RIDE SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS
and the BIG Sur coast
Highlights: Kings Mountain • Skyline • Lobitos Creek • Tunitas Creek • Stage • Bean Hollow • La Honda • Bean Hollow, Gazo Creek • Cloverdale • Pescadero • Alpine • Bear Creek • Highway 9 • Big Basin Way • China Grade • Jamison Creek • Empire Grade • Smith Grade • Pine Flat • Smith Grade • Granite Creek • Laurel Glen • Browns Valley •Hazel Dell • Green Valley • Cienega • Highway 25 • Lonoak • Nacimiento • Highway 1 Big Sur • Santa Rosa Creek • Old Creek Rd
Designing a multi-day motorcycle tour often starts with merely an idea. I want to ride here. I want to ride there. How can I create a cohesive route, gluing together a series of roads that'll last the day full of twisty goodness, while allowing the right timing and pacing for a memorable day on the motorcycle? After many hours playing with mapping programs on several platforms, the final result produces a satisfying ‘Aha Moment’ of yeah, that’ll work. Mileage that works, good company, good eats, and lodging that overlooks the ocean all bound together with nonstop deserted twisty roads all day long.
Santa Cruz Mountain Playground...
One of those places on our to-do list is the Santa Cruz Mountain playground. This low range runs up & down the spine of the San Francisco Peninsula, the ocean on one side, Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay on the other.
While these mountains are not high in elevation, the very fact that this range is a part of the Coastal Range that runs along 400 Miles of California coastline provides a delicious cadre of roads to explore in this portion of the range. None of these roads are very long in length, run down the hill, run back up the hill.
In addition, many of these roads are backroads, narrowing at times to single lane paved mountain roads. No highways, no double yellows, rather fun backroads that were carved decades ago up mountain ravines along streams and creeks are the order of the day. Oh, and did we mention the redwood forest, yes, we've got that too. The western side of this range can get 50 inches of rain per year, in addition to providing a steady rhythm of fog to nourish and sustain numerous redwood groves that line many places on the western side of the range.
Running north-south on the spine of this range is Highway 35, better known as Skyline Drive, a self-explanatory title. The elevation along Highway 35 barely graces over 3000 feet, but this road is revered by local riders who often boast they know every corner and bump while claiming the fastest rider on the mountain is actually aboard a Kawasaki Ninja 250.
And they’re all hanging out at a biker joint known as Alice’s. Dating to the early 1900s as a general store supporting the local logging industry, this place has been a hub of local activity for over a century. Sometime in the 1950s, a restaurant was established and renamed in the 1960s for the proprietor, Alice Taylor. The same family has owned and operated the restaurant since the 1970s.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse...
Below this biker hangout is the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, built in 1871, this lighthouse is straight out of a New England post card. The original lens comprised of 1008 hand-polished lenses and prisms weighs 2000 lbs. and was originally powered with refined lard oil, better known as pig fat. The pig fat was replaced in 1888 by a kerosene wick. Further innovation came in 1926 with the advent of electricity and a 1000-watt bulb. The lighthouse has been in need of repairs for many years and hopefully one day, the lighthouse tower will be restored much like the Point Arena Lighthouse was a few years back. Pigeon Point is still one of the most picturesque lighthouses on the California Coastline, and you’ll be able to walk right up to the water’s edge.
Our day together focuses on riding as many of these mountain roads as we can fit into the day, Kings Mountain, Tunitas Creek, Pescadero, Alpine, Stage, La Honda, Bean Hollow, Bear Creek, Jamison Creek, Empire Grade, Smith Grade are all local favorites. The roads that are the backyard to many Bay Area riders.
With a stopover in Felton, we even get to explore a covered bridge known as the tallest covered bridge in the United States, this bridge was the only entry point into Felton from 1892 until 1937. Felton is on the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountain Range, but the day isn’t quite over yet as we make our way onto backroads into Watsonville along the Pacific Coast.
In January 2021, a large chunk of Highway 1 Big Sur fell off into the ocean at Rat Creek, 30 miles south of Monterey and 8 miles north of Lucia, during a massive rainstorm known as an atmospheric river. This common phenomenon can drop massive amounts of rainfall in a short amount of time on the California Coast.
