Carquinez Scenic Drive

Distance: 20 miles out and back (14.5 without the climb)
Elevation gain: 2130 ft (1390 without the climb)

This is the only ride in Bestrides that is suitable for non-riding family members and children.  It’s a relatively flat, utterly sweet little back road that’s been converted into something like a multi-use rec trail.  It’s open to cars for a stretch at either end, but the center section of roadway, the George Miller Regional Trail, is closed to cars, so there’s no through traffic and thus almost no traffic at all on most of it.  The road traverses the steep sidehill overlooking the Carquinez Straits, and the vistas of the straits, the sailboats thereupon, and the two bridges to the east and west, the Zampa and the Benicia-Martinez, are guaranteed to make your soul sing.  I’ve added a short spur, a moderately challenging climb up through a very pretty creek canyon, which you can skip if you’re out for a lazy day, and the Adding Miles section shows you how to stretch the ride into a loop that crosses both bridges and takes you through the charming hamlet of Benicia.

The serpent in this Eden is motorcycle traffic.   The Port Costa area, where the ride starts, is motorcycle central, and, while the George Miller Trail keeps them from through-riding the Scenic Drive, it doesn’t keep them from riding the first miles and up McEwen, which they love to do.  The last time I rode McEwen on a weekend, I was passed (on a very small, windy road) by at least 200 motorcycles.  If you can ride on a weekday, do so.

Start from Pomona Ave. in Crockett.  There’s a small Park and Ride just after the freeway exit.  Pomona turns into the Scenic Drive.  If you want a relaxing day, ride to the end of the CSC, in Martinez, and ride back.  There are occasional picnic areas along the route, so you can bring lunch.

Picnic spot along Carquinez Scenic Drive, with Benicia-Martinez Bridge in background

Crockett is not a place most people want to hang out in, but a stone’s throw into the ride you pass the turn-off to Port Costa, a famous little river port turned artistes’ enclave, worth a visit if you want to climb back up the hill.

Immediately after the Port Costa turn-off  you pass McEwen Rd. on your R.  Take it if you want to do a delightful and invigorating (code for “hard”) creekside climb.  At the top of McEwen you can turn L and take perfectly pleasant Franklin Canyon Rd. into Martinez (go L when Franklin Canyon Rd. dead-ends at Alhambra to return on the Scenic Drive), but my route has you descending McEwen and continuing on the Scenic Drive.

Just past McEwen, the Drive changes to the George Miller Regional Path for a stretch.  The roadway is unchanged, but it’s now closed to motor traffic, which makes a sweet ride all the sweeter.  If you’re riding with children, you might like to drive to the closure and ride only the motor-free section.

Martinez, at the turn-around, is a full-size town which also has its charms, as well as John Muir’s house, very near our turn-around point.  Supposedly the martini was invented here.

Bike lane on the Benicia-Martinez Bridge—very comfy

Adding Miles: Given those mighty bridges to the east and west, both sporting lovely separated bike lanes, it’s no surprise that most people who ride the Scenic Drive do it as part of a loop that goes through Martinez, across the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, through the utterly charming, upscale fairy village of Benicia, through the much less charming outskirts of Vallejo, and back across the Al Zampa Bridge, which, in a brilliant stroke of socialist fervor, is named after, not some cigar-chomping fat cat with a bankroll, but an actual guy, an iron worker who lent his sweat to the building of several Bay Area bridges.   There’s a moving plaque detailing his accomplishments at one end of the bridge.  Neither bridge crossing is in any way threatening, either from traffic or acrophobia.  Through Benicia, hug the water line.  Through Vallejo, there is no way to do this—read a good map and lay out a route ahead of time.

Local color along the Benicia shore (tide’s out)

From Martinez you can easily ride south via good, small roads to the network of roads around Briones Park—Alhambra Valley Rd., Reliez Valley Rd., Bear Valley Rd.—all worth riding, and continue on until you connect with the southern sections of the Grizzly Peak Boulevard Etc. ride.


San Pablo Bay, with Mt. Tam in the distant skyline, from the Zampa Bridge

2 thoughts on “Carquinez Scenic Drive

  1. Nancy Lund

    We locals never advise riding McEwen as it is a technical ascent and decent and can be treacherous if motorcycles OR cars are coming either way, as you discovered. I have stories about that road that aren’t pretty.

    Visiting Port Costa means good coffee at the hotel or a beer at the warehouse across the street. The Bull Valley Inn is listed by Michael Bauer in his yearly write up as one of the best 100 restaurants in the Bay Area.

  2. David

    Rode Carquinez Scenic Drive lunchtime weekday – minimal traffic, including on McEwan. Without traffic, McEwan is a nice, short climb and descent. Somewhat narrow from the Drive to the crest, so I can understand the concern. I would not call McEwan challenging or technical (without traffic) for folks with solid cycling experience (much less so than most of the other climb/descents among the bay area best rides). However, it is both steep and probably a little harrowing for non-riders, and in particular kids, unless they happen to be mountain goats.

    The Drive itself is a nice discovery, but I wouldn’t go out of my way just for this ride.


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