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Riding the Northern California Coast

I could tell you how many amazing places there are to visit in San Francisco, but I’d rather talk about what’s outside of the city, because it’s really not much fun being stuck in city traffic all day. Here is a guide to the less-inhabited side of California– the when/where/why of riding down the California Coast.

In some cities it’s wise to start riding early in the morning; however, in California, rush hour traffic starts as early as 4am heading into the city, so it is better to head out around 10am. You will also want to avoid riding from around 4pm-7pm. Not to worry though, there are plenty of places to stop and relax (or party) along the way!

Highway 1 runs down the entire California coast, in most places within view of the ocean. My favorite starting point is in the Sunset District in San Francisco.
If you’re leaving later in the day, I would recommend stopping at the Thai Cottage Restaurant on Judah St. less than a mile from the beachfront.
If you head south on 1, you’ll pass through Pacifica first, and after about 25 miles you’ll reach Half Moon Bay. There are plenty of restaurants if you bypassed pre-ride fueling. My favorite is Tres Amigos Restaurant where highway 92 and 1 meet.

About 10 miles past the center of Half Moon Bay is where the highway starts kissing the ocean. The scenery here is breathtaking, and there are beach stops every mile or so. Pomponio State Beach is one of the more notable beaches, and it has very few visitors during the week. There are little caverns and tide pools to explore in privacy.

Año Nuevo State Park, Pescadero, CA

The next noteworthy stop is Ano Nuevo State Park. During the winter season this park is only available with a guided tour because it is a breeding ground for elephant seals. Again here there are breathtaking views of the ocean as well as an ecological preserve.

Continuing further south you will enter Santa Cruz, one of the bigger cities, and the end point of our guide. There is a funky downtown area here which is no stranger to bikers. My former favorite hangout was Bad Ass Coffee, which closed down a few years ago. Now I usually plan my trips around their venue The Catalyst, which features mostly punk, rock, and ska artists.

If you are taking Highway 1 as part of a multi-day trip, you need to have overnight accommodations in mind. My favorite hotel is the Santa Cruz Dream Inn, which sits right on the beach adjacent to the Boardwalk.

Thriftier options include camping at places like Sunset Beach State Park Campgrounds, which is just beyond Santa Cruz. These sites are available for around $35 a night. There is also the option of staying at either the Pigeon Piont or Point Montara lighthouse hostels. These run around $25 a night for a bunk bed in a dorm room.

No matter your interests you’ll have fun riding down the California Coast. There are city sights, nature preserves, endless stretches of beaches, and funky downtown areas. Be it a half-day trip or part of a week-long journey you’re sure to see something you’ve never seen before.

Morgan Sansotta is a writer specializing in motorcycle travel and motorcycle gear. She is working on her master’s degree in behavioral sciences, and spends her weekends finding the best scenic routes on the West Coast.

About YouMotorcycle

YouMotorcycle is a lifestyle motorcycle blog to be appreciated by those who see motorcycling as a lifestyle and not simply a hobby, sport, or method of transportation. Most of the posts on the site are written by past and present motorcycle industry staff. We remain fiercely independent, innovative, and unconventional. Our goal is to encourage more people to enjoy the world's greatest outdoor sport by helping new riders get started and inspiring current riders to get out more. We motorcycle, do You?


  1. Thanks for the info about Northern California. Now I just need to get down there!

    • Dave: If you ever are coming down to California there are some beautiful half state or full state loops you can take starting in San Francisco or LA. Having ridden the state for 10 years I’d be happy to point you in some good directions. Find me at http://www.jefestours.com. Jefe’s Tours is a fictitious travel agency, so no charge for the advice.

  2. RT @YouMotorcycle: Riding the Northern California Coast https://t.co/O0N8CUGPS4

  3. RT @YouMotorcycle: Riding the Northern California Coast https://t.co/O0N8CUGPS4

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