Distance: 11.6-mile lollipop Elevation gain: 980 ft
Until now Bestrides had no rides on the east side of the Skyline Blvd. ridge, so this is my attempt to fix that. This sweet little loop is easy and short. It includes a very sweet little dirt back route that only locals know—the “dirty” part of Dirty Moody. (A word of warning: RidewithGPS considers the dirt a “path” and as such won’t let me map it, though you can see it on the map clearly enough, so the map below just stays on Moody.)
The basic loop here is only 5 mi. long, and, while half of it is a climb, there isn’t a foot of it that’s work, so you’ll either want to start somewhere else to get some more miles or do the loop 3 times, which isn’t as stupid an idea as it sounds.
(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)
I begin at Shoup Park in Los Altos, for 3 reasons: it has a parking lot that’s a nice place to park (I was told it was OK to do so), it lets you ride pretty University Ave, and it leaves you only a couple of blocks from charming Main Street Los Altos and Satura Cakes, a great bakery, for post-ride refueling. If the parking lots at Shoup are full, there is plenty of curbside parking along University Ave. It adds 6 miles to the ride.
Ride University to S. El Monte Ave. University itself is a tranquil, leafy, upscale neighbor-hood street, very pretty. S. El Monte is almost a highway, big, open, and busy, but there’s a nice shoulder all the way and you aren’t going far. When SEM passes the unmissable Foothill-De Anza Community College football field on the R, the intersection is confusing because the main road seems to swing around the field, and the lone street sign telling you that SEM continues straight (on the island in the center of the intersection) is hard to see. You can go straight on SEM and take Moody St. when it soon goes off to the L., or, if you prefer bike paths or dislike the SEM traffic, at the intersection if you look at 1:30 (ahead and to your R) diagonally across the intersection you’ll see a little bike path which, if you take it, will parallel SEM for a short while and deposit you back on our route.
Moody Rd. itself is a very pleasant climb, so you could certainly stay on it until it deadends at Page Mill Rd., but eventually you’d be looking at a startling stretch of climbing that peaks at 16%, and there’s a easier and prettier alternative. Go R onto Moody Court. The signs tell you it’s private and not a through street, but you’re welcome to ride it and it’s closed only to cars. Soon you meet a cable across the road and you’re on dirt for perhaps a mile (which RidewithGPS shows as a trail). I am no fan of dirt, but this is dirt any road bike can ride in comfort, perfectly smooth hardpack at a mild uphill pitch that poses no traction problems. So you won’t actually get “dirty” despite the name (though, as with all dirt, I wouldn’t attempt it in wet conditions). It’s wild and wooded in there, quite the surprise after the multi-million-dollar manicured manses you’ve been riding past.
There is no signage, but just stay on the main route and ignore all obvious driveways. Soon you hit another cable, the dirt ends, and you’re on Central Drive. Central deadends at Page Mill Rd. Take a break from pedaling and check out Foothill Park on PMR—it’s a charmer.
It’s a stone’s throw down PMR to Altamont Rd, which offers views of some homes remarkably lavish even for this neighborhood, and one short but super-sweet, fast descending leg—you’re there when you see the “bicyclists—caution” sign. As if.
When Altamont ends at Moody, return to your car. Don’t just pack up and leave. Main Street Los Altos is 100 yards away, and it’s an urban fantasy on the order of Disneyland’s Main Street USA. Why aren’t all main streets as pretty as this? Oh, right, they don’t have infinite amounts of money. Anyway, it’s delightful if you can forget the 1% issues, with lots of places to eat with outdoor seating and the killer bakery I promised, Satura Cakes. Yelp, which rates the expensiveness of eateries, gives Satura 4 out of 4 $’s, which must be a first for a bakery, but that’s just for the $90 cakes—the almond croissants are a perfectly reasonable $4.50.
Shortening the ride: You’re kidding, right?
Adding miles: Depends on your standards. Local cyclists ride the surrounding roads (Page Mill Road, for instance) all the time and think they’re swell. I prefer the riding on the west side of the ridge, so I encourage you to ride towards the sea and do the Bestrides rides there. For instance, if you continue up Page Mill Rd., when it intersects Skyline Blvd. you’re on our magnificent Pescadero/Tunitas Creek Road ride.
Distance: 18-mile out and back Elevation gain: 2680 ft
East Dunne Avenue is the road to Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill. It’s the southernmost of a series of climbs into the East Bay hills (although it’s actually well south of the Bay), and it’s a lot like its brethren—Mt. Diablo, Mt. Hamilton, Sierra Road, and Metcalf Rd. The landscape is pretty much the same for all five—oak- and grass-covered hill—and all have similar grand panoramic views of the flatland to the west (in this case, the Santa Clara Valley). All five rides are steady climbs on good road surfaces. So how do they compare?
Hamilton, upper Diablo, and Dunne are the twistiest, so if you like carving corners start with them.
