They take up precious garage (or balcony) space, and they inevitably sag with neglect. But once their tires are pumped and chains are greased (and you remember the lock combination, or find the key - good luck!), bicycles provide hours of entertainment, and a simple means of glorious escape. If your kids have mastered the familiar route to the neighbor's tree and back, consider expanding your horizons. Throw the bikes and training wheels in the car and stretch your legs on one of the many family-friendly bike trails around town. May is National Bike Month. May 8 is Bike to School Day. And the 14th Annual LA RIver Ride is happening Sunday, June 22, 2014. You're just in time.
"What a great idea," you think. "But not all of us have a bike." No worries! You can rent one or more for a few hours, or for a day. Many bike shops, like Bikecology in West LA and Malibu, or The Path Bike Shop in Tustin (to name just a couple) offer rentals of all shapes and sizes. Check with your local store. There are also dedicated bike rental shops along the well-traveled paths. We'll mention those below.
The Strand - LA Beach Bike Path
We all know it, and most of us love it. The 27-mile bike path stretches along the beach from Pacific Palisades to Palos Verdes, offering a seemingly endless, flat, well-maintained surface to cruise. Joggers, rollerbladers, and walkers use it, too (and traffic gets heavy on the weekends), so beware of the varying speeds of your fellow users. While pedaling, feast your eyes on the majestic Pacific, the palm trees, volleyballers, craggy bluffs, sea-gulls, and glimpses of Catalina. It's all there for the taking, the whole length of it, or just a piece. Here are some suggestions for where to hop on and off...
Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey
This stretch is a great place to start, especially if you'd rather rent your wheels. Whether you prefer a tricycle, a beach cruiser, or a bike with a baby seat, Perry's Cafe has 'em. Choose from several path-side locations in Santa Monica and Venice. Parking for your car, though not free, is certainly accessible; or ride the metro to the end and be totally car-free. Once you're geared up, you're good to go North or South along the path. And when you're finished, have a drink and snack at the cafe. (Note: though you can reserve a bike with a credit card at Perry's, it's cash only for the rental once you return the bike. Make sure to stack some bills in your wallet before heading out.)
Playa del Rey
With bikes on a rack or secured in the trunk, drive west on Culver Blvd. until it meets the beach at Pacific Ave. There's plenty of free (yes, you heard that right) parking here, and a foot lane to the bike path. Hop on your bikes and head south, and you'll be on your way to Manhattan Beach and beyond. See the underbelly of an outbound jet as you pass the western-most end of LAX. You'll also glide past the Hyperion Treatment Plant (not necessarily a scenic delight). Or, choose to look right, and watch pelicans glide toward the water, families picnicking in the sand, and hear the delicious crash of nearby waves.
South Bay Section
If you'd rather not dodge the foot traffic, ride the Manhattan Beach portion of the path. Bikers get their own path, as do walkers (and their dogs). Here everyone's happy. Or, further south, rent bikes at Hermosa Cyclery (they rent trailers, and kids' bikes, too) and pedal around Hermosa Beach (same Pacific, same great sites), and finish with breakfast or lunch at Martha's 22nd Street Grill (what's not to like about Stuffed French Toast?). The only catch? The eatery is so popular, there's often a wait.
Perhaps you'd rather a trail more inland. There are many of those as well. Here are but a few:
West Los Angeles
Ballona Creek Bike Path
This nearly 8 mile stretch begins at Syd Kronenthal Park and meanders through Culver City to eventually join the bike path in Playa del Rey. Lots of dips and turns, and ample views of the creek and its burgeoning wildlife (and, unfortunately, some inevitable LA litter). Not lit at night, this path is best enjoyed during the day. Because of its popularity, the path bustles with bikers and joggers cruising at all speeds; heads-up. You'll notice the ocean breeze in your face as you head west, and undoubtedly enjoy the tail winds while you pedal back to your car.
For a shorter ride to the coast, roll on at McConnell Ave. (you'll find ample street parking) and head west. Upon your return, remember to refresh your well-worked legs and lungs with a juice and some chips at Beverage Warehouse before driving home.
