Torrey Pines State Beach couldn’t help but laugh with excitement as I looked down at the road rushing under my wheels. 

I wasn’t the only cyclist wearing a smile. As we paused by the beach to look back up the road, Team Tai Nam riders came on us, each whooshing past with big smiles and waves of hello 

Team Tai Nam, we learned later, rides somewhere in San Diego every week and they cover some stretch of the coastline at least once a month. They climb Mt. Soledad four or five times a year. 

The remainder of our ride led us along Highway 101 through the coastal communities where we rolled slowly beside weekend traffic. That was to be expected as we made our way to Encinitas, a waiting car at Moonlight Beach and a rewarding lunch. In all, we traveled more than 32 miles, climbed 1,880 feet and were still capable of more. 



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