3 Great Hill Climbs in Southern California

San Diego has some great places to get your climbing miles in. These are my top 3 based on the relative lack or even total absence of cars and the amount of space on the shoulder to ride. Difficulty level varies but the great thing about climbing is that you can always turn around at anytime if you park at the base of the climb! The latter two locations on this list will be a bit of a drive eastward from the coast (roughly an hour or so one way). But if you are looking for some great hill climbs, it’s totally worth it and does not get any better than this!

With winter weather on the way and cooling temps, now is a great time to gear up and get those climbing miles in!

#3 Torrey Pines State Beach (Inside and Outside)

You might be thinking to yourself, “how could there possibly be good hill climbing at the beach?”

Located at Torrey Pines State Beach, this is a highly frequented place for both walkers and cyclists. When riding here with friends the first question that always comes up is, “Inside or Outside?” The answer to this question depends on if you want to get in some serious leg work up high single digit percentage grades (inside) or if you are going for a more gradual ascent (outside). If the latter, you’ll definitely want to stick to the outside which is the 101 that goes from the beach up towards the University of California, San Diego. Alternatively, if you want some more intense leg work, then the inside is for you. Get ready to get out of the saddle. Key Tip: This is an excellent location to get your repeats in if that’s what you are aiming for.

Where to park:
Torrey Pines State Beach offers multiple lots as well as parking on the road. Keep an eye out for pedestrians and traffic along the 101 as there are cars that are constantly stopped or pulling out of parking spots.

12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037

(858) 755-2063

#2 Palomar Mountain (East Grade)

Not as well known or as frequently mentioned by the local riding community compared to South Grade (which is much more narrow and winding), East Grade offers a serious climbing day on Palomar Mountain. You will get some serious elevation in here. What I like about this route is the relative lack of cars and wide shoulders. The the different landscapes change as you go up in elevation. I still get a kick out of a climb once the leafy trees begin to disappear and more pine trees begin to line the road. Near the top, a few miles before you reach the observatory, there is a general store that offers snacks and trinkets. (Souvenirs that can fit in your jersey pocket for the ride back may not be a bad idea for your wife and kids who gave you the day to come do this ride).

Where to park:
Park at the base of the climb a few miles from where you turn off to begin your ascent up East Grade.

Once you reach the top, check out the General Store to refuel.

Palomar Mountain General Store:

33120 Canfield Rd, Palomar Mountain, CA 92060

(760) 742-3496


#1 Kitchen Creek (Pine Valley)

Not many places can make you feel like you are at Disneyland on two wheels. But this place is definitely one of them. You know you are a climber when a gnarly looking climb in the horizon gets you amped. Kitchen Creek in Pine Valley has not shortage of these. Visually impressive – certain sections you’ll look up think, “I’m going to ride up that?!”

From there it gets better, at the end of Kitchen Creek, the county maintained road ends and is gated off and closed to cars. That’s right, no cars! It is not uncommon to ride the full length of Kitchen Creek Road on any given weekend and not see a single car. The top side of of this trail pops you out at the top of Mount Laguna on the sunrise highway. Make a right to continue up towards the General Store which is a great turn around point. Be sure to do a gear and brake check before you hop back on because the ride down the Sunrise Highway is literally a blast (all the way back down to Major’s Diner). Update: Please note that the pavement is very rough and quite rutted on the highway especially at the higher elevations as a result of the heavy rains from earlier this year. 

Where to park:
Behind Major’s Coffee Shop Next in the same parking lots as the Post Office. Be sure to try the Tex Mex Scramble or the Garbage Plate. Totally legit!

Major’s Diner

28870 Old Hwy 80, Pine Valley, CA 91962

(619) 473-9969


Bonus Kitchen Creek Ride Along Vid

Subscribe or comment below  and include “I love Kitchen Creek” in your comment to be the first to get your hands on the Kitchen Creek Ride Along Video in  advance of it’s release this Friday! Ride on.

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