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Bay Area Scenic Drives

Great scenic drives for Bay Area travelers

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Length: 95 miles / 154 km
Overview: The Bay Area is heaven for road-trippers. These routes from obvious to obscure show why so many people come to California and so few leave. Below are some of the Best bay area scenic drives including some of the best ways to see this beautiful state.

We start with the famed Coast Highway, then move on to the 17 Mile Scenic Drive south of Monterey, the redwoods of Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range in the South Bay.

Tips: What to bring:

Caveats: These routes are all twisting and undulating: find out if your passengers get car-sick before you set out.

Bicyclists will be fairly constant companions -- keep an eye out and share the road.

Check the California Department of Transportation's highway conditions page before you set out; rural mountain roads are prone to washouts.

Gas up before you go.

Points of Interest


California Highway 1

You can't miss Highway 1: It's usually the last road before you run out continent.

Your go-to sections are south of San Francisco between Pacifica and Santa Cruz and north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Getting south is pretty easy: find Interstate 280 and take the Pacifica exit south. Getting north will require navigating some San Francisco traffic but generally you can follow the Golden Gate Bridge signs, then look for the Highway 1 signs once you hit Marin County.

The Marin section is spectacular, but the traffic and hair-pin turns make the drive hair-raising and nerve-racking. All the more reason to ride south: the 60-mile stretch from Pacifica to Santa Cruz passes a string of state beaches for parking and picnicking. The main challenge will be keeping your eyes on the road amid the stunning cliffs at the nation's edge.

The town of Pescadero is a great stop along the way -- Duartes Tavern is a Bay Area favorite. At Santa Cruz you might as well turn back and see the whole route from the other direction. If you're in more of a hurry, stay on Highway 1 through town and head north on Highway 17 and take I-280 north from San Jose.

17 Mile Scenic Drive

A natural (though quite long) extension of the Highway 1 southern drive is to continue south another 45 miles to Monterey to check out 17 Mile Drive, a toll route through a ritzy coastal neighborhood that hosts the celebrated Pebble Beach golf course.

The rocky coast seen by millions of golf fans is amazing in person. Birds loft above the water while sea lions bark from tiny islands just beyond the beach. The toll ($8 at last check but subject to inflation) will feel like a steal.

You'll get a map of the course at the gate; you can get a refund on the toll if you dine at certain fancy restaurants along the way.

Getting there: Take Highway 1 south to Exit 399A (the sign will say Highway 68 and Pebble Beach.) Take the exit and follow the signs to 17 Mile Drive.

Note: it's impossible to get on the 17 Mile Drive during the annual Pebble Beach professional golf events typically scheduled in June and February: check the sports news to make sure you can get in.

EveryTrail Trip

Silicon Valley to Pacific Coast loop

A great escape from Silicon Valley is to head up into the Santa Cruz Mountains in a relaxing loop from the redwoods to the ocean and back. Give yourself at least three hours, as you'll rarely be able to drive over 30 mph on these twisting mountain roads.

On the map, look for State Highway 84 running west of I-280. One basic route takes Highway 84 west through Woodside and up a very curvy section to the intersection with Highway 35 (Alice's Restaurant at this junction is a popular pit stop). Cross Highway 35 and take Highway 84 through La Honda and on to its intersection with Highway 1 at San Gregorio.

Head south till you see a sign pointing to Pescadro, then turn left onto Pescadero Creek Road. Continue on Pescadero Creek Road as it climbs back up into the redwoods and passes through San Mateo County Memorial Park. A few miles up the road you'll hit an intersection with Alpine Road -- you can turn right here for a wider loop or turn left and go back to Highway 84, where you can turn right and go back the way you came.

Alpine Road is very narrow at first -- the redwoods feel fender-kissing close -- and very curvy all the way back up to Highway 35. Again, loop options abound (Highway 35 is a lovely route in its own right), but the easiest move is to cross Highway 35 and take Page Mill Road back to Interstate 280 (another very twisty route -- watch for bicyclists around every turn.

Everytrail trip

Calaveras Road to Sunol

This is a much more modest escape to the hills of the Diablo Range east and north of San Jose. It shouldn't take more than an hour and a half.

Excellent vistas unfold just a few miles from the nearest highway. Just take I-680 to the Calaveras Road exit (make sure you turn east toward the hills and not west toward Milpitas). Follow Calaveras Road up into the hills; after a few miles it takes a 90-degree right turnand climbs even more.

In minutes there'll be a mountain range between you and suburbia and
you'll have a narrow, scenic country road pretty much to yourself except for the occasional bike rider. Along the way you might catch a glimpse of a breeding pair of bald eagles that built a nest high on an electrical transmission tower.

Just take your time, enjoy the view, watch your turns and you'll be back at the Sunol exit of I-680 far too soon.

EveryTrail Trip

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