Posted August 24, 2016

Going Car-Free in California


Spoiler alert: California actually has a car-free side. We know it seems hard to believe in the land of legendary drives like US Highway 1, and where driver-less cars are being designed. But it’s all good, as they say here in Cali, because ditching the four wheels frees up gridlock, minimizes your carbon footprint and gets locals and visitors out into local communities. Here’s a statewide snapshot that will put you in touch with a car-free paradise.

Central Coast, Bixby Bridge, Hwy. No 1

California’s gorgeous coast is packed with hiking trails – the perfect way to let loose from your car. (Photo credit: Visit California)

Southern California

LA and cars go together like Hollywood and Vine. Yet it’s here alongside the miles of freeways that one of the greatest car-free evolutions in the US is taking place. Some of the new initiatives include more than 120 miles of new bikeways, additional Metro transit options and the ongoing success of the hugely popular CicLAvia–the nation’s largest open streets event–where the streets of LA are handed over to pedestrians and pedal-pushers for four Sundays each year in neighborhoods across the city.

The short-list:

  • Explore one of LA’s new Metro lines that will take you to buzz-worthy neighborhoods such as Highland Park.
  • Skate, bike or walk the streets of LA in the open streets fest known as CicLAvia.

Wheeling down Wilshire Boulevard in LA. (Photo credit: CicLAvia)

Farther south in San Diego, plenty of sunshine and an active lifestyle are made to move you. Your car-free options are almost endless and stretch from riding a vintage trolley to cruising the city on one of 1,800 custom bikes found at dozens of solar powered stations that are part of the DecoBike bikeshare program. The Coronado Ferry showcases San Diego at its most see-worthy with regularly scheduled service to the vacation haven of Coronado Island. Expect Instagram-worthy views of the Coronado Bay Bridge and Downtown Skyline.

The short-list:

  • The San Diego Trolley gets you all across America’s Finest City via its three lines: Blue, Orange and Green. (If a day-trip to Mexico is in your plans, the Blue Line will take you right to the International Border).
  • Short and long-term rental bikes available from the DecoBike solar-powered stations found throughout San Diego.
San Diego, Coronado, historic boat house

Sunset over the gorgeous harbor on Coronado Island. (Photo credit: Visit California)

Central California

The red-tiled roofs and swaying palms of Santa Barbara set the stage for countless car-free adventures. One of the first things you’ll notice here is that Santa Barbara is an extremely bike-friendly town, with miles of paths and routes connecting you to popular attractions like the Urban Wine Trail and the beachside bike path that fronts Chase Palm Park.

The short-list:

  • Zip around town and catch the sights virtually carbon-free in the city’s electric shuttle. Just 50 cents, it will get you to popular sites and attractions including State Street and Stearns Wharf.
  • You’re staying at our Canary hotel right? So take a complimentary spin on one of our PUBLIC bikes to local faves like the beachfront bike path and Urban Wine Trail.
Santa Barbara, Stearns Wharf

Dinner with a view at Stearns Wharf. (Photo credit: Visit California)

Bay Area

Since before automobiles even existed, San Francisco has flexed its car-free cred with its storied cable cars, antique street trolleys that are the world’s last permanently operating manual cable car system. But the wheels keep turning here and San Francisco has enthusiastically adopted a bicycle culture that thrives in the city’s compact urban environment. Organizations such as the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition connect folks to spokes with adult, youth and family bike lessons, city bike maps and walking guides (including topo maps so you can avoid or attack those legendary hills).

Make sure your Bay Area car-free playlist includes:

  • The Sunday Streets program (March until October) closes streets to cars for eight Sundays in different neighborhoods such as The Mission, allowing cyclists to share the streets with rollerbladers, pedestrians, yoga classes and kids’ programs.
  • Ding ding! The city’s three cable car lines: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and California Street, criss-cross the city taking you to every iconic site in SF including neighborhoods like Nob Hill and North Beach.
  • The Blue & Gold fleet offers bay tours and ferry service that leaves from attraction-filled Pier 39 along the Embarcadero. This is where to get those #OMG social media shots as you cruise by Alcatraz or do a day trip to Sausalito (Pro tip: bring your bike on the ferry! Just verify check-in policies beforehand.)
Alcatraz Island, sailing trip with catamaran Adventurecat 2

Family-friendly ferries are a great way to visit Alcatraz Island. (Photo credit: Visit California)

  • Bay Area BikeShare offers daily and long-term memberships. Just visit one of the solar-powered kiosks spread around the city, swipe your card and get rolling.
  • Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) traverses everywhere from points east like Oakland – including a Chunnel-like experience under the East Bay — to the heart of the city ensuring you never need a car in SF.

Where to stay: Kimpton hotels in California


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  1. Alexandria says:

    Such a helpful read. Information that this Southern California girl could share when doubling as a tour guide in my hometown! Fantasizing about a car free trip up North as I type…aka pep talking myself into making it a priority to take an adventure.

  2. John says:

    Your “Central California” section has only one article about Santa Barbara (but not its neighbor Isla Vista), and ignores the interior – the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. Sacramento would make a great addition, especially Old Town and the Transportation Museum. Fresno is trying to create a car-free system, and could use the recognition. The valley of Yosemite National Park is primarily car-free – all bikes and shuttles. I don’t know how car-free Lake Tahoe has become, but it’s worth a look.

  3. Kimpton says:

    All good points, John. There are so many wonderful things to do in Central Cali, we couldn’t possibly fit them all into one blog post!