Ride Report: San Luis Obispo to Carpinteria (Video) 1

January Bike Tour: San Luis Obispo to Carpinteria

January Bike Tour: San Luis Obispo to Carpinteria – 6:25

Looking for a Challenge

Sometimes you can’t really let things like terrible riding weather, road conditions, and elevation gains stop you from doing a bike tour. This was the case this month as 7 of us decided that we were going to take the Amtrak to San Luis Obispo and ride back to Carpinteria.

This all started on January 12th when I stepped out to start my ride to catch the light rail train into Union Station. It was 6 in the morning with steady rain the entire way there.

The English explorer, Ranulph Fiennes said, “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Luckily for me, my Gore-tex jacket (Amazon affiliate), REI snowboarding pants, and my NRS neoprene socks (Amazon affiliate) kept things warm and comfortable as I rode in the rain.

On our way to SLO by Amtrak

Photo by Thuan Vuong

Wonderful Amtrak

As soon as I got to Union Station, the Amtrak train was already at the station ready to for me to board. I met 3 other participants onboard as we piled our bikes in the bike car.

Normally, we are not allowed to stay in the area where our bikes are parked as that is reserved for senior and disabled passengers, but our conductor allowed us to be in the area.

As we passed through Van Nuys and Carpinteria, we picked up 3 more folks who signed up for the ride. By the time we arrived at San Luis Obispo, the bicycle car was jammed with 7 of our bikes and well-acquainted riders.

We all regrouped at the train station before we rode to our home for the night, the San Luis Inn, which was half a mile away.

San Luis Obispo

We all checked in and left our panniers at the hotel and rode into the main strip on Higuera Street. First stop was lunch at Firestone Grill for some delicious tri-tip and pull pork sandwiches. Yum!

After lunch, we all went our separate ways. Some went to ship their things back home while others went exploring the town by foot. Eventually, everyone made it back to the hotel for the night.

First Day of Riding

The next morning was Friday the 13th, and everyone woke up to take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary continental breakfast of coffee, cereal, and pastries. We were all ready to ride by 8:30 AM.

Wesley, our ride organizer, headed up at the front, while I stayed in the back as our group’s sweep. We followed Broad Street southeast until we saw Corbett Canyon Road. Corbett Canyon took us into the little town of Arroyo Grande, where we enjoyed our second breakfast with 15 miles under our belt.

After the break, we road out of town parallelling Highway 101 until we made it into Santa Maria for lunch. We all had lunch at the local Panda Express before we continued on through Orcutt.

Right outside of Orcutt, we followed the road up to Harris Grade where our mph dipped down to 4 mph as we weaved our way up to the summit. From the summit, we enjoyed a downhill into the town of Lompoc where we visited the local supermarket and then found our camp at River Park.

River Park had a tent camping area which was primarily occupied by car campers. We took one camping spot and easily filled all the spaces up. I got to hang my hammock for the night but forgot to bring carabiners. After a quick search on YouTube, I learned how to tie up my hammock without them. 

A few folks went down the road to buy bundles of firewood for the night. It took some time to stoke the fire as the wood was damp from the previous day’s’ rain. We eventually burned all, but a few pieces, which we saved for the next morning.

It was good to be sleeping outside again.

Lompoc to Cachuma Lake

Fire at River Park

Photo by Ben Cahan

We left camp a little after 9 AM and proceeded to travel on Highway 1 and found Santa Rosa Road, which was a popular cycling route for locals around the area. We saw several groups of road riders going the opposite direction.

I actually rode Santa Rosa Road before when I went to my Adventure Cycling Leader Training Course 2 years ago. I did not ride the entire course then but was able to enjoy it on this day.

We also witnessed the missile launch of SpaceX that day. A guy in his white pickup truck pulled over to inform us of the event. I got some video footage of the missile and heard the loud sonic boom reverberate along the canyon walls.

We rode through Buellton and into Solvang where we stopped for lunch. Some of our riders never visited Solvang before so they got to see the little Danish town up close by bike.

