Two-wheeling in the SLO lane
By Jane Engle
Los Angeles Times
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Most places have skinny bike lanes. San Luis Obispo, a small college town 200 miles north of Los Angeles, has those too. But it also sports a bicycle boulevard along a less-traveled section of the town's Morro Street, where two-wheelers get the run of the car lane.
At one intersection, just by placing your bike on a certain spot, you trip a metal detector that turns the stoplights red for everyone else.
Talk about respect.
Crossing the railroad tracks is no sweat either, thanks to a million-dollar trestle fitted with gentle ramps that zigzag up the 25-foot-high span.
And, get this: At the weekly downtown farmers market, volunteer valets will watch your wheels for free while you shop.
Are you listening, city planners of America?
Pedal power, along with great scenery, was why my partner, Wesla, and I spent a few days in San Luis Obispo County, renowned for its scenic bike rides. We chose rides of less than 25 miles each, suitable for moderately fit vacationers and those whose knees, like mine, are no longer under warranty.
But first, we hopped Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles, a 5 1/2-hour journey that hugged the Pacific Ocean, offering a moving visual feast of frolicking dolphins, bobbing surfers and rugged, sea-battered coast.
We stayed at the Heritage Inn, a wisteria-draped B&B in a century-old house that Scottish native Susanne Teso was refurbishing after buying it in December. Teso's former career, managing the Princess Grill aboard the now-retired Queen Elizabeth 2, ensured superb breakfasts — and riveting tales.
Using maps from San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition, we rode three loops in three days, touring nearby wineries, the coast and around this historic town. Read on for what we found.
EDNA VALLEY WINERIES, 14 MILES
After a late start way past noon, we headed over the railroad bridge, onto the trackside bike path and south along California Highway 227.
Our first stop was the surprisingly charming San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, whose terminal is bedecked with dangling figures of luggage-toting birds by local artist Sandra Kay Johnson.
At Spirit of San Luis, a restaurant replete with aviation memorabilia that overlooks the runway, co-owner Doug Wagnon greeted us as if we were driving a Rolls-Royce, directing us to a spot to secure our cycles. "I do bikes, bathrooms and windows, and I cook too," he said.
Quite well, judging from the Wright cheeseburger, Kitty Hawk tuna sandwich and fries we gobbled while gawking at the comings and goings of small planes.
South of the airport the ride turned scenic with tree-dotted hills and acres of grape vines. We turned left onto Biddle Ranch Road for a tasting at the 1,200-acre Edna Valley Vineyard, one of more than a dozen in the region. This one had a picnic area, gourmet shop and small demonstration vineyard.
We also stopped at Saucelito Canyon Vineyard and Wolff Vineyards, where Clint Grubb, the owners' son, obliged us with an after-hours tasting.
From Clint we learned a lot about petite syrah, Alsatian riesling and SLO-vintage hospitality.
Mindful of safety, we sipped sparingly. However, our late-afternoon return cycling against a relentless north wind, would have snapped anyone back to sobriety!
TOUR D'AVILA, 23 MILES
We began our trip to the coast after breakfast, heading south out of town on Higuera Street and then on Ontario Road, skirting U.S. Highway 101.
About eight miles out, we ducked onto the 2 1/2-mile Bob Jones trail, a pretty, forested path along San Luis Creek. The trail connects to Avila Beach Drive, leading to the resort town of Avila Beach and Port San Luis' Harford Pier, on a gorgeous bay teeming with barking sea lions and other marine life.
Avila Beach, which was rebuilt after an underground oil spill forced much of its downtown to be bulldozed a decade ago, has returned to its lovely, sleepy old self. We shared fat crab cakes on the patio of the Custom House restaurant.
We started back before 2 p.m., paused for yummy macaroons at Woodstone Marketplace at Avila Village along the Bob Jones trail, and then met a familiar foe.
"Let's see," I said. "If the wind is blowing at 35 mph, and we're pedaling at 10 mph, we're going backward at 25 mph."
Wesla replied, "Great. We'll be back at the beach in 40 minutes."
Actually, we pedaled up to our inn about 4 p.m.
HISTORIC SAN LUIS OBISPO, 4.3 MILES
For a small town, SLO has a rich past. Stops on this short tour included the lovely Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, founded in 1772; the circa-1859 home of French immigrant Pierre Dallidet next to a horse-drawn streetcar and a rail depot, and the Ah Louis building, remnant of a 19th-century Chinatown.
Old Japan Town, the former hub of a vibrant enclave emptied by the Japanese internments of World War II, today is remembered by a few small houses and the poignant Eto Park, where a plaque speaks of "seeds of forgiveness."
Downtown, we checked out the San Luis Obispo Children's Museum, which expanded last summer, with three floors of imaginative exhibits and games. The historic route also took us down a shady path through Meadow Park, site of a 1920s speedway long since dismantled.
I can't say I mourned the track's demise. Life in the SLO lane suited me just fine.