Cycling the Santa Monica Mountains, California
The Santa Monica Mountains are the greatest coastal bike climbing area in the United States. Nowhere along the Pacific or Atalantic coasts are there so many moderately difficult paved roads beginning at the coast. Within 35 miles (from Deer Creek to the north and Topanga Canyon to the south) there are eight bike climbs starting from Pacific Coast Highway and riding up canyons into the Santa Monica Mountains.
The Santa Monica Mountains are a subrange of the Transverse Ranges, which are in part subranges of the Pacific Coast Range. The highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains is Sandstone Peak (3,111’), which is just north of the last section of the Yerba Buena Road climb.
Climbs starting on PCH + Rock Store.
Getting around in the Santa Monica Mountains:
There are two primary east-west routes: Pacific Coast Highway (south) + Mulholland Highway (north)
Helpful information from, and favorite routes of, our resident SMM expert, Daniel Patrick, of Los Angeles, California:
- Santa Monica Mountain Challenge (SMMT): This is an annual challenge and their website is a great resource: SMMT Challenge.
- Starfish @ Big Rock: This route highlights five classic climbs plus an often overlooked climb, Big Rock, which is a mix of road and fire road (Daniel notes that he switched bikes for this climb; PJAMM note: I used my Roubaix with 28mm back and 25mm front without difficulty, though I did not descend)
- Deer Creek: Most would rank Deer Creek as the most difficult climb in the Santa Monica Mountains as the two mile climbed is almost entirely in the 13%-14% range. I was feeling spunky this day.
THE TOP RANKED BIKE CLIMB PER FIETS INDEX
LAS FLORES CANYON TO STUNT ROAD
Cycling Las Flores Canyon Road, finishing at Stunt Road.
Ride 5.8 miles gaining 2,344’ at 7.6% average grade.
With a FIETS score of 5.4, this is top climb for difficulty in the Santa Monica Mountains.
This climb finishes at main hub for bike climb finishes in the Santa Monica Mountains.
THE STEEPEST CLIMB
DEER CREEK ROAD
This is a short (2.3 miles) but extremely scenic and STEEP climb -- averaging 11.3% with a full quarter mile at 14%, and some extended sections hovering in the 16-18% range. Deer Creek is also the northernmost of the Santa Monica Mountain climbs.
THE ROUTE WITH THE FIVE BEST CLIMBS
5 WITCHES OF MALIBU
Photos clockwise from top left: Corral Canyon; Las Flores Canyon
Deer Creek, Tuna Canyon, and Decker (middle).
Santa Monica Mountain climbing expert Daniel Patrick writes: “My vote on the five best climbs are on the 5 Witches of Malibu ride. While Latigo and Mulholland are often touted as big climbs, they are almost entirely single digits and didn’t make my ranking.” Note: Tuna Canyon is a one-way road (downhill) which is why it is not included on SMMT’s climbs.
The 5 Witches of Malibu are:
THE COOLEST PLACE TO START A CLIMB
MULHOLLAND FROM ROCK STORE
Southern California’s beloved “Rock Store” is a famed stop for motorcyclists traveling through the area. The store itself is made entirely out of volcanic rock, and dates back to the 1910s, when it was a stagecoach stop. Today, among the stop’s attractions are “the rustic settings, celebrity sightings, hundreds of bikes to look at and the food and drinks. The Rock Store is most popular for their hefty breakfasts, BBQ tri-tip sandwiches, teriyaki chicken sandwiches, homemade chili and more and don’t forget those ice cold beverages” (Rock Store).
The Snake -- Mulholland Highway.
One of the reasons the Rock Store is so popular is that the purported greatest motorcycling curve on a roadway in California, and perhaps the US, is just up Mulholland Highway. At precisely the 2.2 mile mark from the start of our climb (and thus 2.2 miles from The Rock Store) is the most coveted hairpin in CA/USA. There is even a pullout named “The Snake Carspot” just above the turn where fans and onlookers viewed the motorcyclists tearing through the turn. (Note: the road was closed November 2018 due to fire and was still closed as of December 2020). Check Roadway Status. Here’s a fun video regarding Rock Store and The Snake.
THE MOST SCENIC (SUBJECTIVELY, OF COURSE)
DECKER ROAD TO YERBA BUENA HIGH POINT
Ride 8.1 miles gaining 2,441’ at 5.3% average grade to 2,303’.
Decker Road from PCH to the high point of Yerba Buena Road has it all: Pacific Ocean and epic Santa Monica Mountain Views. It also ends at what we believe is the highest point on a paved road in all of the Santa Monica Mountains. Deer Creek and Encinal Canyon are also right with Decker on the top of the list for scenic Santa Monica Mountains bike climbs.
THE MOST ICONIC
HOLLYWOOD SIGN BIKE CLIMB
Cycling to the iconic Hollywood sign.
Ride 3.4 miles gaining 1,231’ at 6.9% average grade.
This is one of our favorite climbs anywhere. The climb is short but challenging and offers several clear views of the famous Hollywood sign along the way.
There are also a couple great viewpoints of LA . . . on a clear day . . .
OTHER TOP CLIMBS IN THE AREA
HARDEST CLIMB IN THE LOS ANGELES AREA
Cycling Mt. Baldy: one of Southern California’s toughest bike climbs.
Ride 13.6 miles gaining 5,093’ at 7% average grade.
The climb up Mt. Baldy Road to Mt. Baldy Resort is one of the most popular and is the hardest bike climb in the Los Angeles area. It is only 65 miles (~1:05 hours) from Agoura Hills where we stay when riding the Santa Monica Mountains to the start of this bike climb -- on a weekend -- during the weekday, all bets are off.
Sign just before the left turn to the ski resort parking lot.
Finish at the ski resort ticket booth.
GLENDORA MOUNTAIN ROAD
MOST SCENIC IN THE LOS ANGELES AREA
PJAMM Cycling’s choice for the most scenic cycling climb in Southern California.
California Top 10 Most Scenic Bike Climb
This is a gorgeous climb, particularly when the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains are snow capped. The climb begins about 60 miles (~1 hour driving) due east of our Santa Monica Mountains’ cycling trips home base, Agoura Hills.
Glendora Mountain Road shares its final five miles with the Mt. Baldy climb.
HIGHWAY 33 TO PINE MOUNTAIN SUMMIT
THE LONGEST BIKE CLIMB IN CA
Cycling Highway 33 to Pine Creek Summit -- the longest bike climb in California.
Ride 33.3 miles gaining 6,710’ at 3.5% average grade.
Pine Mountain summit is a very challenging and rewarding bike climb, although the first 27 miles are on moderately busy, but seemingly safe, Highway 33. The final six miles are along a fun and narrow remote paved roadway, completing the longest climb in California (and the sixth longest in the US). The climb begins about 55 miles (~1 hour car ride) from Agoura Hills.
That’s a wrap!!