Northern California Motorcycle Rides
An introduction to riding Northern California by motorcycle.
The San Francisco Bay Area is blessed with varied topography, mild climate with a short rainy season, and interesting roads within easy reach of a 1-day or less round-trip ride. These things come together here better than almost any other region of the world, and it’s important to note this as you start (or continue) your motorcycling experiences.
Information here is basic and general, allowing you to figure things out for yourself after getting a hint from us. We will focus on the start/end points and let you check an online map service for yourself – motorcycling is about self-sufficiency, personal responsibility, and navigating skills, after all.
The following roads are worth checking out AFTER you feel that you have mastered the basics of riding your motorcycle safely at highway speeds, in corners, and on whatever you consider to be twisty or challenging roads. We presume that you are comfortable with your bike’s braking system and can ride safely. If you can’t, HOLD ON and work on basics before moving forward!
One of the most satisfying things about riding a motorcycle is the winding California back road, but BEWARE! One of the most dangerous things that you can do is go into a corner too fast, and then overshoot into oncoming traffic. Watch your corner entry speed carefully – these roads are far riskier than riding to the corner store, and demand concentration, a conservative approach to corners, and caution for what the other idiots on the road are doing that might affect you.
THE BUDDY SYSTEM IS STRONGLY ADVISED ON ALL OF THESE RIDES
Go with someone else and keep an eye on each other.
Bullet-points generally indicate major changes or transitions, but double check maps before you go or deal with the sometimes delightful aspect of not really knowing which way is out.
Vermont Street, SF
- South on Vermont from 20th – this street is twistier than Lombard Street, but most guidebooks don’t mention that.
Twin Peaks Boulevard, SF
- Take Twin Peaks Boulevard from Portola up the hill to Twin Peaks and the lookout point, then down the other side.
Forest Road overlook, SF Bay
- Take SF Bay Bridge to Treasure Island. Exit from eastbound is a hairpin turn!! Be ready to brake, and watch your mirrors so that you don’t get rear-ended coming off the bridge, either!
- RIGHT on Macalla
- HAIRPIN RIGHT on Yerba Buena
- LEFT on Forest. There’s a secret overlook there that gives you the view of the Bay Bridge looking into the City that all of the local news stations love to use after dark. Go in daylight first! Treasure Island is a fun place to explore in its own way on the way out, too.
Hawk Hill, Marin Headlands
- Golden Gate Bridge/101 to Alexander Ave. Exit just north of the GG Bridge.
- LEFT under the 101 overpass
- RIGHT and UP UP UP on Conzelman Road. Take that road all of the way to the top of the hill for a view that can’t be beat. Stop at the parking lot at Hawk Hill and walk the tunnel to see the massive gun emplacements.
- CONTINUE WEST out of parking lot to a secret, breathaking road that they film car commercials on.
- There is the SF-88 Nike Missile base on Fort Barry Road that’s open for tours Wed-Fri 12:30-3:30. Tell them that we sent you, and ask if you really can push the red button!
- Look into the hours kept at the Point Bonita Lighthouse regarding a tour – the place is accessed by a suspension footbridge over pounding surf, and it’s gorgeous.
- Explore the Marin Headlands on your own (and without a map!) from there.
- Highway 92 to Highway 35 between interstates 1 and 280.
- Highway 35 South to 84.
- 92/84 intersection is widely referred to as “Alices” (for the restaurant there), or “Four Corners”. This is the prime motorcycle hang-out spot in the SF Bay Area. Arrive during the day on a weekend and you’ll find a ton of motorcycles already parked in the parking lots of Alice’s or the Redwood Trading Post (flatter parking lot across the road). This is a good place to see and be seen, but this area is also pretty heavily monitored by The Man on weekends. People who did not go to Moto U routinely get into accidents on the roads in this area, and the local law enforcement is happy to hand out tickets to discourage sloppy or irresponsible riding. By comparison, the roads and region are almost empty on weekdays (our favorite time to go!).
- (From 35 & 84 at Four Corners) RIGHT/WEST on 84 and go down the hill – a popular run.
- LEFT at San Gregorio / south to Pescadero
- LEFT again on Pescadero Creek Road, loop back to 84 just south of La Honda.
Santa Cruz Loop
- (From 35 & 84 at Four Corners) SOUTH on 35
- RIGHT on Highway 9, for a run down to Santa Cruz. BEWARE OF OTHER ROAD USERS. THIS IS WHERE PEOPLE WITH GOOD DRIVING SKILLS GO, AND THEY GO FAST. LET FASTER PEOPLE GET PAST YOU. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR MIRRORS!
