Palomares Road is an idyllic East Bay backroad that cuts through narrow valleys to connect Route 84 to Interstate 580 and is quite popular among cyclists. This ride is a medium-length road loop whose main motivation is to traverse this cute road. The ride is not particularly challenging either, with only one noteworthy climb.
The route, as it's represented on this page, is done clockwise. My reason for preferring this is my perception that the steep climbs are a bit shorter when the ride is done this way and that you can spend much more of the ride on very mild downhill slopes where you can pedal your way up to high speeds easily. You'll notice all of these for yourself if you eyeball the elevation profile plot above. If what you're looking for is a more serious workout, however, feel free to opt for the counter-clockwise version of the ride.
I find that the town of Sunol is a suitable starting point for the ride because it features a relative ease of parking, is a popular rest and meeting spot for road bikers in the area, and it provides a few options to kick back and enjoy some drinks or food as soon as you finish the ride. If you need to look for a different starting point for this route, one option to which I can point is the area at the "northeastern corner" of this loop, near the intersection of Dublin Canyon Road and Foothill Road, where you'll find Stoneridge Mall as well as a few other big-box stores. I haven't tried it myself, but you probably should be able to find some legitimate parking opportunities around there. One more option could be in the parking lot of Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park further south along Foothill Road. Park users there might not appreciate it much if you take up a parking spot when you won't be using the park, perhaps; but it's okay, because roadside parking seems to be tolerated along the stretch of Foothill Road that's in the immediate vicinity of that park's entrance.
As you start the ride from Sunol, the first segment of the route that you'll cover is on Niles Canyon Road (Route 84). Niles Canyon is a very pretty setting where the twisty road shares the space in this narrow canyon with two railroads (one of which is the historic Niles Canyon Railway that currently serves tourists) while passing over and under under them a few times along the way. Niles Canyon Road is at least a fun drive in a car, and it should also be a great setting for a road ride if it weren't for the combination of its heavy traffic, very narrow or non-existent shoulder space, and tight curves. For these reasons, the four miles of this ride that takes place on Niles Canyon Road, while certainly pretty, is a part of the ride that is to be tolerated rather than savored, in my opinion.
As soon as you turn onto Palomares Road, the amount of traffic falls to a level between very light and absent; that is, if you don't count bicycles. This road isn't wide enough to have shoulders of satisfactory width, but I still feel that it's safe and comfortable for bikers due to its light traffic. If Niles Canyon is narrow, then the first half or so of Stonybrook Canyon, which makes up the uphill portion of Palomares Road on this loop, should count as positively claustrophobic. A rocky and picturesque creek bed accompanies the road along most of its way up this tight, twisty, and verdant canyon. The most significant climbs of the ride are also compressed into a 1.5-mile stretch that falls within the early part of this uphill portion. Other than the insides of a few curves where the grade touches 10 or 11 percent, the highest average grade you experience during these steeper parts is 9%, and this is always in stretches of less than a quarter mile at a time, between which the grade eases back a tick or two. The climb will make out-of-shape riders curse a little, but it isn't long and all the rest of the ride is very tame once you leave this part behind.
You pass by a couple of the roadside attractions of the ride also on this uphill portion of Palomares Road. One of these is the Holy Cross Orthodox Monastery. Coming across a monastery isn't exactly something you'll be experiencing on any of the other rides listed on this site. If you get any ideas about paying them a visit during a ride here, you should know that you'll need to contact them in advance (except on a handful of religious holidays), and you don't want to miss the message on their website discouraging visits to the monastery wearing shorts, sleeveless shirts, or other skimpy clothing. A short distance after the monastery, you'll be encountering the much more worldly distraction of the Chouinard Winery. The sign at their gate states that they offer tours and wine tasting on weekends between 12:00 and 5:00. I'm sure their dress code must be much more relaxed, too.
The downhill half of Palomares Road provides a bit more breathing room as the valley widens a little bit, especially as you get closer to I-580, while the sprinkling of rustic homes and what seem to be small ranches keep multiplying. As you get within a stone's throw of the freeway, you turn onto Dublin Canyon Road and follow this all the way back to San Ramon Valley. Dublin Canyon Road is essentially a frontage road alongside I-580 and has almost as little traffic as Palomares Road in addition to being much wider and having a dedicated bike lane of generous width. So, despite never being peaceful due to the constant roar of the adjacent freeway, this segment of the ride is a fairly comfortable one. And, although you first gain and then lose almost 300 feet of elevation on this road, the climbing grade is so mild (at barely over 2%) that most riders may just as well think of this as a flat stretch.
When Dublin Canyon Road hands you off to Foothill Road right near the busy intersection of the I-580 and I-680 freeways, you find yourself initially in a business-park-like setting and then this quickly turns into a posh suburban bedroom community kind of an environment as you keep heading south. The initial half of Foothill Road seems to carry a moderate amount of traffic, but this part of the road also happens to be its more spacious portion. There is no shortage of McMansions, gated communities, and trophy homes as you pedal along at great speed, helped by an imperceptibly small downhill slope, as this road follows the very edge of the flat valley floor that's right up against the foothills of Pleasanton Ridge.
After its intersection with Castlewood Drive, Foothill Road becomes more secluded and uninhabited. Most traffic (including most cyclists) turn left onto Castlewood Drive and then onto Pleasanton-Sunol Road in order to follow that road as the main route to Sunol from here. On this ride, however, I've deliberately opted to stay on Foothill Road, because, while Pleasanton-Sunol Road is (for the most part) wider and flatter, it is also right next to I-680 almost all the way to Sunol and I wanted to avoid the noise.
You'll notice that the route shown on this page takes a brief diversion away from Sunol almost seconds before the end of the ride. The only point of this little spur was to pay a visit to the unusual destination that is the Sunol Water Temple. This little structure dating from the early 20th century is one end point of an underwater aqueduct that crosses under the bay to supply San Francisco with a significant amount of its water supply (including the water that comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park), and is the counterpart to the Pulgas Water Temple, which can be seen on the Cañada Road ride described on this site. The only problem on this ride was that I wasn't aware of the public hours of the little park that hosts this monument and I had to turn back from the gate because it's only open between 9:00 and 3:00 on weekdays. If you haven't seen it before, stop by when you get a chance. It's not something you see everyday. The fact that what (to our current mindset) is merely a piece of utility infrastructure would be treated with such pride and reverence back in the day is something that evokes admiration and fascination for me.
When you conclude your ride, you'll find a few places to sit down and grab a bite or a sip right there in the tiny town of Sunol, without even having to move your car; including Sunol Railroad Cafe and Bosco's Bones & Brew, both of which looked enticing to me. Your selection also includes the little convenience store, "Sunol Corners Little Market", only a few blocks away at the corner of Route 84 and Pleasanton-Sunol Road, which seemed to be a common regrouping and rest stop for road bikers on the day I did this ride.
© Ergin Guney
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