October 14 2010 by Jason Fogelson
We woke to a beautiful crisp morning. Breakfast at the BEST WESTERN Sonora Oaks Hotel's Pine Tree Restaurant was included with our stay, so of course, we filled up our tanks before heading out on the road.
This day's ride was the most urban of our six days on the road. We headed west on Route 120, down a very pleasant stretch of undulating road through several small towns and farm villages. After 50 miles or so, the houses started piling up beside the roads, and we were riding through suburbs instead of countryside. Soon, we jumped into the broad spaghetti dish of freeways that lead toward San Francisco, and our urban adventure commenced.
We took Interstate 5 South to Interstate 205 West to Interstate 580 West, a stretch of about 48 miles where we saw more cars and trucks than we had seen in our previous three days of riding. Living in Los Angeles, I'm very comfortable riding on the freeway, especially on a bike as powerful and capable as the Electra Glide. But it was still a bit of a culture shock to go from wide-open roads to congested urban freeways.
We exited the freeway at Castro Valley, and after a quick stop for fuel and water in Hayward, we paid the $5 toll and rode across the San Francisco Bay on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. At 7 miles long, the San Mateo Bridge is the longest in the San Francisco area, and is the 25th longest bridge in the world. It runs from Hayward on the north side of the bay to Half Moon Bay on the south side, and provides a gorgeous view of San Francisco, Oakland, San Mateo and the Bay area. The best part of the bridge is that it links an urban neighborhood to a sleepy county that is laced with great motorcycling roads.
We motored over to scenic Skyline Drive, fighting the first precipitation that we'd seen during our trip. A misting rain fell through the big trees onto the twisting black pavement, making challenging corners even more challenging. I throttled back a little bit, and took it easy on the slick stuff.
We stopped at Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, a famous meeting place for motorcyclists. Inspired by the Stockbridge, Massachusetts restaurant immortalized in Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song, Alice's is a comfortable, friendly woodsy place with great food and leisurely service. We met our friend, Bob Burns, for brunch. Bob is the Driving Events Manager for Land Rover North America, and an avid motorcyclist who lives in nearby Santa Cruz. Bob always has a motorcycle project going in his garage, and he's considering a Sportster makeover for his next addition. It's possible that my own Sportster, Manny, may be the basis for his project, if the right financial terms can be negotiated, and if I can find a suitable replacement bike for myself -- probably a touring bike from the Harley-Davidson family. Because of the weather, Bob drove his Range Rover to the restaurant, instead of one of his motorcycles, so we had to content ourselves with his entertaining company at brunch, instead of our planned moto-tour of the best roads in the area. Next time.
We bid Bob and Alice's farewell, and took La Honda Road toward the ocean. We had had enough of freeways for one trip, and wanted to get to the Pacific Coast Highway as quickly as possible.
California's Highway 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway or "PCH" to locals, runs along the shoreline all the way from San Diego to the Oregon Border, sometimes merging with US 101 for a freeway blast, sometimes meandering on its own as a two-lane road closer to the ocean. You could spend a lifetime traveling the PCH and never uncover all of its wonders.
We rode along PCH for 80 miles, from San Gregorio to Davenport, through Rio Del Mar and Santa Cruz, hugging the shore all the way to Monterey. It was a beautiful ride, as the mist of the morning gave way to patchy fog and sunshine in the early afternoon.
We checked in to the BEST WESTERN Monterey Inn, right in the heart of town. After shedding our leathers and unpacking our gear in our spacious room, we decided to walk around and see what the town had to offer. A look at the map revealed that the Monterey Bay Aquarium was exactly 2 miles away by foot, and that our walk would take us past Monterey's Old Fisherman's Wharf and along Cannery Row. I checked the batteries in my camera, and we walked downtown.
Monterey may be one of the healthiest towns in America. Everyone seems to be jogging, bicycling and stretching. And no wonder -- there are scenic paths that run right through town, between the historic canning factories and along the fishing wharves.
Cannery Row has come a long way since John Steinbeck's day. The rough and tumble fish processing district that the Nobel Prize-winning author used as the setting for his 1945 novel has been transformed into a tourist center, with the old industrial architecture housing high end lodging, dining and shopping. The area also has popular souvenir shops, snack stops and antique stores. Despite a real commercial bent, Cannery Row manages to retain enough unique local flavor to be a worthy destination. I wish that our motorcycling route had taken us through nearby Salinas, where we could have visited the National Steinbeck Center. Ah, well. A frequent refrain on this trip -- we'll have to schedule another trip.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium might just be the anchor that makes the whole street work. A world-class aquatic museum and scientific learning center, the Aquarium houses hundreds of species of sea creatures. You could easily spend an entire day touring the exhibits, so be sure to allot at least two hours for your visit, or you'll miss out on some very good stuff. Tickets range from $17.95 for children aged 3 - 12 to $27.95 for seniors and students to $29.95 for adults. Children under 3 get in free with a parent or guardian.
Our walk to the Aquarium tired us out a bit, but it wasn't quite mealtime yet. We ducked in to the Cannery Row Imax Theatre, which was showing the highly-praised "Coral Reef Adventure", a 50-minute Imax film by Howard and Michelle Hall, narrated by Liam Neeson and featuring music by Crosby, Stills and Nash. We left feeling quite inspired by aquatic life, so of course we headed for dinner on the Old Fisherman's Wharf -- seafood!
Monterey's Old Fisherman's Wharf is another tourist destination, with a score of restaurants, vendors and gift shops set up on the old piers. The fierce competition for your dollars keeps prices quite reasonable, and the proximity to the fishing fleets keeps the seafood fresh and local. So, even though it would be easy to write off Old Fisherman's Wharf as a tourist trap, it's actually a fun place to have a delicious meal at a good price.
After checking the menus and testing the free chowder samples along the wharf, we settled on Domenico's On the Wharf for dinner. Our table overlooked the water, and we were treated to a very entertaining show from the local seals, who battled for supremacy on a small dock. The food at Domenico's was excellent, and the service was superb.
We strolled back to the BEST WESTERN Monterey Inn, content from a very full day. Tomorrow would bring the most dramatic riding of the trip, along the cliffs of Big Sur. I checked to make sure that my camera batteries were fully charged before we called it a night.
Miles ridden: 225
Next: Day Five: Monterey to Morro Bay, CA