Sometimes when you are an adult, you like to buy a motorcycle and ride off into the sunset only to realize you’re not sure where you can see the sunset so you go get a burrito instead. Burritos are great, don’t get me wrong, but burritos and sunsets can be enjoyed together if you just know where to look.
Let’s take a look at California, the land of dreams and droughts. California certainly is not lacking in a wide variety of scenic drives considering its size and climate. The scenery varies in appearance more than my bipolar ex-girlfriend, so there really is something for everyone and anyone looking to escape.
First things first, let’s talk coastline. The California coast is famous for plenty of reasons and not all of them deal with beached whales or whale beaches (there’s another ex-girlfriend reference). The coast has a lot to offer just by size alone, considering the general coastline is 840 miles long. That’s quite the trip for anyone with will and wheels.
The simplest way to traverse this distance is obviously the aptly--albeit it uncreatively--named Pacific Coast Highway. Also called Route 1, the PCH runs along the pacific ocean coast, that’s America’s left coast for you geography majors. Actually, those names aren’t even the half of it. There are many names and designations for the PCH, including Shoreline Highway and Cabrillo Highway. One section in Big Sur, from Carmel to San Luis Obispo, is officially a National Scenic Byway and while the entire coastal highway is eligible for designation as part of the California State Scenic Highway System, currently only a few big chunks around Los Angeles and San Francisco actually hold that official classification.
Since the Big Sur Coast is widely considered one of the most scenic drives in the nation, we’ll cover that first. So speaking as if we’re chilling in San Francisco, the Big Sur drive is just south, near Monterey. In Monterey there are a few beach options, several historical museums about the area and a wax museum (themed around John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row book), an aquarium and some beautiful coastal parks. Farther south, you arrive at Carmel by the Sea, which in my estimation is the spot for the three tourist Ss -- shopping, swimming, surfing. You have white sand beaches and some restaurants and of course stores to get your retail therapy on. Treat yo’self.
You like bridges? Well guess what, you get to navigate Bixby Bridge on this trip, champ! According to one Google reviewer (those exist, apparently) “The best way to cross Bixby Creek Bridge is on a Ducati 999” but I’m sure whatever you ride is fine as well. The bridge spans 714 feet and clears 260, including the longest single-arch span (320 feet) in California. And it cost under $200,000 to build so you know it’s totally safe and not scary at all! It looks so cool when you’re not on it. When you’re on it, I mean, it looks like a road obviously. It’s definitely a landmark and has a spectacular view, so don’t let my irrational fear of bridges get in the way of you spending an exorbitant amount of time above stable ground considering philosophy and modernity.
Keep going, though. There are plenty of beaches along here, and even what some think of as California’s top park in Point Lobos State Natural reserve. There are hikes, tidepools, animals, and visitor limits. I kind of threw that last one in there like it isn’t important but it is. You should try to get there early to get in, because it’s an ecological reserve and foot traffic is strictly controlled.
You got rejected from the reserve? That’s too bad. Hop back on your bike and run down the PCH some more, guys. Plenty still to see. Lighthouses, more tidepools, more parks. You can watch sea lions mate and give birth (in the winter months) at Point Piedras Blancas, and that’s a free, no visitor limit show. Who wouldn’t want to see that? You can even film it on your iPhone, ya sicko. Make sure to avoid vertical filming though, as a courtesy to your viewers.
You also have myriad options to hunt for jade, including Moonstone Beach and Jade Cove. Both again are pretty common-sense names so hopefully if you’re a huge jade hunter you’ll be able to find those. And of course, if you’re into whale watching like the half-drunk version of my best friend Kyle, stop at Morro Bay State Park. There’s a huge rock you can’t climb but can take selfies with, and beach access, and whales aplenty. (In whale season, though. If you go off season do not blame me.)
Also, I neglected to mention until this point the friggin birds, but they deserve their own section so that’s fine. I love birds and bird watching (or ‘birding’ as we birders call it) and the California coast has friggin birds galore. So break out your binocs for this trip. And actually, at Morro Bay there’s a heron/cormorant/egret rookery where they roost year-round so catch that. Spring will have nesting babies if you’re into that. Don’t bring your mom along unless you want to spend the entire drive up PCH listening to “When am I getting a grandchild, Nate? I want a grandbaby! You’d be such a great dad based off of the limited information I have from your pet ownership and brief visits with your niblings over holidays!” Or is that just my family?