Metcalf and Sierra are the steepest, both absolute brutes (but short); then comes Dunne, then Diablo, then Hamilton. On paper the numbers don’t look all that different, but it’s the difference between moderate climbing on Hamilton (6-7%) and work on Dunne (8-9%). Dunne is exactly half the length of Hamilton, but I find it to be the tougher climb.
Because Dunne is the steepest climb among the big three, it’s the worst descent, because it’s too steep to stay off your brakes and rip. Maybe if you have disc brakes it’s another matter.
Diablo and Hamilton have better road surfaces. Diablo is a State Park, so its road surface is always pristine. Hamilton just got repaved (in 2021), so it’s pristine right now. Dunne is intact (no potholes, no patches), but the surface is chipseal (albeit a smooth version of chipseal), so there is some chatter descending. I give the surface a solid B+ rating and no more.
Dunne probably has the least amount of traffic. On a Tuesday late morning in July I saw perhaps 5 cars. This is probably because, unlike Hamilton and Diablo, there is no tourist attraction at the top—no world-famous vistas, no observatory. Just hiking trailheads, a small visitor center, and a few historic ranch buildings.
If you think that sounds like East Dunne isn’t as splendid as Diablo or Hamilton, you’re right. Still, it’s a good ride.
(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)
Our route begins around the intersection of E. Dunne and Jackson Oaks Drive. Looking at the map you’d think that the trip from Hwy 101 to that intersection would be flat, but the intersection actually sits on a little ridge, and there’s significant unrewarding climbing to get there, so I don’t recommend beginning the ride any further west unless you just need more climbing.
You’ll come pumped for the big climb, so you’ll be surprised when the ride begins with a sweet, brisk descent down to (as of 2022) nearly-dry Anderson Reservoir. Cross the large bridge over the dry lakebed (note the hilarious sign saying that diving from the bridge—into the dirt—is discouraged) and do 1.5 mi. of easy rolling along the lake front. When the road turns away from the reservoir, there is no more flat—it’s almost all up, with two noticeable short descents, to the park. The serious climbing is only 6.3 miles, but you’ll feel it.
After that 6.3 miles there’s a mile or so of easy up and down to the historic Coe Ranch, which is the end of the paved road. There’s not much to the ranch. The last 1/10 mile is noticeably down, so if you’re drained you might want to skip it. The Visitor Center was closed when I was there (on a Tuesday), but the drinking fountain was working and there’s a shady picnic table.
The return ride includes two noticeable climbs, one 0.4 mi. and the other, at the end of the ride, 1 mi. Both are shallow enough to be rolled in almost any state of exhaustion.
Shortening the route: You could ride partway up the climb and turn around, but I don’t see the point. The raison for doing the ride is to do it all. You can skip the last 1-mile climb by driving to the bridge and starting there.
Adding miles: The Canada Road Plus ride is a short car trip to the south. From our start/finish point you’re 7 easy miles from the Uvas Road loop, described in the Adding Miles section of the Canada Road Plus post, and you’re 5 easy miles from the southern trailhead to the Coyote Creek Trail, at the intersection of Eagle View Dr. and Morning Star Dr. While I am generally cool towards rec trails on road bikes, this trail, which runs from Morgan Hill to San Jose, is pretty perfect: totally effortless, it gently meanders up and down and back and forth through surprisingly pretty country, with lots of woods, next to no stop signs or road crossings, no back sides of industrial complexes or junk yards. It’s not a place for pace lining or time trialing (there’s a 15-mph speed limit), and that’s just fine—leave your heart rate monitor and computer at home and stroll it. The only drawback is foot traffic—I rode it on a Wednesday morning in July, and the trail was largely deserted but the occasional clutch of walkers put a slight dent in my wa. Weekends I assume would be much worse. You’d think the trail would get wilder and prettier the further out of town you get, but not so—my favorite leg is the 3-4 miles south from Hellyer Park, smack in the middle of San Jose.
This little loop is, pound for pound, one of the most rewarding rides you’ll find anywhere. Its riches just keep coming: a lovely 4-mile climb on a small, winding road with almost no traffic, views of the 8-lane freeway far below you, the remnants of a historic tunnel through the mountain, several examples of “space-age” architecture, astonishing views of the entire central Bay (Oakland, San Francisco, Alameda, The Golden Gate, Alcatraz, Mt. Tamalpais, Angel Island, and so on), a breath-taking descent on glassy new pavement, and a world-class bakery at the finale.
There is a climbing pitch that is right between easy and hard. You know you’re climbing, you’re doing some work, but you aren’t suffering. You’re thinking, “Hey, climbing is fun!” and “I’m really climbing well today!” It’s about 4-5%. That’s what the Tunnel Road climb is like. Nothing to brag about but tons of fun.
This is a ride you don’t want to ride backwards (clockwise), because doing so replaces the great descent with a lousy one and replaces the moderate climb with a lot of 10-12% stuff.
The loop overlaps our Grizzly Peak Blvd/Redwood Rd. ride for 4.5 miles, so it’s an easy add-on to that ride.
