Fresh air and open roads: A guide to local road bike routes
Road biking is a great way to immerse yourself in the Bay Area’s natural beauty. Whether you’re a cycling enthusiast seeking a heart-pumping challenge, a parent looking for a family-friendly bike path, or a leisure rider in search of a peaceful retreat, here is a collection of bike routes and tips to help broaden your horizons.
Rides for those looking for good workout
For an intermediate teen or adult rider, a great place to start is the Portola Valley loop, an 11-mile route through West Menlo Park and Portola Valley. This loop is a cornerstone of the local biking scene since many other routes branch off of it.
Here are a few add-ons and variations to the Portola Valley loop:
If you’re up for a challenge, many scenic climbs also diverge from the loop. Four popular climbs are Kings Mountain Road, Page Mill Road, Old La Honda Rd. and the Alpine/Joaquin/Los Trancos loop. See footnote regarding the current conditions of Old La Honda and Highway 84.
Kings Mountain, a 4.1-mile, ~30-40 minute ascent for an average sporty cyclist, winds through a shaded forest with several vistas overlooking the Bay. Make sure to hug the right side of the road tightly on your descent because there are several very sharp turns, and to avoid traffic on the way up, take this detour through Huddart Park.
Page Mill Road, a 9.2-mile, 50-60 minute ascent for an average sporty cyclist, is my personal favorite of these four climbs. It has many twists, turns, and beautiful vistas. The surrounding nature is home to a variety of wildlife — I’ve seen families of deer, bunnies, and flocks of turkeys (top right) while biking. Page Mill is fun to climb at a conversational pace with friends, and also a contemplative solo climb. Once, I wrote a poem in my head while biking up Page Mill and then wrote it down when I reached the top! (right above) To avoid traffic on the way up, take Old Page Mill road, a path closed off to cars.
This 8-mile loop through Portola Valley offers a quick venture into the forest. A little stream runs along the road, it is surrounded by trees, and there are almost never any cars. If you ascend Alpine Road, Joaquin Road is a short but extremely steep (a 20% grade at some points) segment of the climb. If you ascend Los Trancos Road and descend Alpine, there is a longer steep section (15-18% grade). This loop is shorter than the previous climbs. If you reach the top wanting more, check out Vista Verde Way, another short, steep section of road.
Old La Honda, a 3.3-mile, ~20 to 30-minute ascent for an average sporty cyclist, is a classic climb with a relatively consistent slope throughout. It is typically quiet with few cars, and there is a section through the woods at the top. Some bikers choose to descend Highway 84, a parallel road, because there are fewer turns. However, Highway 84 can be less safe due to traffic.
See footnote at the end of this post regarding the current conditions of Old La Honda and Highway 84.
Another beautiful route near the Portola Valley loop is Cañada Road, a 10-mile-long relatively flat stretch from Woodside to San Mateo. The road offers sweeping views of the Crystal Springs reservoir, wide bike lanes, and is nearly uninterrupted by stop lights and signs. On Sundays from 9:00 am-3:00 pm, Cañada is closed off to cars between the Filoli entrance and Highway 92 for “Bicycle Sundays.”
Family-friendly routes for cyclists with younger children
If you have young children, there are also plenty of local family-friendly routes.
Sawyer Camp trail winds along the northern part of the Crystal Springs Reservoir. It is also popular among runners, so be prepared to dodge pedestrians!
Menlo Park’s Bedwell Bayfront Park and Palo Alto’s Byxbee Park are especially convenient to Belle Haven residents — and completely free of cars. They are mostly flat with a few small grassy hills.
The Stanford University campus is also a fun place to bike with kids. There are many bike lanes, small roads, and sights to see and explore.
Rides for cyclists seeking all-day adventures
For serious cyclists, stunning routes to the coast and back range from 40 to 70+ miles. These rides can be full-day-length activities and require careful planning and preparation.
There are many scenic routes along the coast near Half Moon Bay. Biking there and back from Menlo Park and its surrounding areas is typically 50-60 miles, depending on the starting point. Lobitos Creek road, Higgins Canyon Road, and Tunitas Creek road all offer gorgeous climbs overlooking rolling hills, farms, ocean, and forests. Stop by the beach and/or a local Half Moon Bay farm stand for a snake break!
This 30-40-mile loop is perfect for cyclists who are looking for a relatively challenging adventure but don’t have the full day to spare. The route goes up Old La Honda, down Highway 84, up West Alpine, and down Page Mill.
This 50-60-mile route goes up Old La Honda, down West Old La Honda and Highway 84, north on either Stage Road of Highway 1, up Tunitas Creek Road, and down Kings Mountain. Expect sweeping views of the ocean, forest, farms, and countryside. The Bike Hut, a rest stop and picnic area for bicyclists on Tunitas Creek Road, offers a lovely spot for a snack break!
To Santa Cruz
For those looking for a truly full-day adventure, this route scales Page Mill, descends West Alpine and Pescadero Creek Rd, connects to Cloverdale Road, and then follows scenic route 1 down the coast to Santa Cruz. That is roughly 70 miles one way, so when I did it, I spent some time eating and relaxing in Santa Cruz and then got a ride home from a family member. If you opt for both directions, 140 miles would take roughly 14 hours, which is possible in mid-summer when there is enough daylight, but would be quite difficult.
I biked this route last week — my first century (100-mile ride)! The route goes from Menlo Park south on Junipero Serra and Foothill Blvd, up Stevens Creek Blvd until the road turns into dirt and then back down, north on Foothill and Junipero Serra, through the Portola Valley Loop to Cañada road and parts of the Sawyer Camp Trail, and then back to the starting point. Stevens Creek is a beautiful road through the forest which runs along a creek and also passes by a lake. If you ride on a Sunday, the Cañada segment will be extra peaceful since it’s closed off to cars. There are no major climbs along the route, which makes the mileage go by faster, and there are several good rest stops along the way: Robert’s Market in Woodside and Portola Valley, and a bathroom/water station partway up Stevens Canyon.
Before any ride, make sure to review the rules of the road, pack enough water and snacks, put on a helmet, and check to make sure your bike is working properly. Check out this article and these resources to review some bike safety tips.
Note: Highway 84 is currently closed due to repair after a major mudslide. As a result, traffic is diverting to Old La Honda, Kings Mountain, and Page Mill. There is a large sign on Old La Honda saying “Bikers not advised,” and extra caution is needed on Page Mill and Kings Mountain due to heavier car traffic. CalTrans reports that one-lane traffic on Highway 84 will reopen in July. Get updates here.
Words and photos by Caroline Pecore — a recent Menlo-Atherton High School graduate headed to Yale — who is an avid road biker (c) 2023