Half Moon Bay Road Loop
This is a non-challenging road ride with an out-of-proportion amount of beauty and seclusion, and you can fit it into your schedule without having to devote a large chunk of your day to biking. I consider this ride route to be evidence that you don't have to undertake a loop that does a full climb of the Santa Cruz mountains (or two full climbs, if you start one from towns on the bay side) in order to enjoy the backcountry roads along these prettiest landscapes of the Peninsula ocean coast. It does, however, mean that you'll need to drive to Half Moon Bay, unless you're based around there already. Many cyclists are interested in more than just a 24-mile loop when heading to these roads on a weekend ride and doing a bigger loop that starts from Skyline Boulevard or from the towns on the other side would naturally be more enticing for them. But, for those times that you don't have that much time or when you have a beginner rider accompanying you (or are a beginner yourself) and would like a more low-investment way of sampling these great cycling roads, I think this route could be a useful option.
The starting point I've picked for the ride is at the northern extreme of the route, near the fire station at the southern end of Half Moon Bay's Main Street. There's only street-side parking here, though I rarely have difficulty finding spaces (except for extreme cases like during the annual Pumpkin Festival). It also happens to be free and there are no time restrictions that I noticed. One additional factor that makes this a sensible starting point is the fact that this more closely represents how the ride would be started by anyone from Half Moon Bay who could be doing this as an out-the-door route.
While the ride route may look like a figure-eight at first glance, it's actually a pure loop that simply happens to be highly pinched in the middle. That leads us to the question of the direction in which the loop should be done. My decision to do it counter-clockwise was a conscious one based on at least two minor reasons: It allows you to cover all of the Highway 1 segment of the ride in the southbound direction, which common wisdom states to be the preferable way due to having the prevailing winds in your back, and I'm under the impression that this gives you slightly fewer steep climbs than steep descents in comparison with doing it clockwise.
I'm sure that the main highlight of this route for most riders will be the portion that follows the country roads reaching part of the way into the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The ride incorporates these into a loop by using Highway 1 to complete the circuit. This serves to keep the ride length, total climb, and hence its duration limited. If you happen to have enough time and enough energy or if you have a special aversion to heavily used roads like Highway 1, there should be little to stop you from turning this into a longer and harder ride that traverses merely these backroads in the form of an out-and-back ride instead. Doing that would result in a 34-mile ride with a total elevation gain just north of 3600 feet.
The ride starts out with a seven-mile segment on Highway 1. There's no denying that Highway 1 is a busy road. On weekends with nice weather, the traffic can be especially bad if not downright bumper to bumper. On the positive side, the portion of Highway 1 on this ride has a wide paved shoulder from beginning to end as well as featuring very smooth pavement. Often the shoulder is wide enough to allow three cyclists to ride abreast. So, even if Highway 1 might not be the most pleasant part of this ride, it is at least quite safe. The only tricky interaction you'll have with Highway 1 traffic on this ride is during the two occasions when you'll have to cross it; once as you're getting started at the very beginning of the ride, and once when you're turning left onto Tunitas Creek Road in order to leave Highway 1 behind.
Unfortunately, the part of Highway 1 included on this ride is one of its flattest parts. The flatness may be okay for your ease of pedaling, but coupled with the fact that the road is quite set back from the coast in these parts, it leaves your ocean views at a negligible level. In fact, the entire ride features surprisingly little ocean scenery for a ride that takes place so close to the coast and on mostly treeless terrain. All that you get to see of the sea from Highway 1 on this ride will be limited to a thin blue strip just past some fields on your right, and only at the few spots where you are close enough to the water to have that. As for the views of the water you catch from a few higher spots on the "backroad portion" of the ride, they are only marginally better—usually no more than that same unsatisfying blue strip seen from a slightly higher vantage point. Still, there are moments when the water (if not obscured by a fog layer) makes for a nice backdrop to your view during some descents in the second half of the ride. For any more involvement with ocean scenery than that on this ride, you might need to stop at a beach or two along the Highway 1 segment, such as Cowell Ranch Beach or Martins Beach. That might not present you with more rugged coastal scenery, but will at least be a much more up-close look.
What I consider to be the interesting part of the ride starts when you turn onto Tunitas Creek Road. This narrow road initially threads more or less flatly through mostly bare coastal hills and past a few farms. Along this part, you'll also encounter The Bike Hut. This is an unattended "supply shack" for cyclists at Potrero Nuevo Farm that is open 24/7. You can find snacks, drinks, as well as emergency supplies and spare parts there and you're expected to leave payment for what you take based on the honor system. It's certainly worth a quick stop if you haven't seen it before. Tunitas Creek Road soon starts following a much narrower canyon along the much more rugged bed of its namesake creek. In case you wonder whether this ride route reaches into the parts of this road where it famously goes through dim redwoods, it starts doing some of that as it enters these narrower surroundings, but only barely. You soon turn onto Lobitos Creek Road and climb out of the big trees before you really get into the thick of it.
You might expect the Lobitos Creek Road segment of the ride to consist of a climb away from Tunitas Creek followed by a descent all the way back to the coast. In reality, somewhat surprisingly, it has several more minor ups and downs along the way. It's nothing that could be considered challenging, though, and you soon settle into the valley of Lobitos Creek and end up almost back at Highway 1 via a mildly twisty descent.
At the end of Lobitos Creek Road, you turn onto Verde Road and follow that road as it quickly comes literally within a few dozen feet of Highway 1 (as well as reaching it via the shortest connector road you've ever seen) but then diverts slowly away from it as it takes you toward Purisima Creek Road while giving you some of the better water views of the ride from its earlier stretches. Once you're on Purisima Creek Road, you essentially repeat the same formula you experienced when you first turned onto Tunitas Creek Road on this ride: Starting through a cute, grassy valley dotted with homes and farms, you head in toward some redwood groves that you briefly go through near the turn-around point of the road. Even the climb that follows this second turn-around is similar to that of the first one: Its slope is significant while not being serious enough to be memorable, just like the climb in the first repetition of this script. The only thing that is different this time is that the climb and descent are both unbroken. Once you reach the end of your twisty descent, you semi-abruptly emerge onto flat agricultural lands and find yourself seconds away from where you had started the ride.
Ideas for extending this ride should come easily to anyone who has done any amount of road cycling around this part of the Peninsula. Few riders will need to be told that simply continuing up Tunitas Creek Road will lead you to many possibilities of much longer loops. Or you could keep heading south along Highway 1 toward Pescadero and some options around there. For less ambitious ride plans, you can also easily combine this ride with parts of the casual Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail, though you might need to leave out the dirt portion of that trail unless you'll be doing this on a cyclocross or mountain bike. As for cases when you might be doing this ride on a bike capable of riding on trails, the possibility of incorporating Whittemore Gulch Trail into your ride should not be overlooked, at least as long as you can stomach the suffering of the climb that is necessary in order to be able to descend this beautiful singletrack.
If you have started this ride from the point that I suggested, you'll be in a good position at the end of the ride to get some post-ride treats, because the main concentration of cafes and restaurants in Half Moon Bay begins a little over half a mile up Main Street from that spot. My go-to place for coffee around there is the Half Moon Bay Coffee Company though I can't say I've tried many alternatives. I don't have a specific recommendation for a place to get a meal, but you'll see plenty of options if you walk a few blocks around there. If anything, you might have too many choices. If any of you have personal favorites here, you should feel free to leave a comment below to share it with others.
© Ergin Guney
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