Motorcycle Riding Routes in Southern California

Aug 15, 2021


Kawasaki motorcycle ridden near Palm Springs.

Southern California conjures up fantasies of golden beaches stretching as far as the eye can see punctuated by crowded boardwalks. But just a little research shows that Southern California, particularly the Los Angeles and Orange County areas, is replete with motorcycle routes that aren’t just scenic, but downright exhilarating to ride. Beyond the beachside communities and urban terrain of the city is a bevy of hills, mountains, lakes, and—most importantly—twisty roads that run through them. Here are five motorcycle routes guaranteed to transform your Southern California getaway into a real adventure. Interested in renting a motorcycle? Read the How to Rent a Motorcycle in California article to learn how.

1. Ortega Highway

One-day trip — 32 miles

Ortega Highway runs from a crystal-clear coast, through a national park, and all the way to a man-made lake on the other side of the mountain range. From LA or OC travel south to the city of San Juan Capistrano. Next, head east on Highway 74 toward Lake Elsinore.

In between San Juan Capistrano and Lake Elsinore is the Cleveland National Forest. This means you’ll see mountains and valley scenery, in addition to enjoyable ascents and descents. Lush plant nurseries are found amongst the alpine forest, and Elsinore Peak is a sight to behold.

Sweeping turns are the name of the game on Ortega Highway. You’ll experience 180-degree turns as you climb up the mountain. Be mindful of traffic, especially during weekends and ride within your limit. The portion of road descending toward Lake Elsinore will also surprise with some nice corners. 

There are a few biker-themed bars and diners along the road including, Hell’s Kitchen and the Lookout Roadhouse.

2. The "Loop Around The Lake" - Big Bear

One-day trip — 91 miles

When you’re in SoCal, visiting the mountain town of Big Bear is obligatory. Begin this trip in Highland, California (56 miles or just over an hour’s drive from Orange County). Head north on CA Route 330 toward Running Springs. From there, take Highway 18 east to Big Bear Lake and loop around the lake. 

You can stay on the 18 all the way until you get to the south side of the lake, at which point you’ll have to make a left onto the Stanfield Cutoff and cross over to Route 38 on the other side of the lake. You’ll take a left (going east) and will be on the north side of Big Bear Lake. Take the 38 back into Route 18, and then take a left and drive along the south side of the lake again.

You’ll be back on Route 38, so stay on it all the way through the San Bernardino National Forest. This is a truly beautiful ride which ends with a westward turn and returns to the valley floor in Redlands.

This route is popular with tourists, so mind your speed and ride within your limits. There are more than enough amenities in Big Bear Lake, including restaurants, gas stations, hotels. Reserve a table at the Belgian Waffle Works in Lake Arrowhead so you’ll have an excuse to stop and enjoy the scenery.

3. Hemet-Idyllwild Motorcycle Run

One-day trip — 69 miles

Looking for more curves at elevation? The Hemet-Idyllwild Motorcycle Run has you covered.

From Hemet, start on West Florida Avenue and then head east on CA-74 East/West Florida Avenue toward South State Street. Make a slight left onto CA-243 North, then a slight right onto South Circle Drive. 

To get to the town of Banning, travel from South Circle Drive to Strawberry Valley Drive, in the northeastern direction. Turn left onto Village Center Drive. Next, turn left onto North Circle Drive and right onto CA-243 North. Continue onto South San Gorgonio Avenue and turn right onto East Ramsey Street. 

To get to Beaumont,  head east on East Ramsey Street to South Murray Street, then turn right onto North Hargrave Street. Turn right and merge onto I-10 West toward Los Angeles. Take Exit 94 for CA-79/Beaumont Avenue. Turn right onto Beaumont Avenue and take the second left onto East 6th Street. 

To get back to Hemet, head east on East 6th Street toward Beaumont Avenue and take the first right onto Beaumont Avenue. Continue onto CA-79 South/North Sanderson Avenue, and follow North Sanderson Avenue. Turn left onto California 79/Idyllwild Drive/Ramona Expy. Then continue to follow California 70/Ramona Expy. Finally, turn right onto North State Street, and make another right to West Florida Avenue.