(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)
We start and end our loop, as all good loops should do, in front of a killer bakery: Fournée on Domingo Ave., a tiny block in the shadow of the unmistakable Claremont Hotel. Before or after the ride, sample the almond croissant and die of pleasure.
From Fournée, ride the remaining 60 ft of Domingo Ave. and at the intersection turn L onto Tunnel Rd. (busy but with a very luxurious bike lane). You will now climb for 5.4 miles without pause. At the first big intersection, go L onto Tunnel Road. This turn is hectic and confusing, with multi-lane traffic going every which way, so it’s best to look at a map ahead of time. Ride Tunnel for a stone’s throw and take the first L onto the tiny (30 ft.) connector by which Tunnel jogs L, then R (the road you are leaving is here renamed Caldecott Lane). Stay on Tunnel through the L and R turns.
Continue up Tunnel Rd. (which changes its name to Skyline Blvd halfway up) for 4 miles until it intersects Grizzly Peak Blvd. It’s a mellow, meandering, delightful climb, and the only car traffic you should see is a few locals. Hwy 24, the main connector between Berkeley and Orinda in the valley to the east, is running alongside and below you, and you get some good views of it and the Caldecott Tunnel ahead of you where the 8 lanes of Hwy 24 disappear into 2 huge black holes.
Halfway up the climb, Bay Forest Dr. takes off to the L (clearly signed), the road bends R and changes its name to Skyline (I think there’s a sign), and there’s a prominent tree on your L that almost seems to stand in the roadway. Beneath the tree are two historical plaques and there’s a large dirt pull-out behind it. Stop here and read the plaques. You’re standing at the mouth of the Kennedy Tunnel—you can see a dug-out spot in the hillside right beside you where the tunnel adit was. The tunnel opened in 1903 and was rendered obsolete by the modern Caldecott Tunnel. It’s why the road you’re on is called Tunnel Road. The modern-day tunnel is directly beneath your feet. Try to feel the thousands of cars passing below you (you can’t).
Skyline, which is a percent steeper than Tunnel, returns you to Grizzly Peak Blvd. There are some nearly-comical examples of “modern” home architecture along Skyline, houses that look like a James Bond villain might live there. There are several splendid views of the Bay off to your R, and you have my permission to admire them, but the views from GPB are better so save some awe.
From the Skyline/GPB intersection the ride duplicates the route of our Grizzly Peak Blvd to Redwood Rd. ride. Go L on GPB, which continues to climb at an easy rate for a while, then rolls. The Bay views along this leg are world-famous—I don’t know any views anywhere to top them.
The first noticeable L is Claremont Ave. It’s a stop sign at a usually busy intersection at the bottom of the first brisk descent of the route. You’ll probably need to come to a complete stop. Take Claremont to the L and enjoy a ripping, screaming, curving descent on perfect surface (for its first half anyway) that’s often dishing out 10-12% pitches. You have to back off a little on the second half, since the surface deteriorates, the sightlines get worse, intersecting streets proliferate, and the car and foot traffic increases, but it’s all exhilarating. Roll along the back side of the Claremont Hotel and return to Domingo St., Fournée, and your well-earned almond croissant.
Shortening the route: You really can’t. Neither Tunnel Road nor Claremont Ave. is a viable out-and-back.
Adding miles: Since you’re overlapping the Grizzly Peak Blvd./Redwood Road ride for 4.5 miles, you can do the rest of that ride. See the Adding Miles section of that ride post for other riding options nearby.
Distance: 35-mile loop plus three spurs Elevation gain: 2270 ft
There are two Cañada Roads in the Greater Bay Area, one in Redwood City and one in Gilroy. The one in Redwood City is essentially a multi-use recreational freeway—meh. Ours is a super-pleasant jaunt through the rolling hills to the east of Gilroy. It’s just west of Henry Coe State Park, and one of its spurs takes you a few miles into the park. It’s a leg of the Terra Bella Century, which encircles Gilroy, though the TBC rides it in the other direction.
It’s not a life-changing ride, and there are no natural wonders or heart-pounding thrills, but it’s an outstanding ride nonetheless—35 miles of mellow, pretty, solitary riding on good road surface. You will work only once, on a four-mile climb of moderate pitch near the beginning of the ride. The rest is basically flat (check out that unthreatening elevation total), with enough constant gentle rolling up and down to keep your interest.
The loop offers up four different ecosystems. The first is the first half of the climb, through a thicket of trees in a small, narrow creek canyon. The second is the second half of the climb, through the same classic grass-covered bald hills you see throughout the East Bay. The third is dense forest canopy as you skirt the edge of small meadows. The fourth is riparian woods along Coyote Creek. All four are very pretty. The decor is classic California foothill: oaks, dales, sycamores, and creeks that go dry later in the year. Much of the foliage is evergreen, so the ride feels pretty lush even in December, though ideal season is late spring/early summer.
The loop has the distinction of having three eminently ridable dead-end spur roads taking off from it: Jamieson Road, Gilroy Hot Springs Road, and Coyote Lake Road. They’re all much like the loop itself: mellow, essentially flat, fun, and pretty.
