Words by (the highly talented—and caffeinated) Jen See
Welcome to the Coffee Drinker’s Guide to the Amgen Tour of California.
This is the second annual Guide, which is to say, we’ve reached the terrible twos, screaming and teething and drooling all over the joint. If this is your first time, don’t worry. Everything will be just fine. Also, you can find last year’s edition at Paved, may it live forever in our espresso-blackened hearts.
So you’re going to the Amgen Tour of California and you like coffee. You are totally in the right place. We’re going to tell you where to get your fix at every stop on the race. That’s it. It’s all so terribly simple.
This year’s race begins in Sacramento on Sunday, 5 May and finishes in Thousand Oaks on Sunday, 18 May. That’s a whole lot of coffee right there.
Stage 1: Sacramento
“Love what you do. Life is short, so celebrate it!” The people at Old Soul sound like our kind of people. They roast coffee and make bread in a wherehouse in Sacramento. We could not confirm the existence of a La Marzocco, the sure sign of good coffee. But there is a photo of their roaster, which is a very good start. The building has bricks. This is also promising. Life is risk, but we’re feeling pretty good about this one. Go to Old Soul, drink all their coffee.
Temple Coffee, with three locations in Sacramento, is your other option, and frankly, we’d probably visit both. There are only so many good coffee shops in the world, and we’d hate to miss out on any of them. Temple has mutliple varieties of espresso. We like variety. We might have to taste them all, in fact. Who needs sleep?
Stage 2: Folsom
Vanderkitten Emily Kachorek tells us that in Folsom we have to try Karen’s Bakery. We are not about to argue. Also, sometimes we like to eat, not just drink coffee. Karen’s has pastries and a cafe menu.
But Folsom is actually right next to Sacramento. So you could just go back to Old Soul. Or, Temple. Or, go big: Drink coffee at Old Soul, Temple, and Karen’s all in the same day. We won’t tell a soul about your gluttony. Because, glass houses.
Stage 3: San Jose — Mount Diablo
We thought we had San Jose totally dialed. We were going to send you to Barefoot Coffee Roasters, because everyone told us last year, that Barefoot, who brews Four Barrel, is The Place.
You can still go there! But you’d have to drive to nearby Campbell or Los Gatos to do it. Have you driven the 280 lately? No, I didn’t think so. Because if you have, you wouldn’t even be considering leaving your house. You would totally hide under the bed. Which, is where we are right now.
We have searched long and hard for you. Dug deeply into the internet, scrutinized photos, asked our friends, and we have turned up two options for you. I mean, we want to go to both of them, which really, is our only test for this Guide. Would we go? Yes. Yes, we would.
Your first option for San Jose is downtown and housed in a former gas station. Roy’s Station brews Verve. And if you’re serious about coffee, you’ve probably already found an excuse to head over to Santa Cruz and hang out at Verve. If you haven’t, I’m not sure we can still be friends.
Anyway, San Jose. Roy’s Station also has a red La Marzocca sitting right there on the counter. We are mighty partial to the red La Marzocco. It tells us that the espresso is probably going to rock our world. This is totally our kind of place.
Or, drive over to Santa Clara to Chromatic. They roast their own beans, and they host the Thursday Throwdown, which has nothing to do with crushing one another’s souls on bikes and everything to do with latte art. Baristas compete to make the coolest latte art. This is our kind of art. And if you’re still reading, yours too. Chromatic does pour-overs and espresso. We want all their coffee.
Mount Diablo. It’s a mountain. In the middle of nowhere. There is no coffee here. What, you were thinking we could produce coffee out of thin air or something? Well, we can’t. Sorry to burst your bubble.
You have a gnarly transfer to drive. Drive as far as you can stand. Then, Google up the nearest Starbucks. That’s all we got. We promise to do better next time. Update! A friend — yes, we do have friends — tells us there is a Peets in Danville. So there you go.
Stage 4: Monterey — Cambria
We’re going to tell you a secret here, and you have to promise not to tell a single soul. Can you do that? The locals are going to throw rocks at our car for this. We might even have to wear a paper bag over our heads next time we visit. But we’re willing to make this sacrifice for you, because we know just how much you love good coffee. (Also, this is all totally the fault of Pactimo’s Josh Cook, so throw rocks at him, not us!)
First, though, let’s get one thing out of the way. If you’re late to the bike race — which you might be! It happens! — and you need coffee quickly, there’s a Peets Coffee on Munras Avenue in downtown Monterey. It’s right near the Travel Lodge, which is a setting out of another story. We’ve got nothing more to say about that.
But back to the secret spot. Get up early. Get on the freeway and drive north for like two minutes to the nearby city of Seaside. Seaside is Monterey’s funky younger sister. Seaside shops at thriftstores and drinks her tequila straight out of the bottle. Seaside surfs gnarly shark-infested beach breaks. Seaside also hosts one of the best coffee shops we’ve ever visited. Which is saying something, because we visit a lot of coffee shops.
Go to Acme Coffee. Get there early, because when we were last there, they only had two employees, one for the register and one for the coffee-making. It’s worth the wait. Maybe just order two doubles when it’s your turn. You won’t regret it. Also, they have donuts. We are mighty partial to donuts. Resist corporate coffee. And tip generously.
Cambria is a mellow town on the Central Coast. It’s windy. And really, quite nice. Stop by Moonstone Beach, if you have a spare minute. It’s famous. Right, we know. You don’t want to stop at the beach, you want an espresso.
Go to Cambria Coffee Roasting. They are members of the Specialty Coffee Assocation and the Roaster Guild of America. We feel secure in our choice. If they can’t make an espresso, we’ll be… well, we’ll be sad.
