This route reads like a roll call of the best cycling roads in the Santa Monica Mountains: Latigo, Mulholland Hwy, Old Topanga, Tuna Canyon, Saddle Peak, Stunt, Piuma and Las Flores. You’ll need your strongest climbing legs to get around, but it’s a ride you won’t forget.
If you’re short on time and/or energy, our absolute favourite section is the 32 km loop that starts where Mulholland Highway meets Stunt Road.
Many thanks to Scott at Serious Cycling, Agoura Hills and Gideon at Pedaler’s Fork for their suggestions that helped us design this route.
Route map and profile
Distance: 101 km
Elevation Gain: 2,520 m
Max Grade: 16 %
All metrics in this guide are approximate
This ride is a cracker.
But, if pushed, our favourite 10 km of this whole 100 km ride is the climb up Saddle Peak and descent down Stunt Road. There are majestic views throughout and an out of this world panorama from the Lois Ewen Overlook, where Stunt, Saddle Peak and Schueren roads meet.
Then there’s the quiet and heavenly descent down Stunt Road. You weave down the mountainside with views as far as the eye can see.
1. Malibu Pier via Latigo Canyon Road and Mulholland Hwy to Old Topanga Canyon Road: 0-51 km
The one downside of this awesome ride is the stretch on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), the iconic road that hums with traffic along the narrow strip between mountain and sea. The views might be good, but you need to concentrate on the cars.
You’re soon off the PCH and heading up the first climb, Latigo Canyon Road. It’s a great, easy ascent that twists upwards as it winds around the hillside. Gradients average around 5%. There’s a 2 km descent before the final 2 km climb up to the top of Latigo, again at around 5%.
It’s a traffic-filled, but thankfully short, kilometre on Kanan Dume Road before you turn off onto Mulholland Hwy. You’re on Mulholland for 26 km, and it’s a relatively straightforward but pleasant section of the ride as the road undulates up and down. It feels quite remote with rolling hills between mountains and little in the way of shops or houses.
2. Bottom of Old Topanga Canyon Road via Fernwood and Saddle Peak to Stunt Road: 51-77 km
This is our favourite section of the ride.
Turning onto Old Topanga Canyon Road breaks the Mulholland trance. You turn up a valley through grass-covered banks and dense, arid wood, sprinkled with houses. It’s a short 2.5 km ascent followed by a fun descent down the valley, which becomes increasingly narrow towards the bottom.
Take particular care for the kilometre you’re on the busy Topanga Canyon Boulevard through Topanga. The 8.5 km climb up Fernwood Pacific Drive (that turns into Tuna Canyon Road) is a solid one, snaking up the canyon, past homes and driveways but with mountain views - and it’s never too steep.
Turning on to Saddle Peak, you get to a crest and enjoy wonderful mountain and sea views. You’re also in for a treat on a big left bend a few kilometres up Saddle Peak, with views across the mountain range, LA and the coastline. But the jewel in the crown is the 360-degree panorama from the junction of Saddle Peak Road, Stunt Road and Schueren Road, stretching across the Santa Monica Mountain range, the ocean, Catalina Island and Malibu.
It’s a sublime descent down Stunt Road, a quiet road with mountains stretching into the distance.
3. Stunt Road via Cold Canyon, Piuma and Las Flores to Malibu Pier: 77-101.5km
The descent continues down Mulholland Highway and Cold Canyon Road; then it’s the final climb of the day. Piuma Road zig zags its way up the side of the hill, dotted with houses and at a 6% average gradient, never too steep.
You end the day with a final, glorious 8km descent down to the ocean on Piuma, Rambla Pacifico Street and Las Flores before heading back on the PCH to Malibu Pier.
Stocking up at the beginning and end of the ride is easy since you’re on the PCH and the ride starts and finishes close to restaurants and cafés. There’s also Ralph’s and the Malibu Country Mart. Once you’re up into the canyons, places to refuel are much more sporadic.
29.5 km Rock Store: on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday you could call in at this famous motorbiker’s hangout. They serve breakfasts, sandwiches and drinks.
51 km: Pedaler’s Fork: take a 3km diversion and head to this fantastic restaurant, café and bike shop.They have secure bike parking, and you can either sit down for a full (delicious) meal or head to their café which serves a mean espresso and delicious cakes (try the peanut butter flapjack).
This is a place where they take their coffee seriously. The beans are roasted on-site - if you look up the vertical ladder to the mezzanine in the rafters above the restaurant, you’ll see Michael, iMac on lap, controlling a state of the art coffee roasting machine.
If you’ve got the time, it’s worth stopping for longer than just a coffee. In the restaurant, you’ll find lofty ceilings, aged wooden flooring, white linen napkins on concrete topped tables, oversized glass downlighters, and a subtle bike aesthetic, with bikes hanging from wall struts. There’s outside seating too. The menu is as beautiful as the decor, with staples such as avocado toast, brightly coloured salads, comforting pizzas and more serious food too.
60.5 km: Topanga: the advantage of your short stint on busy Topanga Canyon Boulevard is that it gives you the chance to refuel. There’s a range of places you can sit down to eat, and there’s also the Topanga Creek General Store.
We stayed in a fabulous apartment in the mountains above the sea. 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.
This is a really tough ride: 100 km and 2,500 m of climbing are not to be taken lightly, particularly if you’re attempting it when it’s hot. Consider riding this as two separate loops. And if you’re short on time, don’t miss the shorter loop on Old Topanga Road, Saddle Peak and Stunt.
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.
Found this guide useful?
- We'd love to hear from you - comment below or drop us a line.
- Check out our other ride guides on the Santa Monica Mountains: see the related rides above.
- Take a look at our ultimate guide to cycling Santa Monica Mountains National Park and other articles on Southern California, below.