There isn’t a whole lot of humanity along the bulk of this route—only the occasional house, dairy, or hardscrabble farm. From the beginning of Cañada Road to Gilroy Hot Springs Road I’ve seen perhaps 3 cars, even on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May.
I’ve only done the ride counter-clockwise, but the ride should work equally well in either direction. Clockwise, my guess is the climbing would be shorter (so maybe steeper) and the 4-mile pitch on the south side would make for a longer, somewhat more exhilarating descent than you get going my way.
Start at the intersection of Leavesley Rd. and Dryen Ave. You can start anywhere on the course, but starting here gives you a easy 20-min. warm-up before you hit the Cañada Road hill. Ride east on Leavesley and almost immediately take the first L (actually straight ahead when Leavesley turns R) onto Crews Rd. (there is a sign but it’s hard to see). Follow Crews to its dead-end at Ferguson Rd and take Ferguson (boring) briefly to its dead-end at Pacheco Pass Hwy. Take your life in your hands and go L onto very busy PPH (there’s a traffic light with an arrow for your turn) for a blessedly brief stint, then turn L onto Cañada Road (clearly signed). This turn across the near-constant traffic is brutal. I simply pulled off the road and settled in for the long wait until there was a substantial gap.
Cañada (which means many different things in Spanish: ravine, glen, arroyo, animal track, but not canyon) is flat, straight, and built-up on one side for the first half-mile, but then it transforms into a small, winding 4-mile climb up through a pretty wooded canyon beside a small, usually-dry creek, then through grassy hills. At the top, the work of the ride is done. At the top of the climb you meet the first dead-end spur, Jamieson Road.
Jamieson runs through the heart of a small, pretty ranching valley for a couple of miles, then turns to dirt. It’s flatter, straighter, and more open than the rest of the route, but peaceful and pretty. Ride to the dirt and turn around.
Back on Cañada Road, ride to the intersection of Cañada and Gilroy Hot Springs Rd. This leg is to me the star of the route. It rolls gently up and down through the trees along the lip of several small meadows populated with the occasional low-rent cattle ranch. Turn R on GHSR and ride 3 miles along the shore of Coyote Creek. Coyote Creek, which is a major stream after rains, dries up every summer, so that’s an argument for doing the ride early in the year—by mid-May it was already a trickle. GHSR is a main route into Henry Coe State Park, so there’s a bit more traffic here, but almost all the traffic is going to a large trailhead staging area a stone’s throw into the park (Hunting Hollow), so you should have the road to yourself after that.
Gilroy Hot Springs Rd. obviously goes to Gilroy Hot Springs, an old resort which has an interesting history but has been closed for many years. Check out the history on google. A group of
preservationists have been trying to restore and reopen the springs—apparently access is now (12/21) limited to one docent-led tour (no bathing) a month. So at the end of the 3 miles you cross a large wooden bridge over the creek and meet an intimidating barb-wired gate that emphatically orders you to turn around. I’m all for riding on gated-off roads, but this one is a serious no-no. Obey the sign and turn around.
Ride back on GHSR and continue on it past the Cañada Rd. turn-off, to the turn-off to Coyote Lake Rd. on the R (unmissable). Coyote Lake is a pretty but fully-developed reservoir, so the road is a constant series of campsites, boat launches, and such. I had the place to myself in December, but it might be a madhouse in July—be warned. It’s another sweet, gently rolling, pretty road, but it’s certainly the spur I would skip first if I was trying to reduce my mileage. The road goes to the far end of the lake and turns to dirt. Ride to the dirt and turn around.
Return to Gilroy Hot Springs Rd and take it to the R—at this point GHSR changes its name to Roop Rd. (clearly signed at the intersection). You could stay on Roop until it dead-ends at the delightfully named New Ave., then ride south on New to Ferguson and east on Leavesley if you wanted to, but there’s much better option: when Roop goes hard R, go straight onto Leavesley Rd.
Leavesley is not to be missed, a twisty descent, often through dramatic oak canopies—the only real whee on the loop. I liked it so much I turned around, climbed it, and descended it again. It bottoms out right where you left your car.
Shortening the ride: Skip the three spurs—this leaves you with 17 miles of loop. If you’re thinking of skipping one or two of them, the best is Gilroy Hot Springs Road, then Jamieson, then Coyote Lake Road.
On the other side of Hwy 101, beginning to the west of Gilroy, is a lot of small rolling hills, and the roads through them, while never being spectacular, are solidly pleasant—perfect for recovery days: Day Rd., Watsonville Rd., Uvas Rd., Oak Glen Rd., McKean Rd., Sycamore Ave./Dr., and Redwood Retreat Rd., most of whom are part of the Terra Bella Century route. Scenery ranges from woody canopy to McMansion estates to open, grassy oak-dotted hills. Elevation profile is consistently flat or mild. My least favorite road among these is McKean (straight, open, barren). My favorite is Uvas (“grapes” in Spanish, but I saw nary a grapevine except for one winery at the south end), my next favorite Oak Glen. You can make a nice 25-mile lollipop by starting at the intersection of Uvas and Bailey and riding around the two reservoirs, Chesbro and Uvas. This route would be good enough for a Bestrides post if it were elsewhere, but not here, where you’re close to a lot of better riding. Don’t expect much from the reservoirs—they’re large homely puddles.
Five miles north of the E. Dunne ride is the southern terminus of the Coyote Creek Trail, a multi-use rec trail that’s much better than you think it is. It’s described in detail in the Adding Miles section of the E. Dunne ride.
(Note: as of 10/22/23 Wildcat Canyon Road is still under construction and is closed to cars, but not bicycles, at Inspiration Point.)
In this route I’ve strung together four of my favorite little East Bay roads. The stellar bits are connected by some residential riding that’s surprisingly pleasant and one 4-mile grind of a climb, for which I apologize up front. It all begins with Wildcat Canyon Road, the hoariest of chestnuts for Berkeley riders, the ride you do once or twice a week when nothing bigger is afoot. You’ll see a lot of e-bikes and townies in the first couple of miles, because it’s easy, but there’s plenty of work further along in the route.
Distance: 20.5-mile lollipop Elevation gain: 1490 ft
This is another SF Bay shoreline ride with great views of the Bay and its attractions. It’s a bit more strenuous than the Golden Gate Bridge loop and less strenuous than the Conzelman Loop (note that mild elevation total), and less dramatic than either. It’s a fairly quiet, rolling ride through pretty woods and occasional $10-million homes to three uniquely charming Bay locales: Tiburon, Belvedere Island, and Belvedere Lagoon. As with all Bay Area shoreline riding, this ride isn’t about the work—instead, ignore your heart rate monitor, slow down, and take in the many delights that surround you. The ride profile is perfect for a recovery day: constant serpentining, back and forth, gently up and down. The road surface is borderline problematic but never bad enough to disturb your wa.
Now I will say something I say nowhere else in Bestrides: you might plan to do this ride when it’s busiest. Paradise Drive is Cycling Central on weekends—on my last Sunday there I saw perhaps 200 bicycles—and, while I’ve done it in solitude and loved it, there’s a kind of Woodstock (SXSW?) atmosphere on the weekend that’s exhilarating.
(Ignore the jagged elevation profile—the actual profile is mellow.)
Find a place to park around the west end of Paradise Drive. This area is fully built-up, with churches, schools, parks, and neighborhoods, so there are lots of options. I recommend the Nugget Market parking lot, just east of Harbor Dr. Ride east on Paradise Drive. In the beginning, it’s a multi-lane without appeal, but soon the build-up ends, the road goes to small 2-lane, and you’re into woods. You’re riding along the hilly shoreline of the Tiburon Peninsula, so views of north SF Bay, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, San Quentin, and the like are frequent through the trees and in the infrequent breaks in the foliage. There is the occasional house, but you’re on a sidehill so they’re largely above or below your line of vision, and anyway they’re typically much too rich and snooty to let you see them. A realtor’s billboard advertises $7-million houses (or are they bare lots?—hard to say).
The road rolls sweetly and never makes you work. Soon you hit a Y and Trestle Glen Blvd. splits off to the R. You don’t want it, unless you’re determined to ride a loop, in which case when you leave Tiburon on the ride home you can take Tiburon Ave. and use Trestle Glen to get back to Paradise. The far better ride is to ride Paradise Drive out and back, as I’ve mapped it.
Paradise Drive drops down into Tiburon, one of those Bay villages you never want to leave. You debouch at Shoreline Park, a grass strip with benches right on the water where the views of Angel Island, Raccoon Straits, the main Bay, San Francisco, and the Bridge are peerless and the people-watching is prime. Sailboats invariably are busy in the Straits, and usually there are dingy regattas underway in front of the Corinthian Yacht Club on your R. (“Corinthian” in sailors’ jargon means “amateur” or “in the true amateur spirit”—apparently the people of Corinth were great sportsmen.)
Golden Gate Bridge and the Presidio in the distance, from Shoreline Park in Tiburon
The tiny village of Tiburon consists of one small block but, as Spenser Tracy put it, “Every bit is cherce”—several good restaurants (which during the pandemic are serving at open-air tables on closed-off Main Street), an Italian bakery, small, tasteful shops, and two ferry terminals (to Angel Island, SF, and Sausalito). If you want to do the true Tiburon experience, eat at Sam’s, a restaurant famous for having its own boat dock.
At the end of one-block Main Street turn R (still on Main Street, in fact), immediately stay R at the Y to stay off Eastview St., and pass the quaint little shops of Historic (or Historical, as one sign puts it) Ark Row lining the street on your R side. It’s the kind of place where the buildings have plaques on them detailing their past lives. If you’re in the mood for food, I recommend Lola’s taqueria—get the free avocado salsa. Main turns into Beach St—stay on it and you’re swept onto Belvedere Island.
Typical bungalow on Belvedere Island
I love this place. This small, hilly rock is crammed with small streets and absurdly expensive, very old houses—perhaps the classiest place to live in the Bay Area if you’re a fan of Old Money. Or expensive cars—in Belvedere the cheapest car you’ll ever see is a Lexus. I passed a house with three cars in the carport: a Bentley, a Porsche, and a Tesla. The marina below you as you start making your way around the island is the San Francisco Yacht Club, whose name is the basis for a local trick trivia question: “In what town is the SF Yacht Club?” (The correct town address is “Belvedere Tiburon.”)
Because the slopes of Belvedere are very steep, the houses and gardens tend to be vertical, and they make for an architectural and horticultural fairyland. You can follow the shoreline, but if you’re craving more expansive vistas (or some serious climbing), explore the inland streets, where you can find 14% pitches. Golden Gate Ave.>Belvedere Ave. is the main bisector of the island, but since it’s the thoroughfare the house and garden viewing along it is poor—much better gawking along the smaller streets. I like Bella Vista Ave., but you have lots of options—just wander, and keep looking up (unusual posture for a cyclist). The views of the surrounding geography are stunning—to the northeast Belvedere Cove, Tiburon, Raccoon Straits, Angel Island; to the northwest Belvedere Lagoon; to the south Richardson Bay, Sausalito, the central bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Sometimes it helps to sneak into someone’s parking lot for the best views.
View from Belvedere of the SF Yacht Club, Belvedere Lagoon (L), and a bit of Tiburon (R)
As you leave Belvedere Island, with San Rafael Blvd. on your R, you’re passing what is to me a magical place: Belvedere Lagoon. This artificial archipelago of charming cottages each with its own dock has ever since my childhood seemed like the most idyllic place on earth to live. Our route essentially circumnavigates it. Take a moment to explore it via its side roads. You can’t see the best part—the backyard docks—but each of the bungalows is unique, tasteful, and lovingly kept up.
As you near large, busy Tiburon Ave. (in the neighborhood of Hilaria, though I see nothing funny about the place), turn R onto small Lagoon Rd., which parallels it, to avoid the traffic (hard to see). Lagoon Rd. returns you to downtown Tiburon. From there return to your car the way you came. Again, if you’re dead set against out-and-backs, from Tiburon you can take Tiburon Ave to Trestle Glen and go R on Trestle Glen to get back to Paradise, but you’ll miss out on a great return ride. It’s mostly slightly downhill, so it’s a faster, more up-tempo ride that the ride out.
Shortening the route: This ride is easy enough that you probably won’t want to shorten it, but if you do, ride to Tiburon and return.
This ride is a spur off the Golden Gate Bridge Loop ride, and as such it can be added on to that ride or ridden as an alternative to the GGBL’s post-Bridge second half. It adds considerably to the work load, since the GGBL ride is essentially flat and this ride is almost never flat, but it jacks up the drama and scenic power of the ride by a factor of about 10, because, even though the scenery from Sausalito to Tiburon is just fine, the vistas on this loop are simply staggering…if you can see them. The Marin Headlands are often wrapped in fog, especially in the summer (see final photo). In fog this ride has its magic, but I’d try to wait for a clear day.
The riches packed into these 12 miles beggar the imagination: spectacular views looking down on the Golden Gate Bridge below you and SF Bay in the distance, glimpses of inaccessible beaches along the north shore of the Golden Gate, a lighthouse, a charming little museum, World-War II gun batteries, a battleship’s 16-inch gun, a lovely cove with a beach and surfers, a lagoon, a Cold-War missile base you can tour, and a ripping 18% descent you don’t have to climb back up. Don’t just ride it—explore, drink it in, wander. Every foot of paved road is worth riding, and there’s history and natural beauty at every turn. Conzelman Road itself is named after Lt. Col. Clair Conzelman, a decorated soldier who was captured by the Japanese in World War II and died in captivity.
If you’re riding across the Bridge, you’ll have to work your way to the west side of Hwy 101. Ride out the north end of the parking lot, ride the shoulder of Alexander briefly until there’s an obvious intersection, then carefully cross Alexander and ride through the little tunnel to Conzelman. If you’re driving, take the Alexander exit and go south on Alexander briefly to Conzelman, then turn into the parking lot at the base of Conzelman overlooking the Bridge.
Your warm-up ride
Conzelman is instantly and seriously steep, so I ride the Bridge sidewalk to warm up. Depending on the day and hour, you may have to ride over to the east side to do this, but that’s easy to do. Once on Conzelman, the pitch is at its worst in the beginning and gets easier. The road is one-lane one-way for cars so you have tons of room.
Ride up Conzelman to the roundabout and continue on Conzelman uphill. Soak up the views of the Bridge below you and the City across the Gate, and keep an eye out for glimpses of hidden beaches snug along the shoreline west of the Bridge.
