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We’re trying something new here.
Stef and I recently spent a week in southern California using the RV as a base camp for cycling (and for work, but nobody wants to hear about that). We liked our trip enough that we thought others might want to duplicate it.
So for those of you who like a plan, I’ll lay down all the details here and you can just follow it. We’ll tell you where to park your rig, where to ride, where to eat, and what else to do. Hence, the title: Park, Pedal, Play. If you guys like it, we’ll do more of these for other cycling destinations.
Why did we pick this place? Well, we’ve heard about it for a while now because of the Amgen Tour of California. As often as not it seems, that race makes a stop in Solvang, next door. Then this February when we did our Trek Travel Trip to Mallorca, we were curious about the destinations Trek Travel offered that were a little closer to home. They offer a Solvang training camp, so that’s another vote for the area. There are also other cycling training camps that use the area as a home base (Carmichael Training Systems, for one). So suffice to say that the area had been on our radar for a while. Combine that with the warm weather (it’s 42 and rainy here in Salt Lake City today still…), and the short drive from Monterey where we hosted our group at the Sea Otter Classic, and it just seemed like the right time to make it happen.
Park: Flying Flags RV Resort& Campground
You might be asking, “if all the training camps and rides are in Solvang, why did they stay in Buellton?” Good question. But this actually IS the closest RV campground to Solvang! We thought briefly about boondocking in the area, but since I also had to work during the week, the in-civilization base camp seemed more appropriate. This choice of campground actually worked out really well, as you’ll see.
We did a full-on review of this campground in another section of our site, and you can see that review here, so I won’t repeat it. I will say though, that it was expensive, but worth it. The facilities were clean and well repaired. The full hookups and cell coverage made it great for working. And (most importantly) there were PLENTY of rides available online, and many of them were mapped with start and end points right at the campground (which I found strange, but awesome)!
Pedal: The Rides
We were in the area for 6 days, rode on 5 of them, and we didn’t repeat a ride once. I’m just going to link to my Strava for these, so you’ll see that they all start exactly at Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground. If you like the route, feel free to copy it!
Overall, the riding is excellent. You’ll find the same challenges that you find anywhere – stretches with no shoulder, traffic, and whatnot. The one thing I can say that’s a blanket “minus” for the whole experience is that a lot of the more rural roads seem to have been last paved in about 1938. I’ve never actually operated a jackhammer, but I have to imagine it’s pretty similar to descending a lot of these roads. So… if you have a classics bike, or something that softens up the ride a bit – that would be your correct choice for most of these rides. A harsh race bike would beat you up pretty badly on these routes.
Ride 1: Solvang Time Trial Course
This was our first ride in the area, so we wanted a shorter warm-up kind of ride, and this one delivered that. This was the easiest ride of the bunch to find. We just googled up “Solvang Time Trial” and there you have it. The time trial proper starts in Solvang, and we were in Buellton, so there’s a bit of an out and back along highway 246. For the most part, Highway 246 has decent shoulders, but there are some spots where it gets a little tight. A word of warning: if you do this ride on a weekend, be prepared to pick your way through slow-moving traffic in Solvang itself. Once you get out of the two towns though, the traffic is sparse and the scenery beautiful.
Ride 2: The Lompoc Puncture Ride
Whereas the previous ride headed east, this one headed west. This time, we went out along Santa Rosa Road, which is super scenic… right up until you get a puncture that your tubeless sealant won’t seal up. I am, it seems, cursed with flat tires… Fortunately though, it did hold well enough for us to make it the rest of the way in to Lompoc, which is why you see some riding about in the city there. We eventually wound up at Bicycle Connection in Lompoc, and the folks working there were kind enough to drop what they were doing to patch me up with a new tube and tire so we could complete the ride. After a scary bit with limited shoulders on highway 246 on the return, the shoulder opened up and it was a fast ride back to the RV park. (You really need to pay attention to the time of day and the winds on this one – we just got lucky.)
Ride 3: Drum Canyon Halfway
We had intended this to be a longer ride, but Stef titled her ride “The “Wasn’t Feelin’ it So I Turned Around” Ride.” That should give you some idea how it went. While there is some traffic on highway 246, once you turn onto Drum Canyon Road, you’re more or less alone. There may be a car now and then, but largely it’s peaceful. We turned around before the pavement got really bad. I rode the bad section on a ride by myself later in the week. Even if you’re “not feelin’ it,” it’s hard to complain about the ride back on highway 246 if the winds are going your way…
Ride 4: Four Canyons Ride
At this point in our trip, Stef flew home to be with the grandchildren, leaving Mel and me in Buellton.
Stef’s departure meant I was free to do harder and stupider things, like climb mountains out of cell phone coverage and ride my bike on the 101. Yes, you’ll be riding on US 101 on this ride, but just for a couple miles on a decent shoulder. (There was actually a private road that went parallel, but there were a bunch of angry “PRIVATE ROAD” signs, so I sucked it up and hit the highway.)
