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TOP TEN SCENIC BACKROADS IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
1) Petaluma to Bodega Bay -
If you don't like to drive slow, here is a 50 mph option that can make
you feel like you are visiting the rolling dairylands of the Midwest. Shortly after departing Petaluma, you
drive west through old-style country, complete with Jersey cows. The road meanders along, then you
climb a hill, pop over a ridge, and find a great view of Bodega Bay.
2) Bolinas/Fairfax Road -
If you like to mix in a hike with a drive, this is the best choice in the Bay
Area, with access to 15 trailheads for secluded hikes and three lakes. The road leaves Fairfax and climbs
a hill, passing a golf course and a series of trailheads, and then traces above Alpine Lake, one of the
prettiest lakes in the Bay Area. If you take the Sky Oaks turnoff, you can also get access to Bon Tempe
and Lagunitas lakes. After crossing the dam at Alpine Lake, the road has several hairpin turns (these
usually keep the speeders away) and will lead you onto the remote western flank of Mount Tamalpais.
3) Sir Francis Drake Loop -
Marin isn't all condos, yuppies, and BMWs, and this trip proves it. Lucas
Valley Road is a pretty route that heads west through woodlands, over a hill, and down along Nicasio
Creek to Nicasio Reservoir. It dead ends at Petaluma Road, where you turn left, cross the lake, and
travel through foothill country -- choosing to either head farther out, all the way to Point Reyes if you
want, or back south to the metropolis.
4) Kings Mountain Road/Tunitas Creek Road -
Kings Mountain Road departs from Woodside on
the Peninsula, winds like a pretzel up and over Skyline Boulevard, then down the other side (where it
becomes Tunitas Creek Road) and eventually to Highway 1 and the ocean. In the process, it travels
through redwood groves, by mountain lookouts, alongside a stream, past rolling grasslands, and
eventually leads to the coast. It is narrow, twisty, and slow. In other words, it's perfect.
5) Mount Hamilton Road -
This is the twistiest road in California, built that way on purpose so that
the grade would be easy enough for horses towing wagons to make it to the top. And the top is the
highest point in the Bay Area: Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose. At 4,062 feet, it provides a fantastic
lookout over both the Santa Clara Valley to the west and miles of wildlands to the east. Once you reach
the top, you can extend the trip by heading east on San Antonio Valley Road then continuing (it
becomes Mines Road in Alameda County) all the way to Livermore.
6) Old Stage Road -
This is an old two-laner that connects Pescadero to San Gregorio, about a
20-minute drive through coastal hills and ranches. There is one section where giant eucalyptus trees
perfectly frame a straight, 100-yard stretch of road with a beautiful old home at the end, a classic piece of
7) Page Mill Road/Alpine Road/Pescadero Road -
Just add some twists and you lost the crowds.
That is what this route does, with some beautiful scenery to boot. It climbs out of the Palo Alto foothills,
providing great vistas of the South Bay and passing several parklands, then crosses Skyline Boulevard
and passes through a series of redwood forests. At times in the early summer, usually in the evening, fog
buries the coastal foothills and this road provides a dramatic lookout above them facing westward.
Eventually, the road connects to Pescadero, where you can take Old Stage Road.
8) Birds Landing/Rio Vista -
On a trip out to Rio Vista, my brother made a wrong turn and we
found this back road by accident. Since much of the area borders the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, there
is a chance to view all kinds of critters; in half an hour, we saw pheasant, heron, ducks, hawks, and
ground squirrels, but no Bigfoot. Highway 12 to Rio Vista gently climbs and falls with the foothills, and
then the road to Rio Vista is flat as you explore rural farm country. It feels like you are thousands of
miles from the Bay Area, not just 35 miles from Vallejo.
9) Clayton Road/Marsh Creek Road/Morgan Territory Road -
This trip is a microcosm of the Bay
Area, from hell to heaven in one easy lesson. You start by driving from Concord to Clayton on Clayton
Road, and amid the traffic, you may wonder what the heck you are doing here. In Clayton, turn right on
Marsh Creek Road and you will find out. The road is routed from the base of the northeastern flank of
Mount Diablo to some of the most remote sections of the county. From here, turn south on Morgan
Territory Road; it travels for nearly 20 miles through wildlands, leading eventually to Livermore and
10) Mines Road -
If this road feels like it is out in the middle of nowhere, that's because it is. It is
routed south out of Livermore, running in a valley between Crane Ridge to the east and Cedar Mountain
Ridge to the west; much of it follows Arroyo Mocho Creek. It is wild, untouched country, and the
farther you go, the wilder it gets. When the road crosses into Santa Clara County, it becomes San
Antonio Valley Road and is routed all the way to Mount Hamilton. You may even see a herd of elk way
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