- Take a look at the map closely, and you’ll note that there are a bunch of smaller back roads that lead to and from 35. These are not as well paved (King’s Mountain Road), and demand slower speed or better skill, but are plenty interesting, too. Watch for oncoming traffic, water on the road even when it’s dry everywhere else, and redwood limbs/brush on the road surfaces around blind corners. Very challenging, and best saved for later, but those roads are there for you.
- Go to Bonny Doon (off the Santa Cruz end of Highway 9)
SOUTH BAY / SAN JOSE
Mount Hamilton/Mines Road
- Exit Alum Rock EAST from 680
- Get Gas on Alum Rock. No gas where you’re going next. At all.
- Alum Rock Ave east of 680 is also called Highway 130.
- RIGHT on Mt. Hamilton Ave/130, proceed to top of the mountain. Watch for gravel marbles in corners that are a slide-out hazard.
- The Lick Observatory at the top up there is run by the University of California and is open to the public. Go inside and they offer tours of the telescope pretty regularly and were informally calling out an invitation to everyone in the main hall every 30 minutes when this was written.
- Continue 130 east from Mount Hamilton to The Junction Bar & Grille. This is one of the epic rides in the SF Bay Area that’s off most people’s radar.
- Intersection where the Bar & Grille is give you the choice to go RIGHT out to I-5 (closest gasoline), or CONTINTUE on Mines Road down to Livermore and 580. Both are fabulous roads, and all three legs feel totally different if ridden in the opposite direction.
WARNING - BEWARE: There is NO GAS HERE and if you didn’t fill up at the
bottom of Mount Hamilton or in Livermore before you left, you may have to hitch-
hike out like the jackass that you are to get gas. Locals get buzzed and ticked off by
motorcycles up here, so will not be generally excited to help you.
THE ROADS HERE ARE NOT WELL MAINTAINED, and MAY HAVE GRAVEL OR ROUGH SURFACES that prevent good traction in corners even though they look fine. Fall off your bike?
EXPECT TO GO OUT BY HELICOPTER IF YOU CRASH $$$$$.
You have been warned. This ride should be done after you’ve completed others on this list – it’s the most technically challenging that we know of.
Palomares Road, B.F.E. East Of Niles
- Exit Alvarado-Niles Blvd EAST
- Go to 84 in the city of Niles
- LEFT on 84 East.
- LEFT on Palomares Road. Poorly Marked and in the middle of nowhere! This left is across oncoming traffic that is coming around a blind corner from behind a rail road trestle. BE CAREFUL AND DECISIVE about your left turn.
- Palomares north to 880 is a fun little squirt.
Calaveras Reservoir Loop, Niles Canyon/Sunol
- Do the same ride as above, but do not turn at Palomares.
- Get Fuel after exiting off 880 – this is a long ride with no services!
- Continue 84 past Palomares Rd. east to Sunol.
- Continue 84 through Sunol
- Stay STRAIGHT/RIGHT on Paloma Way, which should seem to be the same road.
- Go under 680 and Paloma becomes Calaveras Road, which is LONG and goes south by the Calaveras Reservoir. After the Reservoir and a lonnnng ride, there is an intersection with Felter Road.
- LEFT on Felter Rd – turns into Sierra Rd, which will take you down into San Jose and almost to 680.
Redwood Road, Castro Valley
- In general, AVOID REDWOOD ROAD that heads north out of Castro Valley. Good road that is frequented by Dangerous Dicks in hot cars that don’t know how to Drive. The boy-racer car guys like that road, and there have been several deaths there from reckless automobile driving that took up the whole road and left nowhere to go for the motorcyclists who got hit there.
- Also popular with The Man and his radar gun.
Skyline/Grizzly Peak, Oakland/East Bay Hills
- Exit Golf Links Road from 580 near San Leandro/Oakland border.
- Golf Links Road east to Skyline Blvd North. Skyline winds around for some time. There are some wonderful double-lane, divided road sections that are super until you round a curve and there is water on the road from an underground spring. Observe the speed limit and avoid speeding – the “water feature” can be a surprise, and is in a section where some lean is involved. Leaning the bike works best with full traction available, and slimy water inhibits traction.
- After the road is divided and you come out of the trees and into the open, keep your eyes open for one of the few stoplights on the road at the crest of a hill. This is where Skyline blvd turns hard right and goes uphill.