On this ride, I did get the full Drum Canyon descent, but I honestly don’t remember the names of the other three canyons – that’s just what the name of the ride on ridewithgps.com was. Beautiful stuff on this ride, but some pretty rough pavement. Once again, I nailed it with the late afternoon winds, and they just about carried me back into Buellton on highway 246.
Ride 5: Mt. Figueroa
Well this ride was just awful – which, if you’re a cyclist, means it was awesome! It was easily the most difficult ride of the entire trip. The climb up Mt. Figueroa is about 10 miles at a 10% grade or so, with a mile-long dirt section and some portaging over washed-out roadways thrown in to keep things interesting. But it’s one of those things that you just have to do.
As a bonus, this route will take you within a quarter mile or so of that creepy Michael Jackson Neverland ranch. If I had known I was that close, I would have swung by (though apparently they’ve changed the name now, so I don’t know if I would have spotted it). You will want to be sure to bring enough water on this ride – I didn’t see too many places to fill up until you get back to Los Olivos – although there was a campground, so perhaps there was water there.
Play: Restaurants and Etc.
The location of Flying Flags RV Resort is right at the main intersection of Buellton, which means it’s within walking distance of LOTS of restaurants. Of course, after doing something like riding Mt. Figueroa, you pretty much just want to vomit, shower, or sleep (or all three at once). Nevertheless, for the sake of our readers, we bravely forced ourselves to try all of these restaurants that you can walk to from the campground. (Oh, the hardship!)
This place is a chain, and it’s just an order-at-the-counter taco place. But when you’re done riding, and you really want a salty taco, and you want it fast, this place will hit the spot. If it looks a little small inside, that’s because you’re not supposed to eat there. You’re supposed to go out to their awesome patio out back! (Stef had a salad.)
I found it hard to contemplate a restaurant whose main gig is selling pea soup, but that’s what this place is. So… you kind of have to go, and you kind of have to get the pea soup. (Hint: get all of the add-ins!) Beyond the soup, it was solid food in an interesting building with a very friendly staff. (Stef had a salad.)
This was certainly the furthest we walked, but it was kind of worth it because I really wanted a steak. It’s a unique western-themed restaurant with a chuck wagon kind of feel to the place. But the bonus is that immediately upon seating you, they load you up with a bowl of some kind of bean soup or something that would have been a whole meal if it were served on its own. (Though she did try the soup, Stef had a salad.)
Stef is going to kill me for putting a pizza joint in a Fit RV post, but sometimes, you’ve burned enough calories to warrant it. Loved their pizza sauce, and plenty of fresh veggies on the pizza made me feel a little less guilty. (Stef’s salad was huge, but she did wish she’d said no cheese, as there was about 10 pounds of mozzarella on top.)
This is really more of a breakfast place, but since it’s literally right next door to the campground, how could we not try it? The Danish pancakes we got were awesome, and if you’re heading out on a big ride, you need to carb up anyway right? At least, that’s what I tell myself. As a bonus, the blueberries they stuff them with are fresh. (I never knew you could order a salad for breakfast at a pancake house…)
Another option when you’re in the mood for post-ride salty goodness. Since I hate raw tomatoes just as much as I hate sand, I was overjoyed to learn that they don’t violate most of their tacos with the red scourge. I got a four taco combo thing and while each of the four were fantastic, the carne adovada tacos were my favorite. (Stef was home by now, but when I talked to her that night, she told me she had a salad.)
Google calls this place “unpretentious”, and I think that’s fitting. Comfort food in a comfortable atmosphere. This place is great when you’re so tired you don’t feel like getting dressed up and putting on airs for dinner. (I’m sure I can guess what Stef was eating back in Salt Lake City.)
See! That was a lot of work trying all of those places out. You’re welcome!
Seriously though, we didn’t get a bad meal out of the lot, and we can recommend any of them when you’re in Buellton.
And if the riding wasn’t enough to keep you busy, just between Buellton and Solvang on the 246 is this:
I don’t really know what to say about this place. We kept seeing ostriches on rides that went east towards Solvang. I looked it up and they sell ostrich eggs, which apparently are about 20 chicken eggs in size, which is like 7 omelettes. Someone please check this place out and come back and tell me what you thought!
And finally, this IS Santa Barbara Wine Country after all. So if you don’t ride, or if you just want to take a break from the riding for a day, check out some of the local wineries! Apparently there are a couple hundred in the area. I certainly saw my share of wineries on the rides, and vans carting people to them. But visiting wineries on a race bike didn’t seem a smart way to go about things.
A great way to do this – so you’ve got a guaranteed DD – is with Uber Wine. They’ll pick you up and tote you around for the day. Unlike some of the packaged wine tours, with Uber, you’re free to customize your own itinerary and see whichever wineries you like. In Buellton, Uber will come directly to your campsite at Flying Flags.
So there you have it – a pre-planned cycling vacation. Park at Flying Flags. Pedal yourself along the routes. Eat at any of the places we’ve highlighted here. And check out some wineries or ostriches if you need more options. If you’re looking for a cycling themed RV getaway, you won’t be disappointed.
Sound off in the comments below and let me know if you like this kind of thing for future posts. Cheers!