Yeah, I know Big Sur is dope and you’re pretty much done with me at this point, but if you stop reading now you’ll have no idea what the northern coast of California has. Well, okay, you know it has beaches and whatnot, obviously, but I can get more specific than that and you can’t. Maybe. I don’t actually know you so I won’t speak to that. Ugh, moving on.
Another (of the many) scenic drives in California is the Northern Pacific Coast, going from San Francisco up to the Redwood Forests. Of course with this one we can include the Golden Gate Bridge which is totally an awesome sight to behold while not on it. Being on the GGB is like doing a hooker. It looks cool in theory, and you know it knows how to do what you need it to do, but once you’re on it you’re thinking “This was a terrible idea” and “Is this seriously still happening?” and “I’m way too high right now” and “Is this thing stable?” Again, maybe that’s just me and bridges but maybe I have a good point.
You’ve got Stinson Beach which was the name-spiration for Barney Stinson because of the birds it gets. Winky emoticon. It’s got a nice lagoon where herons and egrets fish, which is actually way cooler than bridges and I’m surprised you think otherwise.
If you’re going the right direction you’ll probably hit Point Reyes next. Tons of birds here as well and motorcycles are common enough that birds won’t be too scared of you. Statistically, I tell you this for your future Jeopardy! appearance, half of American bird species have popped up in this area, so you’ll definitely see a nice selection of dinosaur descendants here.
Further north you’ll hit bays. Not to be confused with hitting baes, which is illegal, Greg Hardy. Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay, and Jenner Bay for your perusal. Tomales has nice swimming, it’s pretty warm, people go clamming there if they’re weird and like clams. Jenner and Bodega are part of the Sonoma Coast State Beach which is like four miles of beach or something absurd like that. Just north of Jenner is a nice hiking trail. but if you’re on a motorcycle you have no need for hiking, so nuts to that!
If you’re around in spring check out the Kruse Rhododendron State Park. It’s a literal forest of rhododendrons. That’s a weird word for sure, so make sure you take a picture of the sign out front to prove to your naysaying friends that it is indeed a real word and is spelled correctly.
If you model your life after Jonathan Taylor Thomas in Man of the House like I do, you should pop out to the peninsula at Gualala Point or the beach farther north at Manchester to gather driftwood for your magical driftwood collage. If you model yourself after JTT in Speedway Junkies, you should probably get that drug addiction taken care of and then go snorkeling at Point Arena. It’s badass.
If you like feeling giant, especially with regards to your wood, keep driving to visit Van Damme State Park. Jean Claude Van Damme was named after this forest because just like the trees here, his growth was stunted due to his environment. I assume. The trees here are short, so they’ll make you feel adequate, and even the shortest amongst us will be able to tower over them like a giraffe visiting a Christmas tree farm.
Of course you can watch whales, see tide pools or swim most everywhere, but if you keep heading north you’ll reach the artsy Mendocino. They have art (duh) and wineries and little boutiques, it’s a swinging hot spot. You’ve heard Joni Mitchell, right? I’m 140% sure she’s going on about Mendocino considering the location and descriptions. Five or ten miles north is Fort Bragg and MacKerricher State Park, which have seals, hikes, and (Fort Bragg specifically) another museum talking about the logging history of the region. See what I mean? Vintage Joni.
Clearly I’d be remiss to not mention the Redwoods. If you continue north the road will actually go through the forests and not along the coast (for a while). You can camp or fish here at the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, but it’s no frills, so don’t be expecting a lavish getaway. Even a bit more north is the Standish Hickey State Recreation Area with more redwoods and hikes, so if you’re sick of redwoods at Sinkyone, don’t keep going north expecting a break.
Now’s the part where I point out you definitely have more options of sights to see throughout these scenic drives. I mean scenic means that there is plenty to see, and these are some of the most scenic drives in California, so definitely have a look around. I’m just saying there is hardly a dearth of scenery, so be prepared to take pictures, be awestruck and admit to yourself that Big Sur is the best southern California scenic drive and Northern Coast is likely the best northern California scenic drive. You really can’t go wrong with either of these coastal jaunts, but if you hate it or you found something else to be the actual best scenic drive in California (more specifically scenic California coast drives) come back and show me some evidence to support your claim. I’ll be waiting.