Storms along the Pacific Coast in previous years have dropped as much as 14 inches of rain in 36 hours. These narrow bands of moisture in the sky above are more commonly known as the Pineapple Express, as these bands of moisture typically originate in tropical areas. A single atmospheric river coming into the West Coast can carry a greater quantity of water than the Earth’s largest river. The largest river is the Amazon and outflows 20 swimming pools per second at its mouth.
Now picture that water falling on your head, or our beloved Highway 1 Big Sur coastline. Every couple years, that’s exactly what happens, and this time it was all focused on a little ravine known as Rat Creek. Rat Creek is so inconsequential, there wasn’t even a bridge here. So much water came rushing down this ravine, it pushed a substantial chunk of Highway 1 off into the ocean. But don’t worry dear rider, the trusty folks at CalTrans will put Humpty Dumpty back together, although it may take a year or two.
The silver lining though in this story is the location of Rat Creek. North of Lucia. And what do we find at Lucia, class? Yes, you there in the back. Nacimiento Rd is the magic answer, it pushes our ride onto Nacimiento Rd. Now class, California backroads aren’t for everybody. Single lane hairpins with no guardrails and huge drop-offs are alluring to some and white-knuckle experiences to others.
Nacimiento Rd is unlike any other road in California and great fun. Some have gone as far as to call it the best motorcycle road in the state, although that statement creates endless debate. Motorcyclist Magazine (Oct '05) once named Nacimiento Road as one of the Top 10 Motorcycle Roads in the World. The article was written by Werner Watcher, the owner of Edelweiss Bike Tours.
William Randolph Hearst, as in Hearst Castle, built a lodge, the Milpitas Ranch House, on the east side of the range. Said to be a hunting lodge, others say he built it for his mistress. William Randolph Hearst owned a vast majority of the surrounding land along the Coast Range all the way into the 1940s when the Army snatched it up for a tank proving grounds.
The tank base has been deactivated, and the base opened up to the public, but really what they did is simply built a fence around the base buildings and vehicles. However, that provides easy access to Mission San Antonio de Padua, established in 1771. One of numerous California missions established in the late 1700s as monks made their way up the California coastline starting in San Diego and extending north all the way to Sonoma, this mission fell into disrepair for many years and was falling apart when the 1906 earthquake hit, further damaging the building.
Restoration efforts have spanned over 50 plus years, and beginning in 2005, a team of volunteers began restoring the gardens in the interior courtyard of the Mission. Over 8 million dollars has been spent on a state-mandated seismic retro-fit and the mission states 75% of the work has been completed, although they expect to spend another $35 million to restore this historic site.
The mission is made out of adobe, which is mud mixed with straw as a binder. Restoration efforts added steel rebar to the adobe walls to give the structure strength, as this site is over an active earthquake zone. The mission was placed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 2, 1977. Similar restoration efforts took place in nearby San Miguel where an earthquake split the building in half and much has been invested there also to restore the mission to daily use and preserve the history.
All by myself...
Popping out to the ocean south of Lucia allows us to bypass the washout and still ride Highway 1 Big Sur with zero traffic. Rough estimates put numbers at 5 million tourists per year pass through Big Sur. Now imagine if that number dropped to almost no one. Yes, you will get the road all to yourself.
And incidentally, we’ve done this before in 2011 with a slide at Lucia, closing Highway 1 at Lime Kiln State Park near Lucia. We rode Highway 1 and had the entire West Coast to ourselves. It was heavenly and this ride will be too.
Where do I sign up?
Tour: August 4, 2023
Meet: 3052 Woodside Rd, Woodside, CA
Arrive: 7:00 AM, Safety Brief 7:30, Depart 8:00 AM
Cost: $460 per rider, $119 Passenger
This tour includes numerous narrow single lane paved mountain roads. The ride includes steep grades to 20% and negotiating tight hair-pin corners. All roads on this tour are paved.
EXPERIENCED RIDERS ONLY:
This tour is not recommended for beginner riders or Very Large Motorcycles. Riders are expected to have at least several years of enthusiastic experience on their motorcycle riding remote challenging paved mountain backroads along with at least 5000+ miles of concurrent recent experience.
This tour is limited by the amount of rooms at our host lodging. We have booked rooms months in advance and our tours sell out by the end of January. Get on our mailing list to be the first to know about new rides. Tours are planned & announced in the late fall of each year.
Book early to ensure a spot on this new ride. Check with us to see if any available spots are open. Some of our rides may have waiting lists to be able to join the group.