San Diego Escape Route | Motorcycle Travel

For many of us, the traditional two-week summer vacation, like our first minibike, is a fond and distant memory. Reluctance to get away from the office, escalating highway traffic, and increasingly nightmarish air travel are among the numerous reasons we find ourselves living in post-vacation America. As a result, busy couples face the vexing issue of how to spend their ever dwindling down time.

Consider this scenario: One of you yearns to peel off a few hundred miles of open road on the new bagger that has accumulated a blanket of dust in the heated garage all winter, while the other half’s itch can only be scratched by a seaweed body scrub and access to a world-class shopping district.

Photograph by Tony Aguirre. (Click image to enlarge)

In an effort to ensure domestic tranquility, we recently undertook the harrowing assignment of furloughing 150 miles south of Los Angeles to explore the resorts, restaurants and backroads of North San Diego County on a pair of classically styled touring bikes, the Moto Guzzi California Vintage and Harley-Davidson Road King Classic, while clocking a few spa hours along the way.

Mike: Two Wheels South
Getting an early morning start to meet Holly and our dog Hank in Rancho Santa Fe, I shuffled the Moto Guzzi through downtown L.A.’s rush hour swarm. As someone who rarely attempts the Angelino workday death-march on two wheels, I quickly developed an appreciation for the weighty Italian’s exceptionally virile Brembos and rubber knee guards. While not an agile crowd negotiator, the California Vintage is reassuringly stable and corners well.


In the 1970s, the look-alike Moto Guzzi Ambassador was a favorite mount of the LAPD. Apparently, its ominous black and white heritage still resonates. I soon found my path cleared by nervous drivers and was able to roll on the 1,064 cc V-Twin’s bristling mid-range torque and clattering charm all the way to California’s legendary Highway 1.

Southbound and sitting tall in the Guzzi’s nearly 31-inch saddle, the miles between beach towns unraveled on sandblown blacktop. The onshore blasts kept my seaward glances to a minimum, but I managed to glimpse a pair of dolphins gently arcing beyond the breakers near Huntington Beach. If that doesn’t make you roll off the throttle and enjoy the ride, you might as well fly.

Photograph by Tony Aguirre. (Click image to enlarge)

A lengthy diversion onto I-5 hurled me through the seaside Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton security gauntlet, allowing the Guzzi a welcome opportunity to open up. At lower revs, the 90-degree Breva-based mill produces more of a muted shudder than traditional V-Twin pulse, but dropping into fifth with the heel/toe shifter and winding up over 3000 rpm settles the transverse Vee into a smooth, powerful gallop, aided by the Magneti Marelli phased sequential fuel injectors. At impolite speeds, the strong coastal winds made for some unavoidable helmet buffeting over the midsize windscreen, but I was soon on the Coast Highway, gliding through Oceanside, where nearly every intersection rumbled with the snarl of aftermarket pipes.


Further south, funky beach towns such as Leucadia and Cardiff-by-the-Sea drifted by, then I hit the left turn that took me up into the languid hills of Rancho Santa Fe and through the gates of our first resort. I found our casita and leaned the Moto Guzzi on its lanky kickstand. My arrival was well timed. The big orange sun was dropping through the towering palms like a hot stone, quickshifting me into martini and massage mode.Holly: Elegant Seclusion
When choosing a resort, Mike and I agree hands down on what we require: an incomparable spa, privacy, fine linens, superior concierge service and a welcoming pet policy. The secluded and verdant Rancho Valencia Spa and Resort nestled in the coastal foothills not only fulfilled our desires, but assured easy access to great rides for Mike as well as plenty of girlie activities for me—not to mention great walks for Hank, our furry-faced family member.

Rancho Valencia is comprised of 49 luxury casitas, many overlooking the 18 tennis courts, surrounded by lush foliage and an orange grove that only Southern California can boast. The ultra-comfortable king-sized bed, cozy fireplace, flat-screen TV, wet bar, and secluded terrace with a four-person Jacuzzi may well keep you pajama-clad for the length of your stay. Certainly, the oversized bathroom’s billowing Mr. Steam-equipped shower claimed much of Mike’s post-ride evening. Had it not been for the opulent spa and inviting restaurant steps from our casita, there was a chance that room service might be our only contact with the outside world.

