As a road loop, this ride, by itself, is not likely to meet the criteria of most road bikers for an ideal road ride: It's too short for satisfaction; it doesn't feature enough climbing to be a good workout; it has too much traffic to win the "peaceful and quiet" vote; not to mention the fact that it's too far out of the way of most people in the Bay Area for a typical bike ride. Nevertheless, this route is a reasonably well-known tourist draw of our area even as a scenic drive for motor vehicles and, as such, I think it's worth consideration as a biking route as well. You might say that 17-Mile Drive is a "manufactured" tourist attraction (and you'd be mostly correct), but that doesn't take anything away from the stunning beauty of at least the coastal portion of this loop or prevent it from winning points due to being close to other destinations like Monterey and Carmel that are worth a weekend visit in their own right. Moreover, it's easy enough to put together a longer ride that includes this loop for those who are looking for something more substantial.
A little bit of tourist-brochure information first: This loop has the interesting status of being one of only four private toll roads in existence in the US, according to something I remember reading some years ago, as well as being the only one of those that's west of the Mississippi. This is arising from the fact that Pebble Beach is a private community and has a corporate identity in the form of the Pebble Beach Company. The property was originally part of the vast lands of Hotel Del Monte—a typical example of the bygone style of grand old resort hotels of the 19th century, and a name that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has spent any time driving in or around the Monterey Peninsula. Though the route is said to have changed over the years, the 17-Mile Drive has been a pleasure ride route (originally in horse carriages) for the guests of this hotel since 1881. Those who are interested in this might like to know that the last incarnation of the hotel itself (after two rebirths following major fires) lives on today as the Herrmann Hall of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
You'll notice that the suggested parking spot pointed out on your left is one of the vista points of 17-Mile Drive itself (the one at Shepherd's Knoll). If you come here by car to do the ride, then starting from that parking lot will naturally require you to drive through one of the entrance gates of 17-Mile Drive, paying the entrance fee in the process (which is $9.75 as of this writing). However, it's easy enough to avoid this because entry to 17-Mile Drive is free of charge for bikes. So, you can simply park somewhere in the nearby Pacific Grove or Carmel and bike your way in from there instead.
If you do want to start the ride from a spot on 17-Mile Drive itself, you will have a variety of options. I picked this particular starting point only because it was the nearest one when accessed from Highway 1, meaning I'd be back on the highway and heading home within a couple of minutes after finishing the ride. There is only one other vista point parking area along the inland part of the loop (the one at Huckleberry Hill), but there are plenty along the segments on the coast. One thing you might like to know in case you intend to park along the coast is that your car will probably have a small amount of fine, sprayed-on sea salt on it when you return, unless you happen to do the ride on an unusually calm day. It's not something that should cause any serious concern, but it might be an annoyance if it had just been washed within the last day or two.
Keen-eyed viewers may notice that the ride length reflected on this page is 16 miles although the route precisely follows a loop named "17-Mile Drive". I think the discrepancy can be explained by the fact that there is a 0.9-mile stretch of road when you enter from the Pacific Grove Gate before you reach the actual loop itself, which is not included in this ride.
One thing that might prove to be somewhat tricky is catching a day with the right kind of weather for this ride. This area is somewhat notorious for being cloudy and windy even when much of the surrounding countryside is enjoying a bright and balmy day. This will probably come as a surprise only to those who are new to the area but, most portions of the coast around here are pretty much expected to be cloudy and often downright chilly through some of the warmer months of the year. Your best bet for catching a sunny day at Pebble Beach will be in the late summer or fall. I would suggest September or October. On the flip side, this same characteristic makes this area a great option in hot weather, because the coast here is almost guaranteed to be seriously cooler on hot days than any inland location in the Bay Area.
On this particular ride, I've done the loop counter-clockwise and I would recommend it. This will mean that you'll be on the side of the road that's closer to the water (for better views) on the coastal portions of the route, as well as being on the side of the road where the driveways and parking spots for most of the scenic spots along the drive are located, so that you can dive in and out of them more easily.