At the top of the climb there is a sign reading “18% descent.” I question that figure, but it’s steep, and the view of the road curling below you to Point Bonita and the Point Bonita Lighthouse is matchless. Take your photos before you get up a head of steam, because it’s hard to stop mid-plummet. There’s a nice run-out at the bottom which lets you carry some serious speed. As the road levels out, you pass several World War II gun batteries. The guns are gone, but you’re welcome to explore them and contemplate a time when San Francisco expected enemy fleets to sail into the Bay.
Partway up Conzelman and masked for Covid, with SF, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge in the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge closer, and Mt. Diablo on the horizon to the far L
Ride to the end of Conzel- man. You can’t ride to the lighthouse, so you might want to bring a lock and shoes so you can walk there. At the western terminus the road does a U and becomes Field Rd.
Find the Nike missile base, a relic of the Cold War. You’re allowed to poke around on Saturdays, and once a month there’s a docent tour where they actually elevate a missile on its launch pad.
Ride Field Rd. to Bunker Rd., stopping at the museum—it’s a nice one. Go L on Bunker.
Now find the loop to Battery Townsley. It’s to the north of Rodeo Lagoon, and it’s inexplicably left off a lot of maps or represented as a hiking trail, but it’s old pavement and perfectly rideable. It’s unmarked on our map at the extreme NW point of the route. Stop at the summit to muse on Battery Townsley, where they have on display a 16-inch gun from the Battleship Missouri in lieu of the battery’s own guns of a similar size. Its dimensions are mind-boggling, as is the fact that it fired a projectile weighing over a ton. There are docent tours once a month.
The Conzelman descent (center of photo), with Point Bonita on L–the lighthouse is on the tip of the point
Before leaving, savor the incomparable view of Rodeo Beach and Point Bonita below you. Continue on to the beach. Watch the surfers and the pelicans.
Continue on Bunker Rd. At the intersection of Bunker and McCullough you will have to choose between two return routes. If you continue on Bunker, the return ride is a very gentle climb that goes through a fairly dreary tunnel and returns to Alexander—go R on Alexander to return to your car or the Bridge. If you want more work and more fun, turn R on McCullough and you’ll have a nice, moderate climb back to the roundabout of Conzelman, whence you get a very nice descent back to your car.
Rodeo Beach and Rodeo Lagoon from Battery Townsley, with the Golden Gate and SF behind
Shortening the route: You can save one substantial climb by driving to the roundabout on Conzelman and starting there. You could skip almost all the climbing by driving to the lagoon area and riding around on the flats, but you’d miss a lot.
Adding miles: Do the Golden Gate Bridge Loop. For more excellent options, see the Adding Miles section of that ride.
Distance: 9 miles out and back Elevation gain: 1390 ft
At last count there were 2,347 roads on the West Coast named Mill Creek Road. Bestrides has three: the Mill Creek Road by Lassen National Park, the Wine Country one in the Adding Miles section of the Pine Flat Road ride, and this one. All three are super-sweet little rides.
This Mill Creek Road is out of Fremont, CA. It was a gift to me from Friend of Bestrides Nabeel, in gratitude for the rides Bestrides had shown him. Isn’t that lovely? It’s one of the shortest rides in Bestrides, but mile for mile it’s as good as any—4 miles of meandering, recently re-paved (though still lumpy) one-lane gorgeousness that wanders through riparian oaks along a little creek you can’t see and alongside typical East Bay rolling hills of grass. The profile is one of constant variety, always turning, climbing, dropping—rarely can you see more than 1/10 of a mile ahead of you.
The only downside besides its skimpy length and lumpy surface is that it doesn’t link up easily with any other ride by bike besides Morrison Canyon, and Morrison Canyon is a worth-doing-once ride. So if you want a longer day of it, drive to MCR, then drive to another nearby ride (Calaveras Road, for example). Or be prepared to ride some distance on surface streets (see Adding Miles). Or ride MCR twice, which isn’t as silly as it sounds.
MCR looks a lot like two beautiful rides nearby that I like a lot: it’s like the north side of Morgan Territory Road, but narrower and with smoother pavement (which are both good things); and it’s like Welch Creek Road but not nearly as steep (which is a good thing). Still, it’s an authentic climb—1400 ft in 4.5 miles, which averages out around 7%, but it’s harder than that sounds because it’s typically 8-10% for a while, then 3%, then 8-10%, in stair steps.
The landscape is mostly undeveloped—a couple of working farms and 4-5 gated mansions mostly hidden from view—and you’ll spend most of the ride in a beautiful oak canopy. The road ends at a locked gate, so expect to see no more than a car or two, but it’s a popular walking route for locals, so expect to share the road with lots of strollers later in the day on weekends.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
I’ve mapped the ride from the base of the climb, but unless you live in the area you’ll probably start from the Fremont BART station. From the station to MCR is 4 miles of flat or slight incline through typical, not-unpleasant urban residential with good bike lanes—a perfect warm-up.
Mill Creek Road itself starts climbing immediately. The road is narrow enough that there are paved turn-outs to facilitate cars passing each other, and it’s never straight. It rolls up and down for a while before settling in to an extended climb, but still there’s a lot of variety in the pitch so you never get bored.