Sometimes the southwestern states all get lumped into the same category—desert. If you've seen one lonesome desert highway, you've seen 'em all.
Well, that couldn't be further from the truth.
The American Southwest is downright massive, with dozens and dozens of exceptional rides in Utah alone. Today, let's take a peek at just ten of these worthwhile trips, and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.
Utah is far more than endless desert. In fact, it's home to some of the best motorcycle rides in America.
1. Ogden River Scenic Byway
Ogden—Monte Cristo Campground
Highway 39 runs east out of Ogden through a valley before ascending up into more alpine terrain. The route is extremely diverse in terms of sights, and runs just long enough to keep you interested while not so long you doze off.
The byway's other other claim to fame is its incredibly out-of-place Trappist Monastery, secluded near the highway in Huntsville.
2. Provo Canyon
Follow US Route 89 north out of Provo and trek side-by-side the Provo river. Eventually, you'll head past some of Utah's top-notch fly fishing spots near Bridal Veil Falls and Alpine Wasatch Back beneath Mount Timpanogos.
The route exits the valley via Midway and Heber City back at US 189.
3. Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake Byway is one of the highest routes in Utah, and passes through a portion of the Uinta Mountains, real oddballs that run east to west instead of north to south.
Set against a backdrop of Uinta's snow-capped peaks, the byway also runs past Mirror Lake, a spectacular alpine lake surrounded by towering Bald Mountain and company.
This is sort of cheating, but the ride ends in Wyoming—I know, I know, not technically Utah. But you'll forgive me.
4. Eureka to Delta
Cross big, arid valleys. Climb lonely desert hills. Pass ghostly mining towns and incredible desert views, and give Fort Deseret a nod while you're at it—it's been keeping watch since 1866 and could use some company.
Utah's desolate Great Basin is calling.
5. Fish Lake Scenic Byway
Highway 25, from Highway 24 to Highway 72
Fish Lake might be the least inspired name for a lake you've ever heard, but damn if it isn't accurate—it's a lake full of fish.
But that's not why we're here. No, this drive is all about trekking through the high desert and alpine terrain surrounding Fish Lake, a hidden gem of an oasis stuck in the middle of the badlands.
6. Southwestern Desert
St. George—Littlefield, Arizona
Boring name, exciting ride. Start out in the wild frontier at the very edge of Utah, end in Arizona. Explore the fringes of the Mojave Desert and the region's iconic Joshua trees, the way our pioneer forefathers would envy—on a motorcycle.
Oh, and bring plenty of water.
7. Dead Horse Mesa
Highway 313—Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Mesa is one of the most iconic sites in all of America—it's the unofficial face of the Southwest, and you've probably seen pictures of the park a dozen times already.
This is a quick ride, and branches off from Highway 313 about 10 minutes north of Moab. Get your camera out, and see if you can do better than the countless photographers before you.
8. Bicentennial Scenic Byway
This one is a beefy high-desert haul. You want canyons? Here's some canyons. Bicentennial Byway is a grab-bag of attractions, from sweeping views of the Henry Mountains to the awesome Glen Canyon crossing.
The byway is also home to Natural Bridges National Monument which, as you can probably guess, is home to some badass natural bridges.
9. Capitol Reef
Loa—Hanksville—Goblin Valley State Park
The main spur here winds through Capitol Reef State Park, which boasts fantastic views everywhere you look. Exposed sandstone cliffs, weatherbeaten rock formations, you name it.
But keep your eye on the prize once you clear Hanksville. Keep on trucking a bit further and make it to Goblin Valley State Park and see some of the most surreal, alien-looking rock structures you've ever laid eyes upon.
10. Indian Creek Scenic Byway
US Route 191—Canyonlands National Park
Hop off Route 191 near Church Rock and head west into the Needles district of Canyonlands Park. Enjoy the red rock formations, adventure through sage plains, and finally wind up at Newspaper Rock.
The Needles represents just ¼ of Canyonlands' sprawling districts, but there's enough to see here that you should make a special trip.
The Desert's Best
These are just ten of Utah's best rides, but there are so many that we couldn't possibly cover them all in one post.