In terms of the general character of the ride, this particular route starts from one of the higher points of the drive on the inland side and soon descends to the coast. The inland portions are, frankly, not very interesting. These are beautiful hilly roads through rich vegetation and also happen to be the quietest portion of the route, but there's not much to distinguish this from any other similar ride through a community of walled-in mansions. In addition, in case you might be expecting to catch some nice views from parts of this segment of the route due to the higher elevation, you'd be wrong. There aren't any good ones; despite the presence of a couple of supposed vista points represented on the 17-Mile Drive brochure. The coastal stretch of the loop is really the only worthwhile part of the ride, starting near the Pacific Grove Gate off Route 68 in Pacific Grove and ending shortly before the Carmel Gate. (In fact, it's entirely feasible to use only that portion of this drive as a connector between Pacific Grove and Carmel by incorporating it into a longer route that might involve Carmel Valley or Highway 1 in order to put together a more rewarding ride.) This coastal segment traverses a beautiful landscape squeezed between a very picturesque, rugged, and windswept shore that's dotted with small beaches on one side, and a chain of golf courses and a smattering of posh homes nestled among dune plant communities and pine or cypress groves on the other.
A portion of 17-Mile Drive, between where you first get onto Spanish Bay Road and the intersection of 17-Mile Drive with Spyglass Hill Road features a designated bike lane on the side of the road. This 2.5-mile segment ends when the "bike route" diverts off the loop by turning inland onto Spyglass Hill Road. All the rest of the loop usually has a very narrow shoulder, if at all, though the road itself is not always particularly narrow. One section that happens to be both narrow and has no shoulder at all starts at the intersection with Portola Road just past The Lodge at Pebble Beach and ends at the Carmel Gate, and is actually announced by a road sign explicitly warning cyclists about this. It's not so much the lack of shoulder space along this stretch of the road that poses a risk as it is the fact that the edge of the asphalt is in the form of a tall step-down into a steeply sloped shoulder, making it a bad bail-out option for any hairy situation. In general, though, I find the overall ride to be reasonably safe for cyclists, because what motor-vehicle traffic there is (mostly along the coastal stretches) is usually comparatively slow since the drivers are busy taking in the scenery rather than speeding from point A to point B.
There is a string of points of interest along 17-Mile Drive that you'll see listed on the brochure you may pick up at the entrance gate. While some of these feel like a flimsy excuse for a stop, included only to pad the list, a few of them hold genuine interest in my opinion. Most of the interesting ones happen to involve flora and fauna. The Bird Rock is easily worth a stop in order to catch glimpses of the sea birds, seals, sea lions, and otters on and around this rocky outcrop (in addition to getting a whiff of the guano mixed in with mammal waste, which is not as welcome). The Crocker Grove stop affords an up-close look at one of the larger groves of Monterey cypress trees in this area (including a particularly ancient specimen, I'm told, which I haven't seen myself)—an extremely picturesque species that grows in the wild only around Monterey and Carmel. Cypress Point Lookout shouldn't be missed, because it usually provides an intimate peek at a group of harbor seals basking on a beach, though this area is closed (along with the nearby Fanshell Overlook) between April 1st and June 1st, due to the pupping season of these animals. Finally, The Lone Cypress is an obligatory photo op for anyone who is visiting 17-Mile Drive for the first time. While the tree can't be said to be truly "lone" in any real sense of the word, it is, in fact, situated in a very scenic spot and its likeness is relatively widely used in the media, not least because it also happens to be the symbol of Pebble Beach Company. One curious bit of trivia about The Lone Cypress is that the company holds a trademark on the image of this tree and makes a dubious claim against the commercial use of any photo of it. Meanwhile, some of the other named spots along 17-Mile Drive make good spots for taking snapshots during your first time here, but hold little interest beyond that.
Note that you'll notice some cutely meandering paved and dirt paths along both sides of the road on the coastal segment of this loop. To the best of my knowledge, none of those trails are legal for bikes. So, don't get your hopes up.
After your ride, you shouldn't have to drive very far in order to find a post-ride drink or bite. Some obvious choices that would come to mind are the Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row in Monterey (though both of those arguably consist mostly of tourist traps) and the main drag in Carmel (although the options in Carmel, too, include some tourist traps mixed in with a few decent eateries). A lesser known set of options could be sought in "downtown" Pacific Grove, along the western half of Lighthouse Avenue, though you'll find fewer options there to pick from. I'm not enough of a local of these specific towns to make suggestions any more informed than these, unfortunately.
© Ergin Guney
blog comments powered by Disqus