Destination: Watsonville, Moss Landing, Santa Cruz
Mileage: 125 miles, round trip
Route/Map: Over the hills and through the woods
Part 1: Escape SJ, Find Pie
First leg of the journey was through the Almaden Valley to Highway 152. After abruptly leaving the confines of San Jose suburbia, you find yourself in the middle of fields that could be in the middle of any number of nowheres. It's a quick out of the mayhem and into rural territory. After meandering to and along Calero Reservoir, wind along in oak trees past Uvas Reservoir, jog right and find yourself at a T with Highway 152. Head west through redwoods, up and over Hecker Pass and suddenly it's a bird's eye view of patchwork farmland all the way to the coast. Find Carlton Road to navigate to a very specific piece of that patchwork called Gizdich Ranch, where they wrangle some better-than-pretty-good pie.
Part 2: Hello Ocean, Hello Fishies (on my plate)
After the aforementioned pie (described in detail here), we cruised through the strawberry fields to the coast. It's all flat farmland with century-old palm tree sentries marking old farmhouses along the way. Going through Elkhorn Slough instead of zipping straight out 129 to Hwy 1 moves through some nice farmland roads. It's pretty, but there are a few spots that prove that sloughs do smell as bad as the word slough suggests. Depending on the weather, time of day, air temperature, and all of those good things, of course. The view is worth the slough, though.
Dolan Road tees into Highway 1 and lunch just across the highway. (Not on the highway. Roadkill ain't on my dietary plan.) Zip south a few hundred yards, hang a right, and you'll arrive at Phil's Fish Market. Before we got back on the bike, we walked about 50 yards further to the houses next to Phil's to find Art for Sail, a tiny garage-front gallery with pieces by local artists including Pete Cochrane. Definitely worth a look.
Part 3: Relax, then Relax Again
Cruising up the coast to Santa Cruz is a straight shot and relatively uneventful ride through farmland. Curving back out toward the coast, bits of traffic confirm you're closer to the denser populations of Aptos, Soquel, and Santa Cruz. Downtown Santa Cruz has multiple free three-hour lots along Cedar Street. If you're up for it, get a massage or soak in a hot tub at Well Within (or do both!).
If you'd rather, wander Pacific Avenue. You know you're dealing with a serious street musician when he's wheeled an upright piano to a street corner. Some major chain stores (i.e. Gap) have intruded, but there's still plenty of Santa Cruz laid-back vibe in the form of street artists, buskers (musicians), and nag-champa-scented shops. Or pot-scented parking lots. Take your pick.
Part 4: Scenic Route Back to Suburbia
Highway 17 is fine for tourists and people in a hurry, but Highway 9 is the way to San Jose. (I hope someone eventually told Dionne Warwick.) It's redwoods and sweeping turns, ups and downs, rivers to your right, and a few back-in-time towns along the way. You might get slowed by a few cars between Santa Cruz and Boulder Creek, but it's quiet again once through town. Up and over the summit and down toward Saratoga with the occasional freakishly amazing view of multiple pine-covered ridges along the way. Make a note to see at least one concert at Mountain Winery and put Hakone Gardens on the to-do list for another day.