Mulholland Highway Is Improbable Perfection

The gem riding road in the heart of Los Angeles

Mulholland Highway snakes through the Malibu Hills outside of Los Angeles.Michael Darter

For a town that drowns under rush-hour traffic and defines neighborhoods by their proximity to freeways, Los Angeles has a shocking number of good riding roads. Mulholland Highway, a 30-mile handlebar dogfight through the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu, is among the best.

A Saturday morning on Mulholland can exhibit the best and worst of California's riding culture. Petrolhead Jay Leno often holds court with precious metal from his vast collection at the Rock Store cafe while weekend riders steel their nerves with coffee. Knee-dragging types often skip the caffeine and aim straight for the adrenaline high of the Snake, a hairpin-laden section of Mulholland that collects pieces of fairing like autographs. A parking area at this particularly savage bend means spectators and photographers can set up shop, offering a chance at YouTube fame or infamy.

But those thrills hardly scratch the surface of Mulholland Highway. The road branches frequently, sending delightful shoots of asphalt through the sage and down tight canyons to the coast. Short jaunts along the Pacific from one canyon to the next create a daisy chain of tarmac that can keep riders scrambling from dawn till dusk.