Here in Southern California, we’re blessed with almost-perfect riding weather year round. For many of us, it might even be the main reason we live here. And with a four-day weekend coming up, what better way to spend a few sunny days off than to explore some of the fantastic rides we’re surrounded with? Here are five of my absolute favorites.
1. Salton Sea / Salvation Mountain
About an hour southeast of Palm Springs is the Salton Sea — a manmade lake that since its heyday as a vacation spot in the 1950s and -60s has sat largely abandoned. The lake itself is beautiful to look at, but it reeks of dead fish and if you look closely at the beach you’re walking on, it’s made of more pulverized fishbone than sand. It’s a surreal place that has to be experienced in person, and there are several scenic ways to get there depending on which direction you’re coming from.
While in the area, make sure to stop at Salvation Mountain in Niland just east of the Salton Sea. Built by local eccentric Leonard Knight, it’s a towering hill of pastel colors and hand painted bible verses. Psy-psy-psychedelic.
From San Diego, you can take the 78 through Julian and Ocotillo Wells, then jump on the 86 or 111 north, depending on which shore you want to visit.
From LA/Temecula, the 79-371-74 combination of highways will drop you off in Palm Desert, and from there it’s a fairly quick ride southeast.
It’s just starting to cool down in the mountains, so get it while it’s hot(ish)! Idyllwild is a small mountain town that’s basically an outdoorsy person’s wet dream. I’m not much of a hiker, so I mainly come here for the amazing motorcycle riding. The almost 50-mile road between Banning and Anza has some of my favorite twisties — the turns are tight but fast, and there’s usually not too much car traffic to navigate around.
When the weather allows, Idyllwild is perfect for some off-the-grid camping, but it works just as well for a day trip. There are plenty of restaurants in town for a lunch stop — my recommendation is to get off the main drag and grab some organic vegan food at Plant Food Supper Club.
From San Diego/Temecula, take the 79 to the 371 and then head north on the 74.
From LA, take the 10 and get off in Banning, then take the 243 south.
3. Valle de Guadalupe / Ensenada
Ok, this one is not technically in Southern California – it’s not even in the U.S. But it’s just a two hour ride south from San Diego, so I’m including it on this list anyway. If you haven’t ridden in Mexico yet (and you have a passport), you really should get on it. The ride between Tijuana and Ensenada is beyond scenic — the 1D highway goes along the coast the entire way, and for parts of it, you’re riding perfect twisties nestled in between towering mountains and the Pacific Ocean. And since it’s a toll road, it’s meticulously maintained. It’s much safer than riding through LA, I promise.
Ensenada is a coastal town worth a visit (and for many years, it was the final destination of the El Diablo Run), but then make sure to go inland to Valle de Guadalupe. It’s been called “the next Napa” because of its many, many vineyards (seriously, basically everyone’s house is a winery), and there’s some great food in the area too. I actually spent all of Thanksgiving weekend here last year, and all we did was eat good food and drink good wine for four days straight. (Don’t drink and ride, though! That’s a terrible idea.)
From San Diego, cross the border in San Ysidro, then head south on the 1D. When you get close to Ensenada, take the 3 North to get to the Valle, or stay on the coastal road and it will take you into Ensenada.
4. Joshua Tree / Pioneertown
Joshua Tree is one of my favorite places in the entire world, so I take any chance I get to go back and explore it. If you’ve been to Babes Ride Out, chances are you’ve already ridden through the national park or stopped for a bite of food at Pappy & Harriet’s, but if not — go do it now! The Joshua Tree National Park spans almost 800,000 acres, and the ride from the north end of the park to the south is almost 70 miles one way. That’s 70 miles of Joshua trees, large rock formations, a vast cactus garden, and smooth, twisty roads. I’m fairly certain I could ride through the park every day of my life without getting sick of it.
On the way to or from Joshua Tree, make a pit stop in Yucca Valley’s Pioneertown, which was originally built as a western movie set in the 1940s.
From San Diego/Temecula, take the 79 to the 371 to the 74 toward Palm Desert, the take the 10 west to the 62 north.
From LA, take the 10 east to the 62 north.
5. Palm Springs
This one is kind of a no-brainer. The midcentury modern desert resort town is one of SoCal’s most popular weekend getaway spots, and for good reason. Winter is high season in Palm Springs due to the mild climate, but this time of the year it’s still in the high 70s to low 80s during the day. Grab your friends, get an Airbnb, and enjoy a few days of riding and lounging by the pool.
From San Diego/Temecula, take the 79 to the 371 to the 74 toward Palm Desert, then take the 111 into Palm Springs proper.
From LA, the quickest way (I assume) is on the I-10, but for a more scenic route, consider going through Temecula.