Driving the Scenic Coast North of Santa Cruz, California

In this adventure

Editor’s note:  Trucks.com wanted to see how different vehicles fared on a typical mountain biking vacation. With miles of forest trails and roads winding through the hills and along the coast, Santa Cruz, Calif., offered perfect conditions for testing pickup trucks and SUVs. Here’s a description of the route used to evaluate vehicles. Find more information about the models tested and the full report here.

The Trucks.com 2018 Summer Adventure began in Long Beach, Calif. With a long trip ahead, the caravan of three SUVs and one pickup truck departed just before dawn to beat the Los Angeles rush-hour traffic.

The route then traversed nearly 300 miles of central California landscape with quick stops to change vehicles. After hours of flat terrain along Interstate 5, the caravan headed west on CA 152 over the San Luis Reservoir. Then it was through some rural roads to the garlic capital of Gilroy and into the coastal town of Santa Cruz to meet up with a group of mountain biking enthusiasts.

The Santa Cruz area is paradise to many outdoor adventurers. People come for its surfing, hiking, kayaking and mountain biking. The route used during the 2018 Trucks.com Summer Adventure stretched more than 80 miles through sleepy beach towns, up steep forest inclines and across the stunning Santa Cruz Mountains.

Each participant drove the route twice per day for a total of four times.

Each day started at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Santa Cruz. The location is central to some of the best mountain biking routes in the region. Participants used the parking lot to secure racks and load up their bikes for the day.

Following a ride through the redwoods on Specialized Stumpjumper mountain bikes, participants piled in their assigned vehicles. Accompanied by a member of the Trucks.com team, the four vehicles set out northbound on scenic CA 1, also known as Pacific Coast Highway. The convoy passed Waddell Beach, a famous kitesurfing destination.

Nearby, nature lovers visit Año Nuevo State Park to view sea lions and elephant seals in their natural habitat.

After 35 miles on CA 1, the route headed east at San Gregorio State Beach, where CA 84 led drivers through winding turns that dip and dive through open space preserves. This two-lane section of road was the most dynamic of the trip and provided ample opportunity to evaluate the performance aspects of any vehicle.

The route turned off CA 84 at the iconic Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside, Calif., a longtime resting point for outdoor adventurers since the 1960s.

At Alice’s the drivers headed west along CA 35, aptly named Skyline Boulevard, for 12 miles of shaded forest cruising and expansive views of the San Francisco Bay. Hikers and mountain bikers unload from vehicles parked all along the side of this section of the road.

The road bends at the Upper Crystal Spring Reservoir at CA 92 for a straight shot back down to the Pacific coast, which leads into Half Moon Bay and its quaint restaurants and shops. During the chilly winter thousands flock to Half Moon Bay to see big-wave surfers tackle 50-foot giants at the world-famous Maverick’s Beach. In the summer the area is best for exploring tidepools and enjoying hikes along the bluffs.

At Maverick’s, the route reconnects with CA 1 and shoots back up the coast.

This course traveled through the Tom Lantos Tunnels, the second- and third-longest tunnel roads in California. Opened in 2013, the tunnels allowed drivers to bypass the landslide-prone Devil’s Slide area.

The tunnels spit vehicles out onto massive bridges overlooking wetlands in a valley far below. Just around a few bends is the town of Pacifica and its scenic restaurant Nick’s Rockaway, which overlooks the coast. After a lunch of seafood, the group swapped vehicles and headed back to Santa Cruz.

The second day’s drive ended at Moss Beach, just 7 miles south of Pacifica. Before swapping vehicles, the group lunched at Moss Beach Distillery, which offers stunning ocean views and a story about a ghost that’s supposedly haunted the restaurant for decades. Then it was back to Santa Cruz for the final leg of the drive.