Day Trip: Palomar Mountain Loop

The Palomar Mountain Loop, located in the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California, is known to riders worldwide as “Southern California’s Most Technical Road”.  There are plenty of twists, turns and hairpins on this stretch of road that heads up into the pristine mountains where the Palomar Observatory is located.

The Palomar Mountain Loop is especially popular with the sport bike crowd, so if you are on a cruiser, be aware of them zipping past and around you.  This road will test even experienced riders, so if you are a novice, I would not attempt this trip until you have packed a few miles under you.

Total travel time is approximately two hours each way.  Leaving Orange County, head south on CA-405 to CA-76E, which is right after you pass the beach town of Escondido.  About 15 miles in, you will veer left onto Palomar Mountain Road and ride approximately 6 miles to San Diego County Hwy S-6 and veer left again.  At this point, the real ride starts!

When you reach the 4-way stop, you will notice a diner on the left called Mother’s Kitchen, which is temporarily closed for repairs and maintenance.  In normal times, a stop here is essential and when you see all of the other motorcycles parked outside, you will know why!  Stop and get a bite to eat while swapping road stories with fellow enthusiasts of all kinds.  Normally, they are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays and close every day at 4:00 PM and only serve breakfast on the weekends.  NOTE:  this is a vegetarian restaurant, so there are no burgers, deli sandwiches, chili or meat of any kind served here.  Alternatives include El Rey Mexican Restaurant and the Lazy H Ranch, both in Pauma Valley, about fifteen minutes from Palomar Mountain.  By the way, if you choose to head into Santa Ysabel, do yourself a favor and stop in at Dudley’s Bakery.  While their prices have risen dramatically over the years, it is worth it for the delicious bread they bake daily.  The Jalapeno Cheddar, Irish Potato and Date Nut Raisin are favorites!  They also serve sandwiches, have clean restrooms and a nice little gift shop.

Getting back onto the highway, head out onto E. Grade Road which will take you all the way down to Lake Henshaw.  While scenery out in this area is spectacular, you most likely will not see more than glimpses of it as you will need to focus on the road at all times.  It is best to stop if you want a more detailed look at anything.

Once you pass the lake, there is a stop sign.  At this point, you can make a right and end up back on CA-76 to complete the loop, however many riders simply turn around and do the S-6 again as the road is so much more challenging and fun!

Unfortunately, Palomar Mountain Observatory is now permanently closed to the public, however you can visit the State Park and campgrounds.

Heading back to Orange County, expect to hit some traffic on the 405, especially near San Clemente.  No time of day is immune, so just be prepared. Enjoy the glimpses of the Pacific and the military maneuvers that are often taking place at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside.

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