Much, much more than empty desert, right? But don't take my word for it. Get out there and explore!
And what about you? What are you favorite motorcycle rides in Utah?
Riders in California are really spoiled for choice.
I mean, the Golden State has something for everybody. Dense, foggy forests. Misty mountains. Endless, winding coastal roads. Barren deserts. Some of the most dense, sprawling cities in the country.
And of course...Bigfoot.
No matter where you are, there's a ride waiting for you. So next time you're ready to saddle up, hit one of our top 10 motorcycle rides in California
1. Emigrant Trail Scenic Byway
Forget what you knew about California. This ride is all about unspoiled forests, meadows, volcanic lava flows, lakes and mountain peaks.
Once you hit Route 299, either head east to take a break in Cedarville, or continue west through the Modoc Forest. Either way, the ride ends in Tulelake, from where several other awesome routes are available.
2. Redwood Highway
Oregon border, US Route 199—Crescent City—Leggett
This one is a monster, and takes you all the way from the Oregon border down to Leggett. But it's a monster for another reason, too—all the towering Redwoods on your way down the coast.
Follow Route 199 from Oregon to Route 101 into Crescent City as it winds through Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park. From there, follow Route 101 south all the way until Leggett.
Along the way, take in the massive trees, ocean views, beaches, and some of the most pristine landscapes this side of the Rockies.
3. Feather River Scenic Byway (CA-70)
The Feather River Scenic Byway meanders along the Feather River Canyon, taking the middle fork of the river for most of the trip.
Whether you like natural spectacles or the man-made variety, the byway doesn't disappoint with a collection of waterfalls, the backdrop of the Sierra Nevadas, expansive rail bridges and 7 massive hydroelectric dams.
4. Big Sur Coast (CA-1)
Monterey—San Luis Obispo
Hope you're not tired of the ocean, because we're just getting started.
This ride heads south out of Monterey on Route 1, and stays on the same road until we finish in San Luis Obispo.
Along the way, drink in the rugged California coast—fog-smothered cliffs, lonely beaches, and the endless ocean. And if you're lucky (or here between November and February), you might just happen across a beach full of elephant seals.
5. Sierra Heritage Scenic Byway (CA-168)
Leave Fresno and enter the Sierra National Forest—get ready for more mountains and canyons than you can handle, and then a few more for good measure.
The byway is littered with alpine lakes along the way, offering a few places to stop and relax if you get tired of riding. Of course, that's what we're here for—so keep on pushing until you hit the Kaiser Wilderness area of Sierra Canyon, and leave the city behind for good.
6. Central Valley
Junction of I-5 and I-580 to Junction of I-5 and CA-33
Big, wide open views of the San Joaquin Valley and Coast Range.
Much of the ride runs parallel to the California Aqueduct and the Delta-Mendota Canal, both responsible for irrigating the nearly parched Central Valley.
Without those canals over there, this whole area would look more like a desert. Another marvel of engineering.
7. Death Valley Scenic Byway
CA-190, West of Panamint Springs—Death Valley Junction
Death Valley, as in the hottest place in the country.
I don't really know what else to say about Death Valley. The byway is gorgeous in a sort of face-melting, back-scorching kind of way. At one point, you'll wonder if it's all worth it. Should you keep going, or turn back for civilization?
The answer? Yes.
8. Route 74
Junction of I-215 and CA-74—Palm Desert
More desert, but slightly more forgiving than Death Valley.
Odds are good the weather will be awesome year round, considering Route 74 only gets about 16 days of rain per year.
And don't worry, the endless desert isn't so endless—look for frequent oases and snow-capped peaks in the background as you ride along beneath the crystal clear sky.
9. Riverside Freeway (CA-91)
Junction of I-215 and I-10—Junction of CA-91 and CA-55
This being SoCal and all, we couldn't stay away from the city forever.
Follow the Santa Ana River through booming developments, mercifully broken up by patches of green vegetation as the highway threads the needle between two state parks halfway between Anaheim and San Bernardino.
If you're gonna do the city, at least do the city in style.
10. Angeles Crest Scenic Byway (CA-2)
Junction of I-210 and CA-2—Wrightwood
Stuck in LA, getting an itch for the fresh country air? Well, you're actually not SOL.