You’ll be taking this route primarily for the fun, curvy ride. If you go slow enough, you’ll be able to enjoy the 6000-feet views from Mt. San Jacinto, and stop at one of the pull-offs, before you return to Hemet.

The road along this route is mostly well-kept, though the sheer number of curves make a trip in the winter inadvisable. You’ll also be driving on two-lane roads for the duration of this route, so you’ll want to keep your eye out for traffic and possible driving hazards.

Amenities-wise, you shouldn’t have trouble finding some grub or groceries in the little tourist town of Idyllwood.

4. Rim Of The World Highway - CA SR 18 and 330

One-day trip — 37 miles

For those who prefer to live life on the edge, there’s one route that will give them the chance to take extreme living onto the open road. The Rim Of The World Highway is a must-see if you’re renting a motorcycle; just make a 50-minute journey 50 miles north to San Bernardino in Riverside County. 

Just above the city, get onto CA SR 18 (North Waterman). Continue on CA SR 18 all the way to Running Springs, at which point you should exit off onto Live Oak Street. Follow Live Oak down to CA SR 330, and ride it all the way down to City Creek Road. This will take you to the end of your journey, back in San Bernardino.

This route offers sights that need to be seen in order to be believed. As you traverse the tons of twisties on the literal “rim” of the mountain, you’ll gain access to spectacular mountain-top views, especially at the various pull-over areas along the way. Because visibility is usually 20 to 30 miles, you’ll be able to see plenty even without binoculars.

What’s more, you can stop at the incredibly scenic Lake Arrowhead and Village for its various views and vendors. On your return from Lake Arrowhead to Big Bear, you can also stop off at Running Springs, a small mountain village which also boasts a bevy of mountain vistas and twisties.

Owing to this road’s popularity with tourists, it’s generally well-maintained. The beginning of Highway 18 boasts 4 lanes alone, and the twisties along this portion of the route only offer tight corners of medium difficulty. Past the Crestline offramp, you’ll be on a two-lane highway for the rest of the ride. Please note, that during the winter months, certain sections of road get beat up. Luckily, SR 330 is recently-paved and in tip-top shape.

5. Palos Verdes Peninsula Tour

One-day trip — 35 miles

As a bonus route, the Palos Verdes Peninsula Tour deserves some consideration. Why? Because sometimes you might want to get away from the twisty inland roads found high up in the mountains and enjoy the gentler ones along the coast.

Begin in San Pedro, which is 40 miles north of Irvine via the 405. Make sure you’re on Gaffey Street in San Pedro, then travel south. In five minutes you’ll end up on a large hill, and Gaffey will turn into Paseo Del Mar/Sheppard Street if you make a right. Head east and go on for a mile, past White Point Park. 

Look for Western Avenue veering off to the right. Go on Western for only a mile or two and then make a left onto 25th Street. Head West on Palos Verdes Drive South. Head west for 10 miles, and go right onto Palos Verdes Drive East. Continue until you need to take a left onto Crest Road, and follow it up to the crest of the hill. Then go back down the way you came until you’re back on Palos Verdes Drive South. Head west along the coastline for 25 or 30 miles. At the very end, Palos Verdes Drive South will turn into Palos Verdes Drive West and put you out into Torrance and South Redondo Beach, thus ending your journey.

This route offers some of the most stunning coastal views in all of Southern California. The Palos Verdes Peninsula is rife with hills and cliffs which give you picture-perfect views of the ocean. You’ll start this route on a huge hill that overlooks the southern coast of Los Angeles, the Port of Los Angeles, and the commercial ships and pleasure boats that use it. As you go further along the way you’ll see the high cliffs and the plane of the ocean receding into the sky. On a clear day, you might even see Catalina Island in the distance (only 20 miles from the shore).

As for amenities, there’s no shortage of them on this route. You could exhaust a day or a weekend cruising around. The Port of Los Angeles features two large tourist areas that contain restaurants, shops, parks, and cruises. The tail end of your journey along this route features tons of boutique areas, too.

The ride is pretty smooth to boot, with gentle twists and turns. The only caveat: beware the section of road just after 25th Street becomes Palos Verdes. There is a one-eighth-mile stretch with some big dips, so be aware. Just cruise through them at lower speeds—the view is beautiful anyway.