Family Bicycle Touring the California Coast – with a Six-Year-Old in Tow
My wife, six-year daughter, and I recently toured on our bicycles from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. I really enjoy bike touring and share this trip with readers in hopes that others may be interested in trying it.
When my daughter was three, our family completed a longer bike tour from Monterey to San Luis Obispo, finishing 144 miles in seven days. At the time, my daughter was small enough to ride on a Yepp child seat attached to the back of my bike. When she grew too heavy for it, we started using a Weehoo bike trailer, on which I often take her to school. She’s old enough to ride her own bike – at CicLAvia and other open streets events, on bike paths (we like the Burbank Chandler, which is easy to get to on the Metro Red Line), and for sidewalk rides up to a couple of miles long.
Our Weehoo trailer works for longer and less bike-friendly trips. It looks and works like a recumbent bike, and she has pedals but most of the time she doesn’t help much in propelling the bike. She needs to balance, as well – although with her relatively light weight, even if she’s off balance, it hardly affects my balance.
I wasn’t sure how the trailer would work for bike touring, so my daughter and I did a day-long test trip from Santa Barbara to Ventura, about thirty miles. The Weehoo has a single tire, so it handles fine on curves and downhill stretches. But it is plenty of work for me, especially going uphill, and is also a bit long and bulky when getting on and off train cars. Nevertheless, it works well for transporting a child.
For our three-day weekend trip, we took the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner to Santa Barbara on Saturday morning, and explored a bit there. Then, over the course of Sunday and Monday, we biked back to Los Angeles, riding about fifty miles each day. We didn’t carry camping gear; instead we stayed at a hotel in Santa Barbara and an Airbnb in Oxnard. When we arrived in Santa Monica, we loaded our bikes onto the Expo Line and took Metro home. For what it’s worth, we rode between fifteen and twenty miles in Santa Barbara/Goleta on day 1, 53 miles from Santa Barbara to Oxnard on day 2, and finished the last day after completing 46 miles from Oxnard to Santa Monica.
The coast along this section is not quite as scenic as Big Sur, but there are plenty of beautiful vistas and, overall, it is fairly flat. Not entirely flat, though; there are a few hills south of Santa Barbara and many rolling hills in Malibu.
I am very interested in doing what I can to be part of the solution to our planet’s climate emergency. Too often – between driving and flying or even cruise ships – vacation travel can contribute the largest amount of pollution of a family’s entire year. I prefer to vacation as much as possible on foot, bicycle, and by train in part because I know that supporting these green transportation modes helps minimize my harm to the climate. Also, being able to witness and experience climate-threatened natural lands – including the wonderful coastline that we Californians take for granted – will also help spur awareness of the changes needed to curb climate change. I feel a responsibility to pass the life-sustaining environment – that I love – along to my daughter’s generation.
For advice for families (or individuals or groups) interested in California bike touring, see my earlier piece, which includes plenty of tips and suggestions. One thing that still holds very true since that last trip is the difference in energy levels. Though my daughter now pedals on the Weehoo trailer, she is basically sitting around, sometimes reading, while her parents are working hard. At the end of the day, we were exhausted and she was full of energy. Definitely take breaks so kids can run around at playgrounds and beaches along the way.
It’s easy to take plenty of stops, and to see lots of great vistas, when you’re on bikes.