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S.F. to Santa Cruz: Highway 1 via two wheels

Michelle Hamilton | April 23, 2013 | Story California Destinations

There is only one way to improve the classic trip on Highway 1 to Santa Cruz: Ditch the car and bike it. Trailblazers can slip into scenic spots not even visible by car, feel the adrenaline of steep descents, and have a no-BS justification for carb-loading along the way.

Ocean Beach’s crashing waves offer the ride’s first of many water views. Once you hit Daly City, take Skyline Drive to your first coastal close-up outside S.F. (follow signs for Pacific Coast Bike Route). From here, weave through a quiet grid of restored marshland and waterfront communities.

In Pacifica [from S.F., Mile Marker 19], you’ll need High Tide’s potent double mocha for the steep and hectic climb up Devil’s Slide. Lunch is just off the trail: burritos from legendary Tres Amigos (650-726- 6080). Pedal to a secluded picnic perch along a little-used portion of the Half Moon Bay Coastal Trail, a flat stretch of dirt easily navigated by thick-tire roadies.

After 17 miles of cramping calves comes tiny Pescadero [MM 50]. Pick up artichoke pork sausage from Arcangeli Grocery ( to throw on the communal grill at Pescadero Bed & Biscuit (rates start at $100). The inland hideaway has three refurbished country-chic cottages on five grassy acres. Soak your weary legs in a claw-foot tub (available in the Ocean and Cowboy cabins), then head to the fire pit.

In the morning, opt for Cloverdale Road, a smooth, playful stretch that whips around a golden hillside, dropping you into a woodsy canyon before reconnecting to Highway 1. Pie Ranch dishes up seasonal pies with fruit from the property (this month, go for strawberry-rhubarb), and bikers get 10 percent off. Or hold out for inch-thick brownies at Whale City Bakery, 10 miles down the road. In Santa Cruz [MM 85], the new, modern Hotel Paradox (rates start at $195) offers the essential post-ride setup: a large hot tub and a poolside bar. A short walk away is Vital Body Therapy, a new massage and yoga studio (the 50-50 revives fatigued muscles). And downtown’s newest pizza place, Bantam, serves thin-crust wonders with homemade sausage.

The next morning, fuel up with blueberry pancakes at the Silver Spur in Soquel for the trip’s crescendo: an eightmile climb through the redwood foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. (Weary riders: In Santa Cruz, strap your bike to bus 17 direct to Caltrain.) On the sweeping descent of Old Santa Cruz Highway, watch for Aldercroft Heights, which travels around Lexington Reservoir, bypassing busy Highway 17 before connecting with Los Gatos Creek Trail that takes you to San Jose [MM 123] Caltrain, and let the train whisk you home in 90 minutes.

Local intel: At 5 p.m., the tasting rooms at Surf City Vintners in Santa Cruz close— except for Vino Tabi, which becomes an impromptu wine bash. “It feels more like a house party than a bar,” says vintner Katie Fox, who pours her pinots paired with hot dogs from the cart outside, while local musicians jam out.

Start in San Francisco and end at a secluded beach enclave...or a leafy mountain hideaway, or a cider-tasting room, or a desert art Shangri-La. In California, your road-tripping options are virtually limitless, even if your time is not.

More Summer Get Aways:

S.F. to Santa Cruz: Highway 1 via two wheels
Three days (suggested time), 123 miles (one way), $$

S.F. to Borrego Springs: Desert funk
Five days, 769 miles, $$

S.F. to Truckee: Summer camp flashbacks
Two days, 200 miles, $$$

S.F. to Venice Beach: Paradise hopping
Four days, 448 miles, $$$$

S.F. to Humboldt: Oysters, hot tubs, martinis
Three days, 330 miles, $$

S.F. to Mendocino: Wine country underground
Three days, 165 miles (bring a designated driver), $$$

S.F. to Bear Valley: Sierra camping without the masses
Three days, 182 miles, $

Originally published in the May 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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