Helmet: Shoei RJ Platinum R; Eyewear: Harley-Davidson Profile Jacket: Schott One Star Perfecto; Gloves: Star Basic Leather Pants: Levi Strauss Signature; Boots: Wesco Boss
Helmet: Scorpion Solid 700; Jacket: Lost World Easy Ryder Gloves: Shift Dynasty; Pants: Lucky Brand Jeans Easy Rider; Boots: Taryn Rose Quincy Riding Boots.
Photograph by Tony Aguirre. (Click image to enlarge)

The next morning, after relaxing over breakfast on our terrace in Frette bathrobes, venturing outside proved rewarding. Strolling around the fragrant and flourishing grounds, we discovered hidden garden nooks with quaint benches while Hank uncovered errant tennis balls. After our stroll I enjoyed a Vichy treatment, a full body hydrotherapy shower and body scrub followed by a 90-minute massage, while Mike explored backroads near the resort. Later, we reconvened fireside for a champagne recap. Mike was soon whisked away to a treatment room for some post-ride untangling, while I returned to the room to dress for dinner. Our concierge had booked us a table at perhaps North County’s finest restaurant, Market, in nearby Del Mar.

Photograph by Gary Payne. (Click image to enlarge)

At the warm hued, mid-century-styled bistro, we were treated to chef Carl Schroeder’s tasting menu, which included a delicious avocado soup with goat cheese, potato cakes with delicate, crispy salmon, and impossibly tender cabernet braised beef ribs with whipped sweet onion potatoes and glazed cipollini onions. Each morning, Schroeder selects his produce from nearby Chino Farms and designs his menu around the best of the day’s yield. The result is a dining experience bursting with rich, local flavors and unique combinations. Dessert is a thoughtful chocolate tasting of soufflé tart, a tiny bittersweet mint shake and a lovely French macaroon.

Somewhere between contentment and delirium, we returned to the Ranch for one final night and a reluctant farewell, although not before phoning our attorney to inquire about squatter’s rights.

Mike Fresh Horses, and Pie
After two breezy days spent patrolling the coast on the Moto Guzzi, I hankered for some homegrown Milwaukee growl and crisp mountain air. While Holly spent the afternoon by the pool and took care of our checkout, I swapped the retro-Carabinieri mount for a Harley-Davidson Road King Classic and beat it eastward towards the piney gold rush town of Julian, taking Highway 67, which transitions into Highway 78 just beyond the rugged low-mountain town of Ramona.

Photograph by Tony Aguirre. (Click image to enlarge)

The classically chromed Road King ate up the rolling chaparral’s gentle curves with surprising athleticism. Traffic was light for a state highway, making the uphill romp all the more gratifying. Leaning the whitewalls over as the scrub whisked by had me gleefully gulping bugs for miles. The Twin-Cam 96 mustered plenty of torquey midrange to propel the 760-pounder up the through the sweepers toward Santa Ysabel, where rock- and tree-lined canyon curves give way to expansive vistas of Oak dotted hills and undulating valleys.

The old mining town of Julian is a celebrated destination for motorcyclists. Known more today for its ambrosial apple crop and the Harleys lining Main Street than for its Gold Rush heritage, Julian is an ideally rustic pit stop to divide a day of mountain touring—a place where cowboy hats outnumber ball caps, and even the grocery store looks like a saloon.While there is no shortage of homey cafes to refuel on heaping plates of comfort food and linger over endless refills of coffee, Julian is a pie town—apple pie town to be specific. The ruddy log cabin exterior of Mom’s Pie House lures the hungry from either end of Main Street to watch the bakers perform their magic in the big front windows. It is a particularly cruel tactic when combined with the aroma of the freshly de-ovened discs drifting through the doorway. No self-respecting gourmand stands a chance.


