Weekend Ride: Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz

A rider passes the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on a ride from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz.
A rider passes the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on a ride from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz. sstanton@sacbee.com

The American River bike trail is a Sacramento treasure, but after a while the route can get, well, repetitive.

There are countless alternatives in the region, but few as scenic as the 50-mile route from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz along Highway 1 and the Pacific Coast.

It takes a little planning and, if you decide that a round-trip, 100-mile ride is in order, quite a bit of stamina.

But either option provides beautiful scenery, numerous beaches to stop and admire and plenty of places to stop for a coffee, pastry, slice of pie or fresh, locally grown fruit.

The ride follows the shoulder of Highway 1, which is wide enough in most spots to keep bikes safely away from passing traffic, and there are bike paths in portions of both Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz to keep you away from vehicles.

It’ll take a little dedication: The ride requires about a two-hour drive from Sacramento to get started. And if you’re only doing the Santa Cruz leg, you’ll need a hotel stay unless you have a ride back to Half Moon Bay or have dropped off a vehicle near your destination. There also are a number of hills to climb, so be sure you and your bike are in shape for the ride.

Weekend ride: Half Moon Bay-Santa Cruz

Distance: 50 or 100 miles

Directions from Sacramento: Take Interstate 80 to San Francisco, then U.S. 101 south to I-280 south (Daly City exit). Take the exit to Highway 1 south through Pacifica and on to Half Moon Bay. Street parking is available in many spots (we parked across from the Half Moon Bay Brewery) or along the town’s main drag near the beach.

Details: There is water at various stops, but carry your own to be safe. Break up the route. The Pigeon Point Lighthouse is 25 miles south of town and the ride’s midpoint. The lighthouse itself is closed to visitors, but there are restrooms, picnic tables and great ocean views. Another 17 miles south is Davenport, which offers food, coffee and a place to take a break. From there, it is a 10-mile trek into Santa Cruz and a stop at Natural Bridges State Beach. At an easy pace, the ride can take about four hours, including stops.

For the adventurous: Returning to Half Moon Bay on the same route will let you boast of completing a 100-mile century ride. But it comes at a price. Steady, merciless south-blowing winds often kick up in the afternoons and make the trip extremely challenging. Check the weather forecast, and be sure you leave enough time to return to Half Moon Bay before dark.