• Distance 81 km
  • Elevation gain 1920m
  • Difficulty
  • Epic rating

This is a tough 80+km ride with nearly 2,000 metres of climbing.

It’s a stunner.

We’ve picked some of the region’s best roads, including famous Mulholland Highway, and combined them into a route which gives consistent climbs, swooping descents and spectacular views over the rugged peaks.

Cycle this route, and you’ll understand what the Santa Monica Mountains are all about.

All metrics in this article are approximate.

Highlights

Though Deer Creek Road is a very tough climb (it’s about 3.5km with an average 10% gradient), it’s also very quiet and beautiful. An early aggressive switchback is difficult to forget (see banner photo!), but the steep climbing very quickly provides great views over the coast. The 360-degree views from Yerba Buena Road (once you’ve ridden up Deer Creek) are unforgettable.

The treat for the way home is descending Decker Road. It’s about 6.5 km with sweeping turns. Towards the bottom, the valley opens up with views of the coast, and there are hairpin turns all the way down to the Pacific Coast Highway.

Views of the Pacific Ocean from Deer Creek RoadViews on the way up Deer Creek Road
Mountain views from Deer Creek RoadPanoramic views from the top of the main Deer Creek climb
Decker Road with drop off to right and sea aheadDecker is a great descent: twisty and with fantastic sea views towards the bottom

Route notes

1. Malibu to where Mulholland Highway meets the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH): 0-39 km

The ride starts with a warm up down the undulating PCH. It should be quieter than the sections around Santa Monica and LA, but utmost vigilance is required.

Encinal Canyon Road is the first climb of the day. At 8km and average 5.5% gradient to the top of the first peak, it’s solid and manageable. It also has a good shoulder and little traffic. There are fabulous views over the Malibu coastline even when you’re still near the bottom of Encinal Canyon Road – that’s where the cover photo for this ride is taken from.

From there it’s a magical 19 km twisty descent down famous Mulholland Highway, to the sea. Built in the 1920s to take Angelenos from the city to the ocean, it traverses 50 miles of mountain road from Hollywood to the coast. The road is a lot of fun to ride but look out for motorbikes, particularly at weekends.

Views of the Pacific from Encinal Canyon RoadThe Pacific from Encinal Canyon Road
Road and sign for Mulholland HighwayTurning off Encinal Canyon Road to go west on famous Mulholland Highway

2. PCH to top of Yerba Buena Road: 39-61.5 km

Turn off the PCH and get ready for the toughest part of the ride, the climb up Deer Creek Road. This 3.5km climb has a 10% average gradient and a maximum gradient of 15%. It’s tough, but it’s very quiet, and the views are divine. The road hits Pacific View Drive and then Yerba Buena and eases up – there are even a couple of short descents to mix things up. At the top of the ridge, you get a glorious panorama over the Pacific, coastline and mountains.

Locals might tell you to avoid Deer Creek due to the surface. When we visited it wasn’t great, but if you’re used to British country lanes, it won’t come as a big shock.

3. Top of Yerba Buena Road to bottom of Decker Road: 61.5-81 km

The descent down Yerba Buena Road is patchy in places, so be sure to pick a good line. The highlight for the descent is when you meet up with Decker Road. It’s stunning, sweeping down the valley side before opening up into hairpins with views of the Pacific.

Canyon from Deer Creek RoadCanyon views from the top of the main Deer Creek climb
Descending Decker RoadDescending Decker Road is a treat: this is towards the top of the descent
Views from Neptune’s Net restaurantViews from Neptune’s Net restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway

Café stops

Opportunities to replenish water bottles and fill up with food are rare once you’re off the PCH. We took the opportunity to stop at 41.5km – Neptune’s Net, 42505 PCH. This is a basic place where low key food and cold drinks are served at picnic tables overlooking the sea.

An alternative would be to call in at the general store in Leo Carrillo State Park campgrounds, a touch off track at kilometre 38.5. Don’t rely on it being open mid-week.

Accommodation

We stayed in an Airbnb apartment tucked away in the mountains above the sea, on Corral Canyon Road. It’s a very comfortable base with spectacular views and extremely kind owners. It’s also well located in the middle of the mountain range, which makes it easy to access this ride and the area’s other best roads.

Want to look at some alternatives?

Take a look at more of our accommodation suggestions in our ultimate guide to cycling the Santa Monica Mountains.


Tips

The amount of climbing on this route makes it tough. If you’re after a shorter route, you could easily break it into two.

If you want to minimise your time cycling the PCH, consider parking on the PCH at kilometre 6/75 of the ride. It’s surprisingly easy to park on the PCH – much of it has a free, unstructured parking curb along the north side.

This ride includes Mulholland Highway going west, down to the sea. For a ride that covers Mulholland Highway going east, towards LA, check out this ride: Mulholland Highway East.

Read our tips for cycling in Southern California before you set out.

Click here for our complete guide to planning a holiday in the Santa Barbara Mountains.

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Clare Dewey

Clare Dewey is a cyclist with a passion for travel. She set up epicroadrides.com in 2018 to help make it easy for cyclists to explore the world by bike. Today her mission is still inspiring cyclists to discover new places on two wheels – and doing what she can to make sure they have the best possible time while they’re there. Clare has visited 50+ destinations around the world, many of them by bike.

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