Skyline Boulevard, properly known as California State Route 35, is one of the greatest pick-your-own-adventure routes here in the Bay Area. Spanning the northern crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, it features so many of our region’s best hikes, waterfalls, vistas and big trees. There’s something for everyone out there — you just need to know where to stop and, friends, that’s where we come in.
You might be scratching your head wondering why a group of conservationists is so excited about a strip of asphalt, when the core of our work is about protecting open spaces on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. Well, it’s not the road itself that gets us so excited, it’s the natural lands that surround it and the hundreds of miles of trails (literally) off this route that you can explore with friends and family. This small ribbon of asphalt provides some of the best access to the things we at POST absolutely love the most.
Sklyline Boulevard (Route 35) provides some of the best access to the Bay Area’s cherished open spaces. The proverbial road to adventure awaits.
Since 1977, Peninsula Open Space Trust (folks just call us “POST”) has protected more than 80,000 acres within San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. The expansive views of rolling hills and forested ridgelines along Highway 35 have been made possible, in large part, from this work and the commitment of amazingly generous donors. My point in all this is that many of these protected spaces are for YOU, look at this open landscape as an invitation to explore — a place protected, as we say in our mission, “for the benefit of all.”
It’s unlikely many of us will drive the entirety of Highway 35, especially those of us with a weak constitution for windy roads. If you’re looking for a different kind of experience, we suggest heading toward Highway 1 (it’s equally amazing). But we’re fairly certain you’ll enjoy this route in small sections, likely on your way to one of the many hikes in our local mountains. So, to help you make the most of that time, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite stops along this road — the places you may not have found yet but definitely need to know about.
Let’s get going. And if you’d prefer to explore an interactive map, click here!
Most folks think of Skyline Boulevard as the more mountainous central and southern sections of Route 35 where the road traverses the crest of the “skyline.” But we’d be remiss to leave out these sweet stops along the route’s more northern territories before its terminus with 19th Ave in San Francisco. Let’s start there and work our way south.
Dog lovers will be especially excited about the large off-leash areas at Fort Funston State Park. But anyone who loves epic coastal views will enjoy the trails along these coastal bluffs and the surprising tranquility so close to the bustle of San Francisco. The trailhead at Sneath Lane is also a spot you can’t miss, with miles of trails and epic views of the San Francisco Bay, including the Portola Expedition’s Discovery Site where colonizing Europeans claimed to have “discovered” the Bay.
Further south, the route parallels the San Andreas Fault and the views become quite…seismic. The Sawyer Camp Trailheads (both north and south) provide the best access in and around the Crystal Springs Reservoir. The paved trails are perfect for wheelchairs, strollers or bikes, and the Jepson Laurel, one of the largest and oldest California Bay Laurel trees in the state, is the perfect destination for a half-day outing. On your way home, plan a stop at the Pulgas Water Temple to pay homage to the source that supplies many Peninsula communities.
Further south, the route bends west and climbs for a view of the Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir. As you begin to wind high along the “skyline,” the route’s namesake becomes abundantly clear. POST-protected Purisima Creek Redwoods is the first of many trailheads along this section of the route, offering stunning views and close encounters with gnarly redwoods and slimy banana slugs. The nearby Methuselah Tree is also a must-see — a truly massive old-growth redwood just off the road. Mountain bikers should flock to the smooth, forested trails of El Corte de Madera with parking available at the iconic Skeggs Point parking lot, which offers terrific views east across the Bay.
In need of some refreshment? A trip along this section of the Skyline Boulevard isn’t complete without a stop at Alice’s Restaurant. Stop for the cold brew and tasty burgers and stay for the ambiance of fast motorcycles, hotrods and a classically Californian cuisine of eclectic mountain people.
Note to self: If you’re ever low on fuel, the only gasoline available on Skyline Boulevard is located at its junction with Highway 84. Fuel up, as you’re about to enter what I would argue is the most dramatic and scenic section of this route, and you won’t want to turn back.
Exposed to the full brunt of the Pacific’s winter storms, the wind-scoured summit of Windy Hill provides some of the best views in the Bay Area. On a clear day you can see to San Francisco, the Pacific Ocean and across the South Bay to Mount Hamilton in the Diablo Range. Families will enjoy picnicking at the Anniversary Trail parking area, which is a great place for those with small kids. The site of POST’s first-ever land protection work, Windy Hill has special meaning for our staff and donors.
Just to the south, you might be surprised to find the Thomas Fogarty Winery in an area that seems too mountainous for agriculture. Plan a visit for a tasting and to learn about their sustainable farming practices. And complement this perfect getaway with a stop at the Silicon Valley Vista Point parking area (check access here due to the pandemic) for epic views of world’s tech capital and surrounding open spaces.
From the main parking area for the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, you’ll have access to an awesome segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, a regional treasure that will one day circumnavigate the entire Bay. The David C. Daniels Nature Center (check for operating hours/closures before going) is another key stop accessible from this same parking area. Its gentle, half-mile trail is suitable for all ages and abilities and loops around a small pond before leading to the adorably quaint nature center where kids can get up close to local wildlife.
You’re now close to one of my favorite segments of Skyline Boulevard and one of my all-time favorite landscapes: The Monte Bello, Skyline Ridge, Long Ridge, Saratoga Gap and Upper Stevens Creek recreational areas harbor some of the richest and most biologically diverse landscapes in the Bay Area. Honestly, there’s enough good country and trail access in this pocket of Skyline Boulevard to provide you with decades of adventure. But don’t take my word for it, go see it for yourself.
Locals have deemed the intersection of Skyline Boulevard and Highway 9 the “Four Corners.” You’ll find parking available in the southeastern “corner” which provides access to both the Saratoga Gap Trail and the Skyline to the Sea Trail, one you can follow to the ocean at Waddell Beach (once Big Basin reopens after recovering from the 2020 CZU Fire). The Santa Cruz Mountain View Point, just a little ways down Highway 9, provides one of the best views of this area’s steep canyons and thick redwood forests.
Keep heading south to Castle Rock State Park for one of the more popular and well-known destinations along this route — and for good reason, as many consider it one of the crown jewels of the Santa Cruz Mountains. If the unusual geology of Goat Rock isn’t enough to pique your interest, the dramatic cascade at Castle Rock Falls will likely do the trick. Overnight camping is also available here if a day trip is not enough time to soak it all in.
South of the Seagraves Trailhead, the road narrows and enters an area with little to no public access. There are ample Christmas tree farms here to visit during the holiday season, a chance to find that perfect tree and cut it down yourself. For the year-round enjoyment, we suggest visiting Bear Creek Redwoods near the route’s southern terminus with Highway 17. Nearly lost to development as a golf course and luxury estates, this 1,432-acre property was protected by POST in 1999. Its ancient redwoods, clear creeks and shaded forests are the perfect spot to escape the summer heat, but parking is limited, so get there early!
Drive safe and happy trails!
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Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 80,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more