1. Lopez Island, Washington
Quiet, rustic, and always green, the San Juan Islands north of Seattle encapsulate the Pacific Northwest's gently rugged natural beauty. A leisurely ride around Lopez, the flattest of the San Juans, often yields wildlife sightings. Circling counterclockwise, thus staying on the shore side of the road, provides the best views. A full circuit clocks in at about 33.5 miles, depending on detours to shops, restaurants, parks, and beaches. Contact the Visitors Bureau at 888/468-3701 or visit guidetosanjuans.com.
2. Jekyll Island, Georgia
The bicycling craze hit this island a century ago, when Jekyll was the exclusive winter playground of Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and their gilded ilk. A loop around the island today extends about 16 miles, mostly on a paved, flat bike path that runs for long stretches beside the beach. It also wanders past the grand Jekyll Island Club Hotel and some of the showplace "cottages" that survive from Jekyll's posh past. Contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 877/453-5955 or visit jekyllisland.com.
3. Presque Isle State Park, Pennsylvania
Presque Isle peninsula curls protectively around Erie, Pennsylvania, on the north shore of Lake Erie. A 13.5-mile trail around the park offers lots of picnic areas and other enticing places to rest. Flocks of migrating birds (waterfowl in March, shorebirds in April) make spring a wonderful time to visit; 814/833-7424 or presqueisle.org.
4. Island Beach State Park, New Jersey
Visiting this 10-mile finger of a barrier island between Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean amounts to a trip in a time machine. Decades ago, most of the Jersey Shore looked like this―unspoiled beaches, dunes, wildlife, and not a single high-rise. The 8.1-mile, two-lane road saves a nice reward for the end: views across the inlet of Barnegat Lighthouse, known locally as "Old Barney." The park shelters a variety of birds, including a colony of ospreys; 732/793-0506 or njparksandforests.org.
5. Corpus Christi, Texas
Sailboats glide and windsurfers swoop across Corpus Christi Bay near the gray bulk of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington, now a museum. Shoreline Boulevard/Ocean Drive curves along this pretty vista, running south almost 11 miles from the downtown Bayfront Arts and Science Park to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. The route, which passes several waterfront parks and some lovely houses, includes a bike lane most of the way. Contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800/766-2322 or visit corpuschristi-tx-cvb.org.
6. Maui, Hawaii
Some people hate the middle-of-the-night wake-up, the jam-packed van trip up the mountainside, the crowds at the summit, the biting cold, and―depending on their risk tolerance―the too-slow or too-dangerous pace of the ride itself. Others can't find enough superlatives to describe the awesomeness of an above-the-clouds sunrise followed by a 38-mile, switchback-filled bicycle descent of Haleakala volcano. The 10,023-foot summit does get genuinely cold (between 30 and 60 degrees, and windy). And those who pay too much attention to the incredible scenery risk painful wipeouts. On the other hand, how many other rides are downhill all the way? For outfitters, contact the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau at 800/464-2924 or visit gohawaii.com.
7. Florida Keys, Florida
Eventually, the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail will run more than 106 miles along the islands that dangle in a languid curve from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. The segments paved so far (totaling 61 miles) already provide the perfect way to explore this otherworldly place, so beautiful away from the souvenir shops and strip malls of U.S. 1. Bikers can view the graceful bridges built a century ago for the Florida East Coast Railway, and even venture onto the Old Railroad Bridge, which leads to a railroad museum on Pigeon Key. They can poke around alongside the gorgeously blue-green water. On Big Pine Key, they might even see one of the endangered Key deer, a miniature subspecies about the size of a large German shepherd; 305/853-3571 or dep.state.fl.us/gwt/state/keystrail.
8. Bandon, Oregon
The incredibly bike-supportive state department of transportation has mapped out the Oregon Coast Bike Route along the state's entire Pacific shoreline. Even better, it has widened shoulders to accommodate bicyclists, especially along the southbound lanes of U.S. 101. That's the side to ride because it offers the best ocean views. Also, there's usually a tailwind May through October―though the hills may prove daunting. A fun (and easy) detour rambles about 20 miles past the shops and restaurants of historic Old Town Bandon―and the spectacular sea-stack formations just offshore; 503/986-3555 or odot.state.or.us/techserv/bikewalk.
9. Huntington Beach, California
This may be Surf City USA (by official trademark), but the locals like to bike as well. Here in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, an 8.5-mile paved path runs the whole length of the city's beaches, providing continuous views of the Pacific Ocean. Checking out the surfers, joggers, pets, sunbathers, roller skaters, and fellow bikers can be fun, too. Outside the city limits, the path extends a mile north to Sunset Beach and nearly three miles south onto the Newport Peninsula for those who want a longer workout. Even city buses promote bicycling―most sport bike racks on the front; 800/729-6232 or surfcityusa.com.
10. Outer Banks, North Carolina
This ride would rank higher if not for wind and traffic. The arrowhead-shape formation of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks thrusts way out into the Atlantic Ocean―usually beyond sight of the mainland. These narrow, flat strips of sand afford lots of water views, especially on the Pamlico Sound side. The ride's difficulty depends on whether the capricious sea breezes provide a helpful tailwind or nasty headwind. The main road, two-lane Highway 12, lacks bike lanes or even much in the way of shoulders. Spring provides the best combination of nice weather and light traffic. A 28-mile lighthouse-to-lighthouse ride (plus a free ferry ride in the middle) runs from the famous Hatteras Light on Hatteras Island to the Ocracoke Lighthouse on the western tip of Ocracoke Island. Contact the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau at 877/629-4386 or visit outerbanks.org.
published March 2006