Big Sur by Train, from San Francisco
Big Sur By Train + Bicycle
Big Sur is reachable by bicycle and train for a weekend from San Francisco - I would highly recommended the journey.
San Francisco to Gilroy - weekday evening Caltrain
Gilroy to Moss Landing - Bicycle (~35/55 miles)
Moss Landing to Big Sur - Bicycle (~75 miles)
Big Sur to Salinas - Bicycle (~50 miles)
Salinas to Oakland/SF - Coast Starlight + BART
The time of year you are riding on Highway 1 (Carmel to Big Sur) is very important - traffic is heavy in July and August, especially with tourists in RVs, so I would recommend doing this trip in the Spring or Fall.
The reason this trips works is because of the late Friday Caltrain commuter train down to Gilroy from San Francisco/San Jose and the 6pm Sunday Coast Starlight train from Salinas back to the Bay Area.
A group of us boarded an evening commuter train in San Francisco bound for Gilroy on Friday evening with dinner, a couple beers, and bikes loaded with camping gear. There are only 3 trains each weekday to/from Gilroy, morning northbound and evening southbound - the journey is about 2 hours - just enough time to have a nice meal and plan the bike route.
From Gilroy we got off the train and started biking around 7:30pm - it was completely dark so I would suggest bringing a lot of lights. There are two routes to the Monterey Bay Beach/Moss Landing: one is parallel with highway 152 over the mountains on Redwood Retreat Road with about 1800 vertical feet about 35 miles total to the beach. The other is about 55 miles and goes through Hollister but stays mostly flat, which leaves you on some busier roads. It is a toss up which one is better. I recommend camping on the beach somewhere between Moss Landing and Monterey Friday night.
I suggest getting an early start on Saturday so you can enjoy one of the many fruit stands for breakfast. The fresh fruit is picked right there and you will be cycling through fields of strawberries. There are a lot of places in Monterey for breakfast but I don’t have a recommendation. If you have time, ride around 17 Mile Drive into Carmel - this is one of the most beautiful roads in the world and cyclists don’t have to pay. :) If you just want to get to Big Sur, choose the more direct route.
Lunch in downtown Carmel is a treat before taking on the last 25 miles or so to Big Sur. There is one big hill that you have to mentally prepare yourself for-- just south of the famous Bixby Bridge-- but the views are so nice you will be sufficiently distracted :)
There is a lot to do in Big Sur: a 10 mile hike in to Sykes Hot Springs, a 3 mile hike down to Pfeiffer State Beach or a hiker/biker campground just off the road by Big Sur Station. (Note they will never turn away hiker/bikers no matter how full the campground is). We befriended a couple with a car and rode down to the Eselen Institute (look it up) with them for their 1-3am hot spring open hours.
On the way back, remember how long it took you to get from Carmel to Big Sur and ensure that you have enough time to make it to Salinas for the 6pm departure of the Coast Starlight. We left Big Sur early and took our time biking back up Highway 1, stopped for a long lunch checking our Carmel and arrived in Salinas with plenty of time to box up our bikes for the train ride back to Oakland/San Francisco and have a nice dinner at the Salinas Brewing Company.
Note: Be sure to arrive an hour early to box bikes up and that you have an Allen wrench to rotate the handlebars. The Salinas train station is right next to downtown so after dropping bikes with Amtrak walking downtown to eat is easy for a bite before the train.
The train ride back consisted of a serious game of hearts while enjoying a bottle of wine in the Pacific Parlor Car and watching the Sunset over the Monterey Bay before weaving through the mountains northbound to San Jose/Oakland. We also met and had some good laughs with a group our age traveling from Australia - good times on the train.
Note: Back-up plan: There is a bus from Monterey to Big Sur and from Monterey to Salinas if you are worried about timing - lookup Monterey-Salinas Transit.
Let me know if you decide to make the journey! It’s a fun one.