Orange County’s Mountains to Sea Trail is no hyperbole. This stunning 44-mile route (round-trip) stitches together trails from the Santa Ana Mountains to Newport Beach, hugging concrete water channels and opening up to nature—and scenic loops—at either end. Don’t let the mileage daunt you. The way is mostly paved and gently graded. Starting in the middle at Bill Barber Memorial Park, head south along San Diego Creek Channel towards the ocean. After crossing beneath the 405 Freeway and beside UC Irvine, a pass under Jamboree Road thrusts you abruptly into the sweeping expanse of Upper Newport Bay (aka “the Back Bay”), one of the few pristine estuaries left in Southern California. Circle its entirety on Back Bay Loop Trail.
Cruise down its eastern edge beside a verdant marsh and bluffs of coastal sage scrub, then climb to cliff-top vistas at Castaways Park on the west side. Returning to Bill Barber, cross the creek and pedal north into Tustin via Peters Canyon Trail, which traces a wash channel bisecting the fringe of commercial properties and pleasantly landscaped housing tracts. At Bryan Avenue, cut over to the channel’s west side and follow Irvine Trail north, meandering into pure suburbia. The path parallels Jamboree Road, passes Cedar Grove Park, and then links to Peters Canyon Regional Park, where a dirt trail takes you over hills of native vegetation and past a reservoir. A paved stretch along Jamboree Road then connects to Irvine Regional Park, the oldest park in OC.
FOOD & BEER BONUS: For breakfast or lunch, stop off at EATS Kitchen in Irvine, just a block from San Diego Creek Channel. This gastropub embedded in the ground floor of Hotel Irvine serves colorful modern takes on bar comfort food under the direction of a masterful European chef. Enjoy craft beers and cocktails on the patio as well.
Rent a road or mountain bike from Trail’s End Cycling Center, just a few blocks west of the trail in Irvine. The bike shop also offers extensive parts and services for any roadway emergencies. For the ride: Take I-5 to Tustin, exit Jamboree Rd. and head south. Turn left on Barranca Pkwy. Turn right on Harvard Ave., then right on Civic Center Plaza to reach parking for Bill Barber Memorial Park. Dog-friendly.