This is the second installment in a “Roads” series we will do, covering some of the best driving roads the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer. Check back soon for more roads and photos, or e-mail us with some of your favorite drives in the Bay Area!
Hwy 9 is perhaps one of the best-known twisty backroads in the SF Bay Area. (Technically it should be called State Route 9 or SR9). It starts in the Silicon Valley area near the well-to-do little suburbs of Saratoga and Los Gatos, and snakes its way up and down the Santa Cruz mountains to the coastal town of Santa Cruz. Along the way you pass through quaint little towns such as Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond, and Felton, which entice short stops to patronize the various little shops and restaurants you’ll see along the way. There are also a multitude of regional and state parks and countless redwood trees for you to be awestruck by as you take in all the natural beauty of this area.
Like most of the backroads in the Bay Area, these roads are best explored early in the morning before mainstream traffic starts to clog the way. Not only are these roads favored by bicyclists, motorcycles and sports cars, but a fair number of residents and tourists also find their way between the Bay Area and Santa Cruz through these roads. Hwy 9 is typically just 2-lane roads most of the way, with a few turnouts and passing lanes here and there. So your pace through these twists and curves will depend heavily on the frequency of other traffic. Some thrill-seeking drivers venture out late at night to find empty roads and more freedom to um, do questionable things.
But when you do find the road all to yourself, it’s pretty close to motoring nirvana out there. The roads are generally smoothly paved and well groomed with very little gravel or debris, and the seemingly endless series of curves will have you grinning from ear to ear.
There are a few different segments of Hwy 9 that can be taken or skipped depending on your preferences and time constraints. There are also numerous alternative routes that intersect with 9 and you can piece together a half-day or all-day adventure just exploring some of the possibilities along this corridor. Our most frequented segment is the first one between Saratoga and Skyline Blvd (aka Hwy 35). Some road closures due to construction have recently put a damper on driving this segment, but it now looks like the road is open once more. Very often we will turn onto Skyline and continue on up towards Alice’s and maybe Hwy 84. Continuing further south on Hwy 9 leads to more scenic views and some high speed blasts before reaching the little burgs of Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond. Those seeking a breathtaking redwood forest journey will take a detour onto Hwy 236 into the Big Basin park — the roads get narrow and too claustrophobic for my tastes, especially when there could be an inattentive minivan coming around the next blind corner at you, but the scenery is a major draw for many hikers and tourists.
As you get closer to Santa Cruz, I find the last segment of Hwy 9 a little unremarkable, so a favorite route variation takes us off into the side roads, with curious names such as Ice Cream Grade and Bonny Doon Rd. These take us off on a roller coaster ride towards the coast, where we enjoy a final relaxing stretch down Hwy 1 before reaching the picturesque surfing town of Santa Cruz. Upper Crust Pizza is a popular stop for us to grab some pizza and hang out a bit before heading back or continuing on to other adventures such as the Natural Bridges beach or the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk.
Videos of Hwy 9: