Distance: 51-mile loop
Elevation gain: 5900 ft (RWGPS)
(A Best of the Best ride)
About a quarter of this route is covered thoroughly in words and pictures at toughascent.com, enough to give you the look of the ride.
Before we begin, let me raise two red flags. First, as several commenters make clear below, many people simply won’t ride Skyline Blvd because of the danger from car traffic. I’ve never found it problematic (nerve-wracking, yes, dangerous, no), but it’s certainly one of the most hazardous roads in Bestrides. Second, there are differing opinions about the quality of the road surface on Tunitas Creek Rd. Two commenters below say it’s been recently repaved and now “sucks.” I haven’t ridden the new surface yet, but it looks to be a smooth chipseal, which some people hate and some don’t mind. I asked a rider doing the route how the surface was for riding and he said it was superb. So I stand by the original route, but if either issue worries you, you can try the route in the Shortening the route section below, which avoids both while retaining most of the good stuff.
This ride is one of the harder rides in Bestrides—50 miles, none of them flat, and almost 6000 ft. of vert. It’s a big climb through forest that’s as pretty as forest gets, then a leg up and down along the ridge spine down the middle of the San Francisco Peninsula, with a stop-over at an iconic California hippie/biker cafe, then one of the great descents in California and Oregon. The ridge leg isn’t an A-level ride, because it’s straight and trafficky with no shoulder, but you’re going to have to do it to get to that descent, so what the hell.
(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.)
Start in the bustling metropolis of San Gregorio, which is nothing but a four-way intersection and a cute, friendly country store worth exploring (a sign asks you to remove your cleats, which means you’re welcome). Look east to the top of the ridge, as far as you can see—that’s where you’re going. Ride south, paralleling Hwy 1, on Stage Road. This road is a lovely up and down canter on a charming, quiet road through grassy coastal hills. (If you don’t want to climb on cold legs, start in Pescadero and do Stage Road last.) Watch for a nice view of an ocean beach midway. Don’t miss the magnificent colonnade of huge old eucalyptus trees lining both sides of the road as you near the town of Pescadero.
Roll into town, a charming, energetic hamlet with good restaurants, B and B’s, and other signs of life. If you want to do the tourist thing, have the famous artichoke soup at Duarte’s Tavern (the sign says only “tavern,” but it’s a conventional restaurant). On your R as you enter town you pass Arcangeli’s Grocery Co., a fun and friendly old store with gigantic fresh cookies, water from the vegetable mister, and, behind the store, out of sight down the side alley, a picnic area with tables, outhouses, and a bike repair stand with tools and a pump!
Turn L onto Pescadero Creek Rd., which climbs first through pretty farmland and then through forests and redwoods as gorgeous as anything in Bestrides. At first the grade is imperceptible, then the road rolls up and down pleasantly, and finally it turns 10%-pitch serious in the last couple of miles before the summit.
At the bottom of an unexpected, short, and wonderful 2-mile descent, you come to an intersection and you have a choice. If you’re looking to cut off some miles and/or minimize the climbing pitch, take the cutoff (still called Pescadero Rd.) over to La Honda Rd. and the community of La Honda, then ascend to Skyline Blvd. via La Honda Rd. This route is about 7 miles shorter and cuts out a good chunk of climbing, but it’s also much less dramatic. La Honda Rd. is a large, wide, relatively unvarying shoulder slog with traffic. Not awful, just not nearly as nice as staying right at the intersection and ascending on Alpine Rd. Alpine is steeper, smaller, deserted (except for bikes), much more scenic, and with a nicely varied road contour. We’re going R. There’s a sign as you start up the road reading “Gravel—bicycles not advised.” It’s just there to make you feel burly—ignore it.
Alpine’s scenery is superb and varied. You’ll do thick redwoods, maple forests, and open grassy hillsides with expansive vistas of the Pacific Ocean and all the country you’ve ridden through so far. Which is a good thing, because you are going to do some serious work here and will need something to take your mind off the pain. At first it’s easy, almost flat, but then it isn’t. For the first miles you’re riding right alongside Pescadero Creek, but the foliage is so thick you’ll rarely see it.
At 3.6 miles up, the road T’s, and you have to go L because, as the sign says, R is a dead end, but the new road is still called Alpine. Remember this turn if you decide to ride from Pescadero to Skyline as an out and back. By the way, near the bottom of Alpine is a sign reading “(Winding road icon) next 4 miles.” Don’t misread this and think it’s 4 mi. to Skyline—it’s 7.5 mi. These last 3.5 miles are a slog—unvarying up in a straight line on an exposed hillside—but the vistas are grand.
Oddly, when Alpine T’s into Skyline Blvd. there is no road sign marking Skyline, but you’re obviously at the spine of the ridge and there’s a large sign reading
with arrows pointing straight ahead, L, and R respectively. Go L, toward SF.
Skyline is a series of mostly straight, moderately steep rollers along the ridge spine, sometimes through dark, pretty woods and sometimes through open fields with huge vistas of the coast to your L and the south Bay to your R. If it weren’t for the traffic, which is speedy and indifferent to your needs for space, and your tiredness level, it wouldn’t be a bad ride.
From our intersection, the rollers are 80% downhill all the way to the intersection of Skyline and La Honda Rd., where you should stop at Alice’s Restaurant, not Arlo’s place but a local institution nonetheless, with nice outside bathrooms and a big front porch that’s a great place for a breather if the sun is shining.
Now you will pay for all that downhill. From Alice’s to the Tunitas Creek Rd. turnoff it’s 5.3 miles of 90% uphill, most of it at a significant pitch. Get this in your head or the unexpected work will kill you.
Watch your mileage, because Tunitas Creek Rd. is hard to see (there’s a crossroads sign as you approach, and a road sign at the intersection). It’s 5.3 miles from Alice’s, after you pass Corte de Madera on your L and a rock-walled vista turnout on your R., at the bottom of a fairly fast descent. Turn L on Tunitas Creek Rd. and enjoy, as promised, one of the best descents in California and Oregon. It’s perfection—sweeping, banked corners, next-to-no traffic, not too steep, through pretty forest but with good sight lines so you can see the nonexistent cars ahead of time, and it just keeps coming. I usually have to stop midway just because I need a break from the non-stop giddiness. Two readers (below) say the recent repaving of TCR has spoiled the road surface; others say it hasn’t. YMMV.
At the bottom of Tunitas Creek Rd. turn L on Hwy 1. You are not done climbing. You will immediately have to slog up one final pitch, a typical Hwy 1 mega-roller that goes on far too long. Stare at the ocean and it will pass. Right after, get off the highway onto Stage Rd. (small but signed) on your L and descend to San Gregorio and your car.
Shortening the route: If you have qualms about traffic or road surfaces, or just want to ride less, starting in Pescadero and riding Pescadero Creek Rd./Alpine as an out-and-back gives you all the beauty of the longer ride and a fine descent as well. You can do it two ways: 1) ride to the T at the end of Alpine and return the way you came—this gives you a stiff 2-mile climb where that sweet 2-mile descent was on the way out (funny how it always works out that way); 2) Ride to the T, descent to the Alpine/Pescadero Creek intersection, go R to La Honda and down La Honda Rd. (#84) to San Gregorio, then back to Pescadero via the Stage Road. This cuts out the 2 miles of climbing entirely and allows you to ride Stage Road, which is well worth going out of your way to work in. The only drawback to this second route is that La Honda Rd. is mediocre riding.
If you want still less, I’d say Pescadero is a prettier ascent/descent than Alpine.
Locals certainly do ride Tunitas Creek as an out-and-back. I haven’t, because it looks like a grind.
Adding miles: All the nearby back roads in the Half Moon Bay area are good. There’s our Purissisma Creek Road ride, but also Lobitos Ridge Rd., Irish Creek Rd., and Lobitos Creek Cut-Off. A few miles down Hwy 1 (or, from Pescadero, a few miles down the unspectacular but quiet Cloverdale Road) and particularly beautiful is Gazos Creek Road (see photo below), which runs for about 5 relatively flat miles through gorgeous redwood canopy before reaching a gate, turning to dirt, and continuing on all the way to the Big Basin Visitor Center (all well worth doing if you’re set up for dirt). The riding on the east side of Skyline Blvd is very popular with Peninsula riders—Kings Mountain Rd., Bear Gulch Rd., Old La Honda. A Friend of Bestrides who lives in the area asked me to give special praise to riding up Old La Honda, eating at Alice’s, and down Hwy 84 (plain La Honda Road), so I am. See other possibilities in the Adding Miles section of the Purissima Creek Road ride. This stretch of Hwy 1 to Santa Cruz is mostly ruler straight with some enormous rollers—not great riding, but lots of interesting places to stop. See the Purissima Creek ride for details.
Afterthoughts: The weather in the Half Moon Bay area is drippy. I wouldn’t want to come down Tunitas Creek Rd. in the wet (I did it once, when the road was only damp, and it was pretty hairy). If at all possible, do this ride in dry conditions.
I’ve never ridden this loop in the other direction, but many people do. Of course you’d be losing that wonderful Tunitas Creek Rd. descent, and TCR as an ascent is pretty monochromatic compared to Pescadero/Alpine.
I ride a similar route a couple of times a week and strongly suggest avoiding Skyline altogether. A friend of mine is a fireman on Kings Mountain and tells me that there have been numerous accidents and deaths on Skyline. My route is: start in Woodside. Mountain Home Road to Sand Hill to Old La Honda. Cross skyline (stay on Old La Hinda) down till 84. Left on 84 to the town of La Honda. Then turn left on Pescadero Road to the town of Pescadero (suggest eating at Duartes — an institution for 100 years. Then Stage Road all the way to Route 1 (crosses 84 at San Gregorio). Right on Tunitas, down Kings Mountain… Done. 50 miles, 5300 feet.
Totally agree with BobLux. I live on Stage Road and avoid Skyline like the plague. My wife was the victim of one of the near death accidents on Skyline when she was hit by a car not paying attention. The loop Bob describes is great. You can also do OLH to Pescadero road and then climb West Alpine (which is a really beautiful ride) along the headwaters of Pescadero Creek through old growth redwoods. But when you hit Skyline just keep going down Page Mill and then make your way back to Woodside along Juniperra Serra. Anything to stay off of Skyline which just isn’t safe or fun.
The Old La Honda road west of skyline, between skyline and La Honda, has signs on both ends saying that the road is closed to all traffic, and specifically notes that it is also closed for bicyclists (they circled the word). However, lots of riders go up and down it, just go slow on the descent because parts of the road have been washed away.
The descent on Old La Honda has amazing scenery. The ascent is very pretty, too. It’s shorter than the east side of Old La Honda and has easy climbing. It’s my favorite easy climb in these parts.
Jay mentioned that Tunitas Creek road was repaved for the Tour of California years ago, but unfortunately it was repaved again a few months ago and is no longer smooth – no asphalt, it now has a gravel foundation. Be very careful on the descents.
I am on Skyline quite a bit and was doing the stretch mentioned. I agree with Boblux and Gustavus. It is not pleasant if there is traffic, and could be dangerous. During weekends there are lots of motorcycles going at high speeds, usually packs of them (many of them stop at Alice’s restaurant) and a lot of car traffic as well. I told myself never again then. However, I have done the stretch from Alice’s/La Honda to Tunitas Creek/Kings Mountain a number of times during working hours on weekdays, and that works well.
This ride combines two great climbs/descents connected by the somewhat sketchy Skyline (Rte 35) Even on a holiday weekend (Labor Day), the traffic was easy on all roads except for Skyline. The combination of very little to no shoulder and high speeds is not ideal. However, as of Sept 2, 2017, there were at least two one-lane closures (with temporary traffic lights) on Skyline, which actually serves to keep traffic a little less speedy.
Tunitas Creek is easily the best descent in the Bay Area, and the road condition was fine. An out-and-back on Tunitas alone would be worth the visit. It was unusually warm during the ride (100F+, 40C), so the Pescadero-Alpine climb was particularly tough as the upper reaches are mostly treeless. If you find yourself out there on a very hot day, you might consider reversing the route, as Tunitas Creek is mostly shaded. My Garmin indicated 5006ft of ascending vs. Mapmyride’s 4554ft, and Jay’s 6,000.