Are you going to drive to Pismo Beach tonight? We hear that the cell service in Cambria is pretty much non-existent. We’re not sure how long we can live without our pet rocks chirping and beeping at us. Driving to Pismo, you’re going to drive right through San Luis Obispo. There is good coffee there. Have we ever led you astray?
Stop by Scout Coffee on Garden Street. They have an incredible white La Marzocco. You’ll be in good hands there. Drink all their coffee. Lounge at their tables. Then, get back in the car and drive to Pismo Beach. Easy.
Stage 5: Pismo Beach — Santa Barbara
Sometimes, you just have to roll with it. You wake up in a town you don’t really know. There’s no obvious spot for good coffee. Pismo Beach is one of those towns.
Your best bet looks to be the Steaming Bean. Word is they have a good breakfast burrito, if you’re into that kind of thing. And, Mexican chocolate. No guarantees with the coffee.
But don’t worry. Even if the morning gets off to a rough start, the rest of the day is totally going to make up for it. In fact, you might call this the Queen Stage of the Amgen Tour of California, when it comes to the coffee. And really, the coffee is all we care about. Bike race? What bike race?
Safety pick: Starbucks, Pismo Beach is on 5 Cities Drive. You know you can always go there. But it’ll look the same as the Starbucks at home or in Amsterdam or wherever you last went to Starbucks. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’re a more imaginative person, right? Wait, don’t answer that. We’re not sure we really want to know.
Coffee in Santa Barbara is easy. Also, there’s wine, if you feel like you just can’t drink any more espresso. And beer. Really, it’s a partying kind of town, so whatever you’re looking for, well, you’ll probably find it. But we’re here to talk about coffee. You’re on your own for the rest of it. And really, we’re not sure we want to know what you get up to when we’re not looking.
You have two options. We alternate between them. Handlebar Coffee is owned by two ex-pro bike racers, Aaron Olson and Kim Anderson. They roast and serve some pretty amazing coffee. Also, check out the gluten-free banana muffins. Those are the best things ever. There’s a patio. With blue chairs. We like blue chairs.
But you aren’t going to stop at one coffee shop when there are two to try, right? You are strong. You are dedicated. You want to stay up all night.
If all these things are true, you should also visit the French Press. There are two locations. You want the one on Anacapa Street. It has a patio. We like patios. The people at the French Press roast and brew. Their espresso is perfectly ristretto — dark, syrupy, miraculous. Order two. You can sleep when you’re dead.
Stage 6: Santa Clarita — Mountain High
Santa Clarita is the kind of strip mall suburbia that almost parodies itself. The stores repeat one after another and it’s hard to tell one from the next. You could walk from place to place, but a single block runs close to a mile in length. So you drive. Like everyone else.
There is a Starbucks close to the race start, so if you need coffee fast, and sometimes we all do, head there. There’s also a Peets on the helpfully named McBean Parkway, if you prefer Peets. It’s not quite as close to the bike race, but life! It’s about trade-offs!
Prefer a little adventure? Not afraid to get lost in suburbia? We knew you were our kind of people. You are looking for the Railroad Cafe, a small coffee shop in old town Newhall. They brew coffee from Counter Culture and Handsome, and if you’re coffee nerds, which we know by now you are, you will understand exactly what that means. It should mean good coffee. But there’s only one way to find out for sure. Do it. You know you want to.
Mountain High is in Wrightwood, a ski resort town in the San Gabriel Mountains, part of California’s Transverse Range created by the San Andreas fault. But enough about the mountains, you’re saying. The coffee. You want to hear about the coffee.
Wrightwood is a small town, so your options are limited. Head to the Village Grind. It’s a locals joint. Sip some coffee, stare out at the pine trees, savor the thin mountain air, and marvel at the fact that you’ve made it this far.
Stage 7: Santa Clarita — Pasadena
Santa Clarita. We’re back again. After yesterday, you should have your coffee strategy sorted. Honestly, do we have to help you with everything? Three choices: Peets, Starbucks, Railroad. Pick one, go to the bike race.
Pasadena, known for the Rose Parade, has a rad downtown with boutiques and cool restaurants. You give zero fucks about the boutiques and cool restaurants. You just want coffee. Some people. So one-track mind about things.
In Pasadena, head to Intelligentsia on East Colorado. Intelligentsia originated in Chicago by way of San Francisco. They opened their first store in 1995, and since then, Intelligentsia has been one of the seeds for a pretty massive coffee scene in Los Angeles.
What? Los Angeles? Totally, dudes. There is amazing coffee there, and many of the newer roasters have Intelligentsia genetics. Intelligentsia sources their own beans, roasts, and then, well, you know what happens next. It goes straight in your belly. And you are happy.
Stage 8: Thousand Oaks
Thousand Oaks, well, we’re deep in suburbia now. But fear not, coffee is not far. Head to Bean Crazy, which is between Newbury Park and Thousand Oaks, just off the 101. According to their directions, they are halfway between Chuck E. Cheese and Petco, which sounds not that auspicious, really. We did say something about suburbia.
Bean Crazy sources their own beans and roasts them onsite. They also sell wine from small vintners around California. Coffee and wine, we like both of these things. And, anyone with crazy in the name is our kind of people.
When it’s all over, drive on down to Old Town Calabasas for food and beers at Pedalers Fork. It’s a bike shop. And coffee shop. And restaurant, specializing locally sourced things to eat. You want to go there. I mean, you can’t live on coffee alone, can you?
And with that, we are done. Thanks for playing along. We might even do this again next year. But we wouldn’t want to plan too far ahead or anything.