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A picturesque route guides you through breathtaking scenery with numerous stops along the way. Highway 35 packs bucketloads of scenery as it winds along the forested ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains with opportunities to explore redwood groves, chow down at historic eateries, and enjoy thrilling vistas of the Pacific and San Francisco Bay.

Also known as Skyline Boulevard, the highway is a staple among local cyclists and motorcycle enthusiasts, but you don’t need two wheels to enjoy its vivid scenery. Linked with three connecting highways, the route forms a wildly scenic loop through a variety of dazzling landscapes—from forests and farmlands to vineyards and beaches—that are worth getting revved up for.

HIGHWAY 92

To begin your journey, start in Half Moon Bay and head east on Highway 92. The popular thoroughfare leisurely winds through the region’s many farms and nurseries including Ouroboros Farms, a fascinating aquaponics facility that grows sustainable and chemical- free produce without soil. Stop by to tour its grounds and nab fresh produce from its vibrant farm stand. At the adjacent Yerba Buena Nursery, you’ll browse one of Northern California’s largest collections of native plants, from manzanita trees to vibrant, flowering mimulus. If the kids are in tow, stop for the fair-like rides and attractions at Lemos Farms, a western-themed destination that transforms into a pumpkin-filled paradise in the fall. At La Nebbia, epicures can swirl wine, nibble cheese, and enjoy a round of bocce ball in a pleasant garden setting.

HIGHWAY 35

Highway 35 - Photo by Garrick Ramirez
Highway 35 - Photo by Garrick Ramirez

At the junction of Highways 92 and 35, a vista point offers peeks of the serene Crystal Springs Reservoir which supplies drinking water to San Francisco and the Peninsula. The artificial lake is the result of a rift valley forged by the San Andreas fault and filled, in part, with water transported via gravity-powered aqueduct from Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

As the sun-dappled highway wends its way up the mountain, you’ll note the dense forest flanking the road. In the 1880s, the area’s coastal redwoods were logged extensively to fuel a booming, post-Gold Rush San Francisco. At Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve, historical logging roads have been repurposed as hiking trails where the scent of pine trees is strong and cell service is gloriously weak. Stretch your legs along the North Ridge Trail which traverses the fern-lined slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains before dipping into the lush, creek-filled redwood groves of Purisima Creek Canyon.

Nearby, the 2,817-acre El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve is a mountain bike mecca with thrilling multi-use trails that snake through lichen-shrouded tanoak and redwood forests. If single track downhills aren’t your thing, check out the tafoni sandstone formations found along the Tafoni Trail. The intricate honeycomblike webbing that graces massive boulders is the result of thousands of years of erosion.

One of the area’s biggest attractions— literally—sits just a few steps from the road. At 14 feet in diameter, the old growth Methuselah Tree is the largest redwood on the north Peninsula and estimated to be over 1,800 years old. To marvel at its mighty burl-gnarled trunk, follow the short path that leads from a roadside turnout—noted by gate CM02—roughly one-half mile south of the Skeggs Point parking lot.

Photo by Garrick Ramirez
Photo by Garrick Ramirez

Back on the road, you’ll soon arrive at a prominent intersection at Highway 84, made famous by the beloved Alice’s Restaurant. The destination roadhouse-like eatery sports cowhide stools, backyard hitching posts, and a parking lot full of revving motorcycles. The family-owned restaurant predates the famous Woody Guthrie tune, having originally opened as a lumberjack general store in the early 1900s before becoming a restaurant in the 1950s. Join the families, tourists, and bikers swapping riding tips and hiking recs over breakfast and BBQ plates on the lively outdoor deck. Try the Farmer’s Burger that’s made with local, grass-fed beef from the Markegard ranch just down the way.

Alice's Restaurant - Photo by Garrick Ramirez
Alice's Restaurant - Photo by Garrick Ramirez

To return to the coast, you’ll head southwest on Highway 84 (La Honda Road), but for a noteworthy detour, continue southeast on Highway 35 to Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards, a hilltop winery whose gorgeous grounds with sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay has served as a backdrop for countless weddings. Bring a designated driver or do like the pros and use the spittoon, just don’t miss a chance to sample their crisp whites and luscious reds including an especially smooth barbera.

Photo by Garrick Ramirez
Photo by Garrick Ramirez

HIGHWAY 84

In the 1960s, the secluded, former logging town of La Honda became a bohemian hideaway when writer Ken Kesey, who penned “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” settled into a log cabin and hosted raucous shindigs with counterculture celebs such as The Grateful Dead and Hunter S. Thompson. Today, the good times continue at Apple Jack’s, a 1879 blacksmith shop turned roadside saloon and music venue. The historic watering hole boasts history and scenery with a charming wood-shingle facade, creaky wooden floors, and a sunny outdoor deck perched above a lush, overgrown creek.

Apple Jack's - Photo by Garrick Ramirez
Apple Jack's - Photo by Garrick Ramirez

As the forest gives way to open farmland and rolling hills, you’ll arrive at the historic stagecoach stop of San Gregorio. Situated at the corner of Highway 84 and Stage Road—a former stagecoach route that stretched from San Francisco to Santa Cruz—the San Gregorio General Store remains a popular pitstop for modern daytrippers. Operating since 1889, the time capsule store features a pot belly stove-warmed saloon, micro post office, and a seemingly endless supply of goods, from cast iron pans to philosophy books, packed into its vast interior. A regular schedule of toe-tapping live music keeps things lively on the weekends.

HIGHWAY 1

Highway 84 soon delivers you back to Highway 1 at the dramatically scenic San Gregorio State Beach. The driftwood-strewn shore features a large estuary teeming with shorebirds, and tall grassy bluffs with sweeping vistas of the pristine coastline. It’s the same magnificent coastline that you’ll trail alongside heading north back into town via the famously scenic Highway 1, a fitting cap to a day exploring the diverse scenery of the Coastside.

Garrick Ramirez is a freelance writer and photographer who loves sharing compelling destinations within California. As a native, he has yet to tire of exploring the many cities, small towns, and natural splendor found throughout the state. His travel guides have appeared in the SF Chronicle, Via Magazine, and The Mercury News among others. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.