You pass a vineyard that catches you by surprise and immediately deadend at a gate, beyond which the road is unpaved. Whether you can continue on a gravel bike is uncertain—one sign reads “Entering regional park, no hunting or shooting,” which certainly implies you may proceed, but another sign reads “No public access.” You make the call. It appears to be the Mission Peak Regional Preserve, if that helps, and the second half of Mill Creek Road is its northern border.
The descent is a mixed bag. The top half (the section above the one hard 90-degree turn—easily seen on the route map) is much steeper than the bottom half, and rougher (not broken pavement, but lumpy), so it’s mostly braking and teeth-rattling. Below the hard turn, things are much better—the pitch is shallow enough that you can really rip it, the turns don’t require much braking, and the road surface, while still far from smooth, can be endured. In many places it’s literally breath-taking—I think it’s possible to get airborne in a place or two—and would be a best-of-Bestrides descent if they paved it properly. It’s a descent that’s much better the second time, because the first time you have to be cautious. So if there was ever a time when you did a ride twice, this is that time. Once you know the road, you can carry a lot of speed safely. You can top 30 mph without pressing at all, and that’s a lot on a curvy one-laner.
There is no mill on this ride. Or on the other two Mill Creek Road rides in Bestrides.
I’ve received a couple of emails saying that this ride is unsafe for bikes, that riders have been killed, that it’s full of deadly snakes, that it’s been ruined by wildfires, and so on. As far as I can tell, it’s all lies (told by locals trying to discourage cyclists, I’m assuming), so I haven’t posted them.
Shortening the route: You’d think you’d have to be nuts to want to shorten a 4.5-mile route, but it turns out there’s some wisdom in doing exactly that. Since the road above the hard 90-degree turn is steeper and rougher that the road below it, coming down that top section isn’t much fun, so you might consider turning around at the turn and just riding the good stuff. An added bennie: you can now ride the good stuff twice.
Adding Miles: As I said, there’s really only one ride easily reachable by bike from MCR, Morrison Canyon Rd., which is short and a bit of a novelty. There’s wonderful riding to the south of you, if you’re willing to ride some miles on surface streets: (from north to south) Felter, Sierra (both discussed in the Sierra Road ride), and Mt. Hamilton, the last being 17 miles south of MCR.
This ride is one of the best rides in California and a Bucket List ride if there ever was one. Like the Golden Gate Loop, it’s more a cultural experience than a bicycle ride. It takes you on a non-stop Greatest Hits tour of most of San Francisco’s iconic landmarks—a rolling introduction to almost every spot on a visitor’s to-do list. You’ll experience about ten of the City’s most charming neighborhoods. You could easily crank out the route in under two hours, but you don’t want to do that—ride slow, look around, take it in, stop often. Bring a lock, money, and walking shoes, put on your puncture-resistant tires (this is, after all, a city), and schedule as much time for the ride as you possibly can—five hours at a minimum.
Prepare for sensory overload. In 19 miles you will ride by, among other things,
The Ferry Building
The Maritime Museum
The Hyde St Pier of Historic Ships
The Hyde St. Cable car turn-around
The Buena Vista Cafe
The Marina Green
The St. Francis Yacht Club
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Legion of Honor
The Cliff House
The Great Highway
Golden Gate Park
The Painted Ladies
The Opera House
The Asian Museum
Any one of these is worth from an hour to a full day. Good luck budgeting your time. Since most of the landmarks are familiar images, I’ve used the photos in this post to show some of the less familiar sights along the route.
So how’s the riding? It’s mostly flat, with two noticeable climbs (as you pass the Golden Gate Bridge and ascending to the Legion of Honor). Yes, SF is famously hilly—17 streets in the City top out at 30% or more, but none of them is on this route. You ride over roads, broken pavement, sidewalks, bike paths, bike lanes, glass, and lots of trolley and cable car tracks, and ride through hordes of pedestrians and tourists. It’s a bit chaotic and nervous-making at times, though there are stretches of near isolation. Best of all, SF is perhaps the most bike-friendly city in the United States, and thousands of cyclists are following this route in bits and pieces on any given day, so it’s well-marked and blessed with bike lanes—I wouldn’t encourage you to go otherwise.
By the way, the Wiggle itself is a zig-zag bicycle route through a 17-block stretch of town just before our route returns to Market St. Continue reading →
This loop is a classic Bay Area cycling club ride, and it offers a number of pleasures: a lovely, rambling section of the San Francisco Bay Trail, much of it closed to cars; two small, charming Bay Area communities and proximity to a third; a train; two grand bridge crossings over the Carquinez Strait, where the Sacramento River Delta empties into San Pablo Bay; two old urban cemeteries; a nice optional climb, and swell views of the Strait from every angle. It’s mostly moderate up and down, neither easy nor hard (the Scenic Drive leg of the ride is 14 miles, 1370 ft of gain, out and back, for instance). There are about 4 miles of unrewarding, rundown residential slog. There is no reason why you can’t ride the loop in either direction, though everyone seems to go counter-clockwise.