And don’t forget The Bike Hut 1 mile inland from Hwy. 1 on Tunitas Creek Road. Open 24/7 for snacks, drinks, air pumps, etc.—all on the honor system. https://potreronuevofarm.org/bike-hut/
I agree this is one of the best rides ever. However I ride it backwards, starting from Mountain View (on the east side of Skyline). I climb Page Mill Road, which becomes Alpine as it crosses Highway 35 (Skyline Drive) and descends through the hills and redwoods and past Neil Young’s ranch. Turn left at the stop sign (onto Pescadero Road) and head up Haskin’s Grade (half a mile of easy climbing).
From there it’s a fiery (and spectacular) descent to Pescadero and Duarte’s Tavern. Turn north (right) onto Stage Road. This takes you past San Gregorio to Highway 1 where, in half a mile or so you’ll stumble onto Tunitas Creek Road. Going UP Tunitas Creek Rd. is best as the pavement sucks—seriously so. But going up you’re not going quite so fast.
Then turn right onto Skyline Drive and after a short climb you’ll be descending a series of VERY fast curves to Alice’s Restaurant. Stop and have a great burger, some nachos, and beer. On the weekend Alice’s is inundated with motorcycle riders (and a few cyclists). Then continue down Highway 84 and return to your starting point.
I agree that Skyline can be unpleasant and sometimes unsafe- particularly on the weekend with heavy traffic, North of CA84. If you want to bypass this you can drop down Page Mill, and take Arastradero and the Portola loop to Woodside, and climb back up on Kings Mountain rd to the intersection at Skyline/ Kings Mtn, Tunitas Creek. Adds a technical but fun descent on Page Mill, rollers through Portola Valley, and a steady challenging climb on Kings, about another 2800 ft total climbing, but more cycling friendly.
There is really no need to ride on Skyline to enjoy this. Try: https://www.strava.com/activities/1568199047. This is in the opposite direction of your description (climbs Tunitas).
Rode this last weekend, April 6, 2019. The surface on Tunitas was great. It was early morning and still fairly wet out, and I had no issues with traction.
If you’ve done Tunitas before, I highly recommend doing the Lobitos Creek Rd offshoot. This can be done as a challenging ascent (high % grade at the base) or a beautiful, fast descent through farm country.
I did this ride mid-day on a Saturday in August 2019. I hadn’t been on Tunitas in 15 yrs, and will not wait another 15 to go again. The surface was excellent IMO, and the Bike Hut is a great place to stop—pretty much only cyclists there.
Local yokel agreeing with comments above – avoid Skyline (Hwy 35) if at all possible, especially on weekends. Significant amount of motorcycle and sports car traffic (a lot of fast/reckless motorists), no shoulder, and winding roads with dappled light that reduces cyclist visibility.
As of early July, 2021, Tunitas Creek Road has been repaved/repaired in many sections and is a very nice ascent. Still a sketchy, fast descent, however.
I love this ride and do it frequently starting from Woodside, but in the opposite direction. From Woodside, up King’s Mountain (6 miles of uphill), left on Skyline which continues uphill, then right on 84 at Alice’s for a cosmic descent, left onto Pescadero, continue onto the town of Pescadero and eat at archangelo (world famous freshly baked still warm artichoke bread), continue on Stage Road thru San Gregorio out to Highway 1, turn right and ride the ~2 miles north to Tunitas Creek Road, turn right onto Tunitas, make the mandatory stop, refueling, and potty break at the bike hut, and then prepare for 9 mile uphill (this is mile 40 of your ride) on Tunitas Creek. Nasty uphill, but you won’t care about the road surface being bad and you are protected from the sun. Cross Skyline and now enjoy going back down King’s Mountain (carefully—it’s a bit technical and gnarly for descending), and then back to your car that has been legally parked with all the other cyclists at Woodside Town Hall. there’s a portapotty at Woodside Town Hall, or you can use the bathrooms in Roberts Grocery Store at the other end of the parking lot (and they have lots of good post-ride refreshments). There’s also a nice bakery across the street from Robert’s.
There is new chip-seal (as of 9/22), along with most county roads west of Skyline, and they took down the “loose gravel” signs recently, so be warned there is loose gravel on the road. The road is fine considering the recent storms but watch for branches and washouts close to the shoulders. Today (1/31/23) while descending I nearly hit a county maintenance truck that was blocking the entire road after a steep blind turn. I love the climb too and do it as an out and back from the HMB harbor often.