Over the past few years, I’ve made a number of trips to the Bay Area, hiring a number of bikes from San Francisco motorcycle rental firms and explored many great routes and locations. Here I have rounded up a list of the best San Francisco motorcycle roads I’ve enjoyed ready for you to download and check out if you’re in the area.
- Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz
- Palo Alto to Soquel (Santa Cruz)
- San Jose to Fremont (the long way around)
- San Francisco to Port Costa
- San Francisco best Tourist Spots
- San Fran, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe Loop
Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz
Starting just south of San Fran on the coast at Half Moon Bay, this route cuts inland and climbs up to Skyline Boulevard Route 35, where it weaves South along a stunning forest ridgeline overlooking San Jose. First, pit-stop is Alice’s Restaurant, located where many great biking roads meet, it’s a Mecca for motorcyclists from far and wide and also serves up some yummy food.
From Alice’s we continue South on Route 35, before turning off onto Route 9 and then 236 to head around the Big Basin Redwoods State Park loop. This park has some epic redwoods that are just huge. Speed limits are slow on this loop, but the road is narrow and very twisty as it cuts between the trees and hillside, but it’s ice rink smooth with perfect camber on every bend. Take a pitstop at the Park visitor centre for refreshment and go check out the ‘Mother and Father’ of the forest, two of the hugest trees you’re likely to see.
Next, continue South, rejoin Route 9 and make your way down to Santa Cruz through Boulder Creek. Check out the seafront attractions at Santa Cruz Beach Broadwalk or take a cruise along the picturesque West Cliff to soak up the Pacific views.
Palo Alto to Soquel (Santa Cruz)
A similar route to above, this time starting in Palo Alto on the Northside of San Jose, where we head up Page Mill Road, a winding hill and narrow climb that takes you out of the suburbs up into the surrounding mountains and on the Skyline Boulevard Route 35. A great road, but popular cycle route, so take care.
Next, we follow Route 35 South, crossing Route 9 until it stops at Route 17. A great road that weaves through the forest hillsides, but be warned, it does rather abruptly drop down to a narrow single track at the junction with Black Road. The first half is great for fast bends to swoop around, the latter half is a bit bumpier and more technical with some tight bends.
The remainder of the route continues on the other side of Route 17 freeway, running South almost in parallel on a more interesting and bendy tree-lined route. A little slower on speed limits, but definitely more picturesque. Do stop in at Casalegno’s Store for a top-notch coffee before you hit the bustle of Santa Cruz. I finished up at Capitola Beach, a good spot to grab some ice cream and ponder the grandness of the Pacific Ocean.
San Jose to Fremont (the long way around)
This is a particular favourite route of mine, which takes in the epic climb up Mount Hamilton and across some of the deserted back roads which feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.
The route starts on the outskirts of San Jose taking Route 130 up into the overlooking hillside. The road rapidly climbs and gets very twisty with many tight and steep hairpins. With few barriers about, you definitely don’t want to overcook it on one of these bends. At the peak, stop in at the Lick Observatory where the views are stunning and there’s a handy WC available even when the observatory is not open to public yet. Many bikers stop here and it’s a great place to chat with others.
Continuing down the other side of the hills, although the road widens out, still has some tight bends to keep you on your toes. After about 18 miles the road forks, Route 130 to right, and Mines Road to left, and the Junction Bar & Grill sitting in the middle. A popular biker destination that serves decent food and with many friendly bikers happy to greet a stranger on two wheels.
Once refreshed, continue North on Mines Road, which cuts through quiet creeks and slowly climbs into the local hills. Only a few hairpins, but many wide sweeping bends that go on and on. The road is nigh on deserted, I barely saw a handful of other vehicles over 30 miles. Mines Road comes out in Livermore, well known for its vineyards, but we head back West towards Fremont and finish up in the Niles. Here the main drag has a number of decent cafes, including the Florence Bar a little biker joint.
San Francisco to Port Costa
This route takes in North of San Fran up in Marin County and Napa. Starting at Golden Gate Bridge, which has got to be done if you’ve never ridden it (plenty of viewpoints on the Northside for some selfies). Next stop is Stinson Beach for some ice cream, though traffic can be pretty crap into town on a hot weekend. Continue North where the roads quiet off drastically to Point Reyes Station, a quaint little town with many old-style buildings. From here the route gets more interesting as we head up to Petaluma, super smooth, wide roads, with big swooping bends, ideal to crank it up a gear.
From Petaluma we cut across to Napa, not the most exciting stretch, but the road does cut through some stunning hillsides filled with vineyards. If you like the grape, this is the place to make a few pit-stops and stock up. From Napa head out on Route 121 and then 128 out to Lake Berryessa and Winters. A great road on the bike, lots of great twisties to blitz around, guaranteed big grins. If you prefer the grain to the grape, then pop by the Berryessa Brewing Co. in Winters.
The final leg retraces our steps back from Winters down Route 128 and a bit of Route 121, before we turn off and head down to Route 80, whereupon we take a quick run South over the Carquinez Bridge (note: electronic toll), then strike a couple of back roads to finish up in Port Costa at the Warehouse Cafe for some tasty lobster and a couple of jars.
San Francisco Motorcycle Route through the best Tourist Spots
This route begins at Eagle Rider San Francisco motorcycle rental garage, then meanders around some interesting tourist spots in San Fran where you can shoot some cool photos. First the super steep snaking Lombard Street, then up to Fisherman’s Wharf where you’ll find plenty of cafes and bars. Next, follow the Marina drive to the Golden Gate Bridge – no visit to San Fran would be complete without a quick cruise over this bridge! The route pinpoints some key viewpoints to grab some snaps of the bridge and Alcatraz Island in the Bay.
The next stop is the Golden Gate Park, a great place for a stroll and chill out. I can certainly recommend the Japanese Tea Garden for a cuppa. Round the corner is Haight-Ashbury, the birthplace of the flower power hippy generation in the ’60s. Slightly more commercial now, but still a funk street to explore and grab some snaps of famous houses where The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin lived. Again lots of cafe’s, some alternative and vintage clothes shops (but all rather pricy) and good record shops. Further south, head up Twin Peaks (nothing to do with Lynch’s TV series), where you can get a great view out over the city.
The route then continues down the coast on Route 1, encompassing a small section of Big Sur. Although a fairly busy and multi-lane road (especially between San Fran and Half Moon Bay), it has some great views of the Pacific, with plenty of places to stop off and soak up the views.
There’s a quick detour inland to the bike Mecca of Alice’s Restaurant – just has to be done, then doubles back to Route 1 down into Sant Cruz. West Cliff Drive is a nice cruise with plenty of places to stop and take pics or head into the centre to check out the Pier and other restaurants.
San Fran, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe Loop
For those with more time, I can highly recommend a longer trip inland to the beautiful Yosemite National Park. At about 180 miles from San Fran, I suggest this three-day loop.
- Day 1: San Fran to Yosemite, via Mines Road
- Day 2: Cross Yosemite, head over Tiago Pass and then up Route 395 to South Lake Tahoe
- Day 3: Quick look of Lake Tahoe, then back to San Fran via Sacramento
I hope you enjoy these routes as much as I did. Do you have any great recommendations for your favourite San Francisco motorcycle route or destinations? Please comment below and share what you’ve found.