Fed and fueled, I continued my loop down out of Julian on Highway 79. Providing more frequent and compact bends than the 78, the road south winds through twisted oaks, a brook-lined pine forest and arcs around shimmering Lake Cuyamaca. The descent proved an exacting test of the Road King’s handling characteristics and four-piston front brakes. A more adept mountaineer than the Moto Guzzi, the Road King is remarkably at ease with the tighter confines at speed. The comfortable 27-inch seat height makes for a more embedded riding position, which complements the bike’s agility.

Photograph by Cordero Studios/ (Click image to enlarge)

Stopping just past Descanso, where Highway 79 connects with Interstate 8, I came across a bleak indicator of time and place. Several plastic zip ties used by the Border Patrol to detain suspected illegal immigrants lay slashed and scattered by the side of the road. Leaving that dispiriting bit of reality behind, I wound the Road King up, dropped it into 6th and rumbled west to meet Holly and Hank at our next destination.


Holly Coastal Classic
Situated atop La Jolla Cove, La Valencia Hotel has been the place to see and be seen since opening in 1926. Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Groucho Marx were among Hollywood’s golden age luminaries who relied on the hotel’s discretion, fine service and romantic lobby to create the perfect escape. La Valencia’s present day decor is an eclectic mélange of antiques—many donated by generous patrons over the years. It is an atmosphere that fits our lifestyle like a leather glove.

Our spacious corner suite at La Valencia included an elegant bar stocked with top shelf adult beverages and our own full service butler who offered to walk Hank after mixing us a chilled martini. While they took the evening air, we sipped our way through the suite’s numerous amenities: a full kitchen, dining and living areas, indoor/outdoor fireplace, an ocean-view terrace, separate bedroom, and, to Mike’s endless delight, a Mr. Steam. After a nightcap on the balcony, we drifted off to sleep as breakers battered the nearby cliffs.

Photograph by Cordero Studios/ (Click image to enlarge)

The next morning, I discovered superb galleries and shopping just a stone’s throw from the hotel. Since we were celebrating an anniversary, it was my mission to find a special gift for Mike. Two shops caught my eye on a stroll with Hank—My Own Space, a unique furnishings and gift store and Neroli Lingerie purveyors of fine undergarments. A rare Ball Chair by Eero Aarnio will be delivered when we return home, and I discovered a smaller, more intimate gift at Neroli.


Mike had one final surprise of his own that required a sunset ride over the Coronado Bridge. Located behind Loews Coronado Bay Resort, the Gondola Company offers private rides through the twinkling canals of the Coronado Cays. The excursion is made all the more dreamy by chilled champagne and antipasto compliments of Mistral, the hotel’s Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. As the sun dipped behind us, Giuseppe the gondolier serenaded us with a selection of Verdi as we toasted our exceptional good fortune and fabulous vacation.Mike Homeward Bound
After a late checkout, we loaded up the car and I sent Holly and Hank on their way home with the top down—Hank’s preferred mode of transport. Figuring to cut my own travel time, I decided to bypass he scenic route and take the Road King inland up Interstate 5. I may have shaved some time off the commute, but slogging past reeking industrial plants and dingy card casinos left me with the feeling I had overvalued the concept of expeditious headway. I should have been cruising up PCH, glimpsing whale spouts beyond the whitecaps. Instead, I was in Tustin, stuck behind a monster truck, staring at a decal of a kid voiding his bladder on a Chevy logo.

While that unfortunate dénouement could not possibly dim the glow of a perfectly romantic and adventurous weekend, it did make for a helmet smacking moment of clarity. With my boots planted on the blacktop, I realized that in my haste I had forgotten the obvious. When you are on a motorcycle, the road is the destination. It’s a simple maxim, but one that is easily abandoned these days. No offense to Tustin, but from now on, I’ll be taking the long road home.


The Gondola Company | | 619.429.6317
La Valencia Hotel | | 800.451.0772
Mom’s Pie House | | 760.765.2472
My Own Space | | 858.459.0099
Neroli Lingerie | | 858.456.9618
Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa | | 800.548.3664

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