Central Coast Challenging Climbs for Cyclists: Santa Rita Road
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January 29, 2024

Central Coast Challenging Climbs: Santa Rita Road Gravel Climb

Two cyclists riding road bikes on Santa Rita Road near Cambra, CA, on the Central Coast

Many know the Central Coast for its impeccable weather and inviting oceanside riding. But plenty of locals love the area for the challenge—roads within that offer unique experiences. The gravel climb up Santa Rita Road is one such ride.

Santa Rita Road is an invigorating introduction to the gritty workout that gravel cycling delivers. That’s the view of America Morey, an established Central Coast cyclist who talked with us about what he’s learned from riding this stretch regularly. Read on to learn more about the ascent, peak, and descent of the climb, along with tips to crush the gravel of Santa Rita and other roads like it.

Santa Rita Road: An Exemplary Gravel Climb in Cambria

Located between Templeton and Cayucos, you can climb to the summit of Santa Rita Road going either east or west. The ascent lasts for 4-5 miles, with an average grade of 4.5%, maxing out at 9%. This section can be accessed as part of the NOVA Eroica and Heroic routes—both leave from Cambria and are featured in the Eroica California event, a celebration of vintage cycling brought to us by the organizers of similar Eroica events all over the world.

The Ascent: Pushing Up the Hill Your Way

A key thing to remember as you ascend up Santa Rita is to stay persistent. Once the road starts to pitch upwards, it doesn’t stop, refusing to level off until you get all the way to the top. The silver lining—the overall grade isn’t so steep that you can’t power down a bit as you’re pedaling up, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the ride and take in your surroundings without riding to exhaustion.

On the flip side, that means you’re also free to push yourself as hard as you want up the hill if that exhaustion is what you’re looking for. Regardless of objective—gritty challenge or steady tour—Santa Rita’s climb has something to offer you.

“One thing that makes it more approachable for newer riders…nothing so extreme in terms of the grade. You can still push it if you’re looking for a fitness challenge.”

-America Morey

The Peak: A Moment’s Stop in a Cool Spot

Arriving atop the peak of Santa Rita, you’ll find a cool, comfortable place to stop. On a clear day, you can take in a view of the ocean, though that’s more of a bonus. “You’re there for the ride, not the view,” Morey said. It’s a ride that’s rewarding whether you’re pushing yourself or enjoying the trip with others, as the top offers a good place where a group of five to ten cyclists can all stop for a break together, before taking on the route’s descent.

Three cyclists riding on Santa Rita Road on the Central Coast

The Descent: Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Ride

Heading downhill on Santa Rita in the westbound direction, you can get some good speeds going. But the real engaging part comes from the build of the road itself—its engineering has led to embankments on the turns that are on the opposite side from what riders would expect. So long as they’re being cautious on these turns, experienced cyclists can enjoy this unique descent, which Morey describes as “not your run-of-the-mill ride.”

Bonus: When riding with or against others in a group, those distinctive swerves can lead to some mind games as you lose sight of your rivals on the switchbacks and sharp turns.

Preparing for Santa Rita Road & Other Central Coast Climbs

Santa Rita Road’s steady gravel ascent and unique, winding descent make it a good choice for you if you’re seeking to train for gravel climbs.

“I think, actually, Santa Rita is a really great intro ride to gravel—not too extreme, not too off-putting.”

-America Morey

Any run-of-the-mill gravel bike should be able to handle the climb. However, tires are going to be the most important part of any gravel ride. Morey doesn’t recommend using any tires sized less than 40c. Also, be aware that when coming from the coast side of the ride heading towards Templeton, the ascent has less cover from the summer sun, leaving your sweat to contend with the beaming heat later in the day.

Morey deals with the glare from that sunshine using Rudy Project Photo Chromic Glasses. You might also consider a clip-on mudguard and an extra storage bag to carry the additional gear you’ll find you need on a ride like this. Morey prefers to fuel up for those sorts of longer rides by mixing some Flow Formulas Nutrition.

Tyler Pearce climbs a winding ascent on the Central Coast

Other Worthy Central Coast Climbs

The gravel climb up Santa Rita road has a lot to offer, but it’s not the only worthwhile challenge on the Central Coast. You can find another demanding ascent in “The Wall” on Santa Rosa Creek Road, or face down the afternoon winds of Highway 1. Like Santa Rita itself, the whole of the coast offers a bevy of options for adventurous cyclists.

Explore the area to find your new favorite stretch to train on, and check out our recommendations for stops along the way. Also, hit up our resources page to connect with other cycle shops and clubs to get even more insight into riding in the region.

Santa Rita Road: The Perfect Place to Practice Your Gravel Cycling

It’s one thing to read about the experience of cycling up the Santa Rita Road gravel, but it’s something else entirely to try it for yourself. As outlined, the climb is versatile, allowing you to take in the experience in many ways, so why not visit and give it a shot? This ride is an “awesome first exposure to gravel,” Morey said. That makes Santa Rita Road the perfect choice to try out if you’re looking for a new road cycling challenge.

Follow our Facebook page and Instagram for an even better look at climbs like Santa Rita Road!

America Morey regularly rides Central Coast roads and contributed to this summary of the Santa Rita Gravel Climb. He is an official representative of Rudy Project and Flow Formulas.


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