4730 Crystal Springs Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Ah, Griffith Park. Thanks to its vast, meandering landscape, and plethora of attractions, some call it the "Central Park of Los Angeles." Even if the park is not centrally located for you, it may be worth driving your bikes and family over there for a guaranteed good time. We suggest starting near the Ranger Station. Rental bikes are available there from Spokes 'N' Stuff, meaning it's a great launching spot whether you rent or bring your own.
South Bay & Orange County
Irvine Regional Park
1 Irvine Park Road
Bring your own bikes, or rent some from Wheel Fun Rentals at Irvine Park Railroad, and tool around the park at your own pace (your kids might delight in the 4-wheeled Quad Sport or 3-wheeled Chopper). Wheel Fun provides self-guided tour maps, on safe, flat streets and trails (usually without car traffic) taking the guess work out of your exploration, and keeping it simple and fun for all ages.
Shoreline Pedestrian Bike Path
Runs from East Shorline Ave (just South of East Ocean) to 54th Pl. and East Ocean
Long Beach has more than 60 miles of Class 1 (separate, off-road dedicated bike paths). Wow! The 3.1 mile Shoreline Pedestrian Bike Path gets you from Alamitos Bay to Shoreline Village. An early evening ride offers stunning sunset views and the opportunity to see the Queen Mary light up.
El Dorado East Regional Park
7550 E. Spring St.
Long Beach, CA 90815
If you're not in the mood for the beach, head over to El Dorado East Regional Park. Three words: it is huge. And bursting with green grass and water features, wildlife, and happy park goers flying kites and barbecuing. Oh, and there are more than 4 miles of paved bike paths. Parking: $5-$7
Peters Canyon Regional Park
8548 E. Canyon View Ave.
Orange, CA 92869
The kind folks at the Path Bike Shop recommend this spot. Try the easy 2.5 mile, mostly flat loop around the lake (or any distance that works for you). Bask in the breezes of the black cottonwoods, willows, and sycamores, and catch a glimpse of the many birds and waterfowl.
This designated bike path stretches from N. Victory Blvd. in Burbank straight through to North Hollywood. The two mile Burbank portion runs from Mariposa Street to Clybourn Ave., and, in addition to being flat and (often) breezy, offers three bronze sculpture public art installations. If you time it right, you can mingle with members of the Sidewalk Astronomers and have a peek into their hand-made telescopes. They will be on Chandler Bikeway and Lima Street on select dates from now until July. Feeling energetic? Carry on to North Hollywood, and dazzle your senses with the eye-popping color and detail of the Chandler Murals.
Lake Balboa - Anthony C. Beilenson Park
6300 Balboa Blvd.
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Wheel Fun Rentals also operates here and offers a wide selection of bikes to choose from, as well as maps for your own self-guided tours. There are so many trails and roads and vistas to explore at this 80 acre water recreation facility. Stop for a picnic, or to feed the ducks, or to throw a frisbee. The summer days get hot here, and weekends bring crowds. But most agree, no matter what the weather, this is one lovely place to explore.
And if you're thirsting for further adventure, consider participating in the Annual LA River Ride. Choose from a flat 15 Mile Family Ride that runs exclusively along the dedicated LA River bike path and offers rest stops with music and snacks, or sign up the kids (6 and under) for the Kids Ride and Fun Fair where they can learn important safety skills while practicing their pedaling and steering maneuvers along an enclosed loop in Griffith Park (registration is required). Kids 12 and under ride free all day.
In addition to our suggestions, check out LABikePaths for more options in your neck of the woods or the National Bike Month website for more ideas for getting the family out on a trail. The website Biking.Answers.com is also a good general biking resource.
Top photo shows the Arroyo Seco Bicycle Path, a 2 mile long bike path under California sycamore and oak trees, along the Arroyo Seco river channel in Northeast Los Angeles. Photo by Umberto Brayj/CC BY 2.0