Riding Highway One: Newport to San Clemente


One of the greatest and most accessible pleasures in California is having a beautiful and well-maintained highway that takes you right next to the Pacific Ocean via many picturesque towns.

Highway One traverses the whole of the state and can be tackled in several different ways. One is to break it down into short rides that allow for stops and sightseeing.

After picking up your rental bike from Eagle Rider-Newport Beach, head south by getting on CA-55 S to Newport Blvd and following it all the way down to Coast Highway. Turning left will get you traveling through Newport Beach. You will likely see several other motorcycles on this road, especially if it is a weekend.

Before reaching Coast Highway, you can either start or end your ride with a stop at the Orange County Fair, which takes place in Costa Mesa during July and August. Check their webpage for details regarding live music, exhibitions, food and other events.

Costa Mesa itself also offers some fantastic restaurants like local favorites the Sidewalk Café, Eat Chow and Taco Mesa as well as some impressive newcomers such as Pie-Not and Sidecar Donuts. There is also unique shopping and eateries at both The Lab and The Camp, located across from one another on Bristol St.

The Lab is the original “anti-mall” with vintage clothing shops and record stores as well as some outstanding restaurants like Habana and the Gypsy Den or next-door favorite Memphis Cafe.

Across the street at The Camp you’ll find many eco-friendly stores and health-focused restaurants. I love Black Market Bakery, Ecco and Taco Asylum.

Newport Beach offers some high-end shopping at renowned Fashion Island where standards like Pottery Barn and Z Gallerie mingle with smaller, more exclusive boutiques. There are plenty of great restaurants here as well and there is something for every taste and budget from the very expensive-Sushi Roku, Fleming’s Steakhouse and Fig & Olive to the very affordable-California Pizza Kitchen, Back Bay Tavern and even Chik-Fil-A.

You might also consider exploring the compact and quaint Balboa Island and if you are game, take a small ferry over to the peninsula where you can check out the Balboa Fun Zone, a real arcade and don’t forget to get an iconic Balboa Bar or frozen banana while there.

Continuing down the coast, you will pass through the exclusive areas of Newport Coast and Crystal Cove where there is more shopping and incredible dining at excellent restaurants like Javier’s and Tamarind of London, but the best place to stop at is The Beachcomber, a café located directly on the sand in the Crystal Cove State Park. If you are pressed for time, just make a quick stop at the iconic Ruby’s Date Shack for hamburgers, fries and of course, shakes!

From here, you’ll ride into the arty seaside town of Laguna Beach. The highway narrows and is usually packed with cars, buses and motorcycles, so be alert, especially since car doors tend to fling open all the time, pedestrians are always crossing the highway and cars are darting out from side streets. Laguna Beach is the home of the Sawdust Festival during the summer, an eclectic and fun artist festival showcasing local artists.  Once you pass through Laguna, the traffic should ease and you can enjoy the open road ahead.

Passing through Dana Point you’ll see many surf and specialty shops, but the place to stop is Dana Point Harbor where you can rest, eat, shop or even go out on a whale watching excursion.

Having lived in San Clemente for ten years, I am partial to its sleepy beach town pace and unassuming charms. The weather is always just perfect for riding and the views are unstoppable.  Traveling to the south end of this town, you’ll come across the biker bar Big Helyn’s, located at 3317 S. El Camino Real. This is a local favorite where the staff knows who their customers are (most by name) and the atmosphere can be a bit rowdy (local Marines get Happy Hour prices all day). There is little in the way of food here, so don’t plan on eating here. A great place to end your ride, but remember not to drink and ride.

Heading north again, you can check out the downtown by turning down Avenida Del Mar. This is where most of the shops and eateries are and if you like Thai food I highly recommend Mongkut Thai (212 Ave. Del Mar). Continuing down the road, you’ll reach the San Clemente Pier and the classic restaurant and bar Fisherman’s. You can also stroll the length of the pier and meet local fishermen as well as watch the surfers.

Taking Pacific Coast Highway back to Eagle Rider-Newport Beach is a nice and relaxing ride with plenty of beachfront scenery. If you opt to take the freeway (I-405 N), be prepared for a lot of traffic as you head back into Orange County proper.


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