Tired of the treadmill? Weary of weights? Get into gear this spring with cycling. These rides, which range from easy to expert, offer fitness challenges for any cyclist, with the added bonus of being outside in gorgeous Orange County spring weather. Whether you’re looking for a mellow, scenic ride or want a hardcore workout, Matt Ford, owner of Rock N’ Road Cyclery, shares his insight and expertise on some of the best rides around.
Newport Back Bay
Take advantage of SoCal’s gorgeous spring weather and get the family out on this scenic loop in the Newport Back Bay area. This ride begins just south of the intersection of Jamboree Boulevard and Eastbluff Drive, and has a dedicated bike lane. This ride has only one short, steep hill, which can be walked, if necessary, making this ride a great way to increase your fitness while taking in some beautiful land and seascapes. Parking is available along this eight-mile loop, and there are plenty of sights to see along the way. In addition to the breathtaking natural scenery, several bird-watching turnouts are scattered along the path. Once you reach the turnaround point at Newport Harbor, make sure to look for kayakers and paddle boarders, as well as yachts in the slips.
Mountain to Sea
Starting and ending at Meadowood Park in Irvine, this 7.8-mile loop is a safe and fun ride for the entire family. Aside from road underpasses, this ride is relatively flat with only about a 200-foot elevation, and it is completely closed to road traffic. Riding along the creek bed make sightings of ducks and other birds possible, and the turnaround point is at Harvard Athletic Park, where you and the kids can use the restroom, rehydrate and pause for a snack before the return trip to Meadowood Park. With parks at the start, end and midpoints, this ride would be perfect for an active date or an active family daycation in Irvine.
San Onofre Campgrounds
For a more challenging intermediate ride, the 23-mile round trip down to the campgrounds at San Onofre begins and ends in beautiful San Clemente where Avenida Califia intersects with Avenida del Presidente. Riding parallel to the 5 Freeway on old Highway 101, this loop yields dazzling panoramic vistas of the Pacific, with little traffic to worry about. The longer distance makes this ride a little more difficult, and according to our expert, the wind can be either friend or foe, but it is a fast and fun route skirting the bluffs just south of the nuclear power plant.
Shady Canyon and Turtle Rock
With beautiful views of the Shady Canyon Golf Course, this 11-mile intermediate ride is slightly more demanding. Once on the well-kept trail, however, the scenic beauty of the Quail Hill Reserve will make this workout worth it. It contains more hills than the easier routes, with some road traffic once you get onto Turtle Rock Drive, though bike lanes are present. The ride begins and ends at the Quail Hill shopping center where you can hit up the Starbucks prior to hopping onto the Shady Canyon Trail. Then take Sunnyhill Street to Turtle Rock Drive and begin your loop over rolling hills through some of south Orange County’s prime real estate.
For advanced riders, the Como Street route is a longer challenging group ride through the foothills and canyons of South Orange County. Starting at the Red Robin parking lot in the Tustin Marketplace every Sunday at 8 a.m., this simulated road race loops around the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park and Limestone Canyon Regional Park. It draws anywhere from 50-100 riders, and may include a few professionals. With a distance of 33 miles, lots of climbing, fast downhills and an average pace of 20 miles per hour, this is not a ride you take for the scenery.
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David McDonald is a freelance writer covering all things Orange County. His work can be found on Examiner.com.