- RIGHT on Skyline @ stoplight and run through redwood groves (watch for cyclists in this area and ongoing). Skyline will run along the ridgeline and reward the rider with some breathtaking views of the Bay Area and Golden Gate/San Francisco. There is a poorly marked intersection with Grizzly Peak Blvd that is a 90-degree right turn as you go north on Skyline.
- RIGHT on Grizzly Peak blvd and stay on it for even better views. Just as the road starts to go downhill, look to the left for The Wall. This is a popular motorcycle hang out, and (at the time of this writing) features two benches just out of sight down the slope that have motorcycle shocks for legs and hours of butt-bouncing entertainment. Nice place to watch a sunset. Stop and say hi unless the people already there look particularly scary and vicious. Showing up on a bike of any kind should generate acceptance unless your social skills are really horrible – decide accordingly.
NORTH BAY / WINE COUNTRY
Hamburger Ranch 128 Loop, Cloverdale
- Go to Hamburger Ranch in Cloverdale near 128 and 101 for lunch or dinner (unless you are a vegetarian, in which case don’t even drive down the street that you’re on – the smells are incredible or horrid, depending).
- Take 128 north to 1, then turn left or right on 1 and figure out how to make a loop out of it.
Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville to the Sea
- Exit 101 near Geyserville.
- Canyon Road west to Dry Creek Road.
- LEFT on Dry Creek Road
- Dry Creek Road becomes Skaggs Springs Rd.
- RIGHT on Skaggs Springs Rd – DO NOT continue straight on Rockpile Road over the water (dead end)
- Continue to Highway 1, stay alert for speed enforcement activities. They seem to get aggressive at times and then lighten up as word gets around that the road is being actively monitored for speeders. The road is worth the effort.
The Geysers, Geyserville
- Exit 101 at Geyserville. Get gas here.
- 128 East, then South
- LEFT on Geysers Road – follow for a ton of miles back to 101.
- Check Map for interesting connecting roads around here – lots of options.
- From Vallejo, take 29 North.
- RIGHT on 175
- RIGHT on 29
- Refuel at intersection of 29 and 53. IMPORTANT.
- 29 turns left and goes south. Continue straight/East on County Road 140/Morgan Valley Road.
- Morgan Valley Road becomes Berryessa Knoxville Road. Continue south past Lake Berryessa. Stream goes across the road several times and can be deep – GO SLOW THROUGH WATER HAZARDS – NOTE GREEN SLIME ON CONCRETE THAT’S VISIBLE UNDER THE FLOWING WATER.
- Right on 128/Sage Canyon Rd.
- LEFT on Silverado Trail
- LEFT at end to 121
- RIGHT on 121/Silverado trail.
- LEFT on 29 back to Vallejo.
- CHECK MAP CAREFULLY IN ADVANCE on this one. Plenty of ways to get delightfully lost. TOP OFF YOUR TANK WHEN YOU CAN or you will be sorry. There are cars on Knoxville Berryessa road maybe once every few hours… It’s deserted in general. Distances on this look deceptive on a map. This route takes some really remote roads with no people around, so ride carefully.
- Go to Yosemite for the day. Note that rangers may inspect your entry receipt and note the entry time as you exit. Time to travel from one gate to another at posted legal speeds is known, and arriving at your exit gate sooner than expected can result in a scolding or even a ticket. Stop for lunch or whatever is our advice.
- Highway 49 from 120 north to 80 is incredible. It crosses all sorts of interesting roads. Suggested destinations would include Mercer Caverns or Moaning Cavern (probably not both on the same trip, tho).
High Mountain Passes A
- 4 east through Arnold from Copperopolis to 89
- RIGHT on 89 to 395
- South on 395
- RIGHT on 108 and back over the mountain and down to 99.
High Mountain Passes B
- 120 East from 108, just west of Sonora
- LEFT on 395
- RIGHT on 270 to the BODIE GHOST TOWN. Note: 270 is NOT FOR SPORTBIKES. It is a washboard road with about 95,000 bumps that look just like corrugated metal but with 5-inch bumps. Best done on a bigger bike with softer suspension. Bring walking boots.
- Back out to 395.
- North to 89
- LEFT on 89
- RIGHT on 89 (not LEFT on 4)
- LEFT on 88 to Jackson, then home.
- LONG RIDE. Get comfortable on shorter ones first.
If you’d like to see even more fabulous California Backroads with full reviews, photos, maps, and much more, visit pashnit.com, or get yourself a map of Northern California made just for Motorcylists from Butler Maps.