SF Bay Cruising Roads

2012/02/05 by Lassi A. Liikkanen

On this page:
o HW25
o G16
o HW35
o HW1
o HW17

Bay area cruising roads

This page lists a number of roads for recreational driving in Northern California, around the San Francisco Bay Area.

East of Bay Area

Hw 120 (Manteca - Yosemite – Mammoth lakes)

This is a nice road. Open only a short time of the year, making it quite busy. However, the part running through Yosemite park is worth taking the time for the views. Out of the park it runs surprisingly pleasantly west, being in a quite good condition and being a real treat to cruise through! Traffic depends on timing, but does definitely exist.

HW130 Mine's Road/San Antonia Valley road from Livermore to Mt Hamilton (San Jose)

Truly amazing road! Right through rustic, hilly country side of North California. It offers everything you could hope for and boy, is there plenty of that! Well over 60 miles of winding small road. When I rode it early Sep, Saturday evening, the road was nearly clear of other traffic and the 45 mph limit is more than enough at most places to provide a real sensation of maneuvering a vehicle. Slight annoyances on the road are several cattle guards, which have to be crossed carefully (sign should read 5 mph). There are also animals, deer, cows, bulls and even a boar, so caution is needed for the motorcyclists. People on four wheels are better off, but vehicles with less than 10 cm (4”) clearance must take it very easy. I might even suggest trying a different ride just not to scratch your bottom, for instance a Boxster would be perfect! Summer time is surely warm enough to ride without a top and winter is anyway out of question because you do not want to ride while the roads are wet, and the area east of Mount Hamilton is surprisingly clean.

A must!

South of Bay Area:

Highway 25 in California

Nice, big road starting from Hollister. Resembles somewhat the western end of 120, in being a fast, big road. I drove this on a Tuesday morning November 2011 from North to south, down til G13 intersection. This stretch was mostly in a very good shape and rated at 65mph. There were straight sections about 10 miles north of Pinnacles in a such a smooth condition that you could easily break 120mph should the drive and the legislation allow that (I wonder why they call this the Airline highway…). Traffic is light and the views are lovely. On the way lies Pinnacles national monument, which provides a stop for breaking a leg outside your vehicle. Lot of nice trails, including a cave loop! Hw 25 favors power and good ground contact, agility is not much needed. Unlike on G16, which can be found by turning west from 25 onto G13 towards King City. This road is clearly less well off and does not support smooth riding. Views are nice but traffic maybe more of an issue due to decreased over taking opportunities. The end of G13 goes through a weird turn inside King city onto freeway 101 north. Riding some miles north, you can take second or third exit to Greenville in order to G16, which is also known as Elm avenue and lies between Oak ave. and Patricia lane exits.

Carmel Valley Road (G16)

Makes off a good continuation for Hw 25. G16 starts off pretty weird inside Greenville, going through rural areas and really takes off only after a 1-lane bridge crossing at the intersection of G16 and G17. After this it becomes clear that this road will not require much speeding to get some feeling out of it. Although it has two lanes most of the time, the distance between Greenville and Carmel valley, includes some kettle guards and short 1-lane sections. Unlike Hw25, this G16 is pretty dead silent expect for the fauna. It is quite challenging, medium elevation differences with lots of reduced visibility and quite sharp turns. From east to west, there is some good climb in the start. Traffic is pretty thin and views to Valley are amazing. A real treat almost all the way up till Carmel Valley, by which time the traffic will likely get you and the joy of cruising is watered down. But as far as it goes, a really nice and invigorating drive. Surfaces aren’t in top condition, not very rough but clearly worn. As for hardware requirements, speed and maneuverability are called for, this is not a good place for the big and bulky vehicles. The roaming animals (although mostly small ones) make this less ideal for motorcycles.

Highway 35 Skyline boulevard (HW35) and Hw 84 (Redwood city – Pescadero)

The Bay area classic running on top of Santa Cruz. This road is close enough to SF to attract a constant stream of drivers on exotic, fast and two-wheeled vehicles. Due to limited visibility, incoming vehicles, bicycles and police presence, this should not be a very fast road. It has a 50 mph limit on the most part and pretty wide lanes, even shoulders. But it sure is fun all through the year! The high altitude (2000ft, 600m) and proximity of the Pacific sea add some weather concerns. It is not uncommon to have thick clouds hanging on the road and cutting visibility close to zero and it can be pretty chilling even in the summer months. This road has a lot of vista points, which provide cool views to the Silicon Valley, State park entrances and such. Unfortunately the former are officially closed during the winter months, in anticipation of land slide danger after rain.

Approximately one third down from the North end of HW35 you can find the intersection of Highway 84 in the Skywoods village of Woodside. There are some legendary stops there, including Alice’s restaurant which continuously caters HW35 drivers. For that reason, you have good chances of checking out interesting vehicles on the parking lot. You can also refuel here (for a good price).

The best parts of HW84 are around the Santa Cruz mountains. A good way to start is take off from Freeway 280 and drive the road all the way West until Highway 1 San Gregorio. It takes only few miles of good paved road among moderate traffic to get to HW35 junction and then start coaching towards the pacific. The traffic is light, road is in decent condition and a shoulder exists. This is not as exciting road as HW35, but a decent leg to/fro HW1.

Highway 1 (Morrow bay – Carmel)

If you had to name but one iconic Californian cruising road, HW1 would probably be your choice. Built along the beautiful, mountainous seashore if offers a driving challenge for several hours. The most exciting part goes south from Carmel to Morrow bay. On the way, you’ll see numerous vista points and photogenic views. Many notable things like Big Sur parks, Hearst Castle and famous bridges lie on the way (though not really match to SF big ones). A legendary road full of nice scenery is the Seventeen mile drive starting just south of Monterey in Carmel. Paying ten bucks ($10) to enter, you can check out Pebble Beach links and surrounding mansions on this winding, slow speed road. If you’d like to do more walking on the seashore, I would recommend stopping by the Carmel on the Sea, Point Lobos State reserve.

The road is quite narrow and fragile and does not offer many refueling, food or gas, options between Big Sur and Morrow bay. The down side here is the variable condition of the road and relative high volume of recreational traffic. RVs, campers and elderly drivers are sharing the road, which has few opportunities for over taking. This means, that at least on four wheels, you can’t expect an average speed much over the obligatory 35mph. There is also a constant risk of smaller or larger rock slides, so you need to consider what will become of your sports car if you run a flat 60 miles from the closest village.

Hw 17 (San Jose – Santa Cruz)

A way of getting in or out of HW1, Highway 17 provides a connection between surfin’ Santa Cruz to outskirts of San Jose. This is a two-lane one direction, big, winding and VERY dangerous road. The problem is related to 50 mph which is commonly interpreted as 70mph despite the heavy police enforcement in the area. The high volume of traffic makes it almost impossible to drive any other speed and this is just outside the rush hours. I would stay away from here always with bikes and during rush hours, when the traffic will surely be congested. If you manage to hit the road on a more spacious hour, you will get a very good example how freeways could or should be like at best! But as there is no way on escaping the traffic, this remains a source of frustration over fun.

North of Bay Area:

There are also nice roads to the North of Bay Area, which I have not reviewed yet:

Avenue of Giants - Humboldt County

Branscomb Road - Laytonville to Hwy 1

Highway 29...Calistoga to Middletown (Napa/Lake Counties





LA area:


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This document created: 2012/02/05
Modified: 2012/02/05
Published: 2012/02/05

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