One of our riders had a friend who owned an olive farm on highway 154. It was a 4-mile detour, but everyone agreed to go check it out, so we followed Google Maps to Rancho Olivos. The owner allowed us to try the delicious olive oil and educated us on the fine process of olive oil making.

Back to Cachuma Lake

We left the ranch and decided to pick up food from a local supermarket. It was probably the most expensive grocery haul in my life! This was more of a precautionary transaction so that we have food even if the camp store in Cachuma Lake was closed.

We turned around and traveled up highway 154 as our generous shoulder gave way to non-existing shoulders as speeding cars and buses carefully avoided our group. We finally made it into camp with about an hour left of daylight.

The hike and bike were closed for the season, but we were able to secure a campsite for all 7 of us. Cachuma Lake itself was looking really low despite the recent rain we were getting in Southern California.

We had 3 bundles of firewood that night as the temperatures got down pretty low. It got so low that I woke up the next morning with frost covering my rainfly. Underneath the rainfly, condensation from my warm body had built up. So as I shifted and turned throughout the night, I was reminded of the moisture.

Saving the Worst for Last

The plan was to leave early so that we would avoid being on the road with traffic. Unfortunately, the cold made it harder for all of us to get up and leave. We had to thaw out first and fuel ourselves with hot coffee and breakfast before we were ready to tackle the tough ride that morning.

Curly at Coldspring Tavern

Photo by Thuan Vuong

We eventually made it out by 9:30. I was prepared for the terrible road conditions as I’ve ridden to Cachuma Lake on 2 other occasions, but no one else had done this before. We were about 6 miles up when Google Maps told us to turn left onto Stagecoach Road.

I had never been on Stagecoach Road and was surprised to find that it was such a pleasant riding experience. I think I’m going to be riding through there anytime I go back to Cachuma Lake.


We found Coldspring Tavern for our second breakfast. It was such a great surprise to find this little gem of a place for food and a break.

We continued our climb up to the summit of Stagecoach Road when we joined highway 154 once again. This time, it was under a much more optimal circumstance as we descended down the road. We enjoyed 6 miles of downhill with other cars on the road going 20+ mph.

Finally, we all made it to the Foothill offramp into Santa Barbara. The goal was to get on State Street where we rode through Santa Barbara’s shopping area onto the familiar beach and pier.

We kept rolling through to Carpinteria and did not stop at the pier as many people were looking forward to finishing the ride. We made it to Carpinteria and everyone went their separate ways.

Going All the Way

I followed another rider back to Ojai to stay at his friend’s house for the night. We woke up the next morning and rode back to Santa Monica. As much as I’ve ridden on the Pacific Coast Highway, I really hate the area between Pepperdine and Sunset Blvd.

We made it safely into Santa Monica and took the Expo light rail back home. I felt accomplished and exhausted for putting on an additional 70 miles that day and another 20 after Carpinteria. Not too shabby for not riding all too much lately.

Group shot at Rancho Olivos

Photo by Ben Cahan

Come Join Us

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up with our MeetUp group and come to one of our overnight bike tours. Most rides are quick overnighters, but this tour was one of our multiple days one and much more challenging that the ones we typically ride.


Here is more information about our bike tour, as well as other useful links about our trip that you can use to ride your own bike tour.

About Johnny Lam

Johnny is an avid cyclist who enjoys bicycle touring as well as anything bicycle related. Johnny has traveled the entire Pacific Coast by bike from Vancouver to the border of California and Mexico. He's also toured through-out locations in Southern California. Johnny is also a League of American Bicyclists League Certified Instructor (LCI) and also completed the Adventure Cycling Association's Leadership Training Course (LTC). He is an active member in Los Angeles bicycling community being involved in organizations like the Los Angeles County Bicycling Coalition (LACBC), C.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change through Live Exchange), and Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV) by taking part in ride marshaling, pedestrian & bike counts, and other volunteering opportunities.

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