Angeles Crest is a short drive from Los Angeles, and offers fantastic views from the San Gabriel Mountains of the Mojave Desert and both the Pomona and San Gabriel valleys.
If the planets align and you get a once-in-a-lifetime clear day in Los Angeles, be sure to stop by the Mt. Wilson Observatory and check out what Tinseltown looks like from above.
California the Great
California sometimes seems like its own country, and these rides prove it. No other state offers the same incredible variety of scenery that California does—from the Sierra Nevadas in the east to the Redwoods in the north to the Bay Area to the southern deserts.
That said, we couldn't possibly hope to touch on everything CA has to offer dedicated riders.
If you know any awesome routes we missed, let us know!
Until then, see you on the road.
Texas is pretty big. That means it has a lot of roads. Do you see where we're going with this?
Riders and drivers in Texas are really looking at a smorgasbord of scenic drives, and narrowing down the best into a neat little list is almost impossible.
With that said, we did our best. Here are some of the best scenic drives in Texas you can find, from the short to the long, dusty to verdant, mountainous to riverside, and everything in between. Enjoy.
1. Highway 90/385
AKA the Gateway to Big Bend, this route offers breathtaking views of the Chisos Mountains off on the horizon. If you want to get your eyeballs on this amazing view, follow Highway 90 as it merges with 385, and get ready for some serious vistas.
2. Davis Mountains Scenic Loop
Feast your eyes on the Davis Mountains looming 8000 feet up, with your view broken by clumps of green clinging to the dry landscape. A definite must-ride, start off in Fort Davis, heading west on Highway 118 until you reach spur 78, then loop around back to Fort Davis.
3. El Camino Real Highway
El Camino Real Highway has many aliases, the most common of which is simply Texas 21. The road was used way back in the 1700s by the Native Americans and Spanish, but it's slightly more enjoyable with a motor and a pair of sunglasses. Start near Toledo Bend Reservoir (close to Milam), and continue on all the way to San Antonio for the full experience.
4. Highway 16
Boring name, spectacular views. You want a long ride? We got 'em. 16 is one of the longest routes in Texas, forking off 281 to the south of Wichita Falls. From there, the highway meanders across a huge chunk of the state, and we mean HUGE. That includes scenic drives in Texas hill country, by the way.
5. River Road
River Road also goes by the less-imaginative name FM 170, but we prefer the former since it runs right alongside the Rio Grande. This stretch of FM 170 is a winding, twisting route from Lajitas to Presidio, offering glimpses far more than just the river.
6. Highway 207
Texas is the second-biggest state and also happens to boast the second-biggest canyon in the US, Palo Duro Canyon. Coincidence? No way. Highway 207 cuts right through Palo Duro on FM 284—just ride west along the road towards the state park.
7. Texas Swiss Alps Scenic Drive
This road is suffering from an identity crisis, but rest assured it's definitely in Texas. Not quite the Swiss Alps, the scenic drive sure doesn't feel much like Texas, either. Even in the summer, this route is surrounded by green—yes, green—unlike many of the other roads on this list. The drive also takes you past the huge rock faces near Leakey, just in case you don't like plants.
Start on Highway 470 in Bandera, driving towards Concan as the road turns into Highway 83. Next, jump on 337 at Leakey and continue on to Medina.
8. Lonesome Highway
In such a wide open place as Texas, lots of road have that lonesome feeling but none quite like THE Lonesome Highway. With very few cars or signs of life, this route offers a break from civilization that simply isn't possible in more crowded parts of the country. Ride west on 285, turning left on Highway 180 at the junction. Ride up into the Guadalupe Mountains, and try not to get too lonely.
9. Willow City Loop
If you're looking to get back to nature, Willow City Loop might be for you. Let out your sensitive side as you ride through fields of wildflowers, and stop to pick some for your mom (as long as no one is looking). From Fredericksburg, head north on State 16 to Willow City. From there, ride east along Ranch Road 1323, then turn left on the Willow City Loop.
Everything's More Scenic in Texas
Maybe Texas has so many awesome scenic rides because it's so big. The state is hogging up half the country, making a monopoly on scenic byways and state parks.
But instead of being jealous, let's embrace the big, wide open spaces of the Lone Star State. And there are a whole lot more scenic drives out there that didn't make it onto this list, just waiting to be tamed.