Words by Kate Bradshaw
Running along the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains from San Francisco to Los Gatos, Skyline Boulevard—or State Highway 35—offers some of the best Peninsula vistas around. Along the way, you’ll encounter old-growth forests, sweeping hills and valleys, ocean views and panoramas of Silicon Valley. State Highway 35 really is its own destination. Serving as a gateway to adventure, it offers day trippers abundant activities to explore while navigating its twists and turns.
Ride horses on the Beach
Near the northern terminus of Skyline Boulevard in Daly City, Mar Vista Stables offers visitors equine escapism in the form of beachside horseback rides. Beginning, intermediate or advanced riders can go for guided trail rides through Fort Funston and Thornton Beach.
“It’s a little bit of country life just outside the city,” says the ranch’s lead wrangler and weekend manager David Ingram, who goes by Wrangler D. “It’s a hidden gem for sure.”
There are about 30 horses on the ranch in total, and the team takes special care to match each rider with a horse whose temperament is a good fit. Reservations are advised for this small, family-run business and can be made by phone at 650.991.4224.
Hang glide or paraglide from the coast or the hills
Soaring above the grassy hilltops near Skyline Boulevard is not for the inexperienced or the faint of heart. But for those who do have the requisite training, there are several aerial thrill-seeking sites along the road: Fort Funston, Mussel Rock Park and Windy Hill.
Fort Funston is one of the premier hang gliding spots in the country, according to the National Park Service. To fly there, hang gliders must be members of the Fellow Feathers, have a current membership in the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association and meet the requirements to be considered an intermediate hang glider pilot.
According to Evan Cohen, vice president of a local paragliding and hang gliding club, Mussel Rock Park sees a number of paragliders on days with good forecasts (those with westward winds of 8 to 20 miles per hour and no fog, he adds). Windy Hill is considered to be the most advanced spot in the Bay Area for hang gliding and paragliding. For those equipped with the training, experience, a permit and good weather, a good way to make the trip is to start at the bottom of Windy Hill, hike to the top and then paraglide back down to one’s car. Fair warning, the weather conditions are often fickle, cautions Evan.
Mountain bike through a redwood forest
Farther south from where Highway 92 connects with Skyline Boulevard, cyclists can take advantage of world-class mountain biking through a second-growth redwood forest at El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. Or, as the local mountain biking community likes to call it, Skeggs Point.
According to Ergin Guney, who runs the mountain biking website bayarearides.com, the preserve has plenty of singletrack trails, root clusters and rock gardens to explore. “If you are descending a fire road at Skeggs for anything more than a fairly brief distance, you’re doing it wrong,” he says. To maximize fun, plan to go uphill on fire roads and downhill on singletrack trails, he suggests.
Less experienced riders should check out the less-technical singletrack Sierra Morena and Oljon trails, while the Manzanita, Resolution and Blue Blossom trails (going downhill) are recommended for more experienced riders.
Hike and taste wines from aN historic Peninsula winery
Launched in 1981 by surgeon and medical device inventor Dr. Tom Fogarty, the Thomas Fogarty Winery is now a boutique winery dedicated to sustainable viticulture. With a suspended redwood deck overlooking 30 acres of Chardonnay vineyards and views of the Bay, this popular event venue hosts about a wedding a week, according to Dushan Jefferson, the winery’s sales and hospitality manager. Those interested in pairing a hike with their wine tasting can attend a winery tour, which includes a hike through the vineyards with a guide and takes about an hour. Wildlife such as deer, mountain lions and bobcats are regularly visible in the spring and summer, Dushan says.
Visitors can also head toward Windy Hill, or for a less crowded hike, can venture a few minutes south by car to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve to take in stunning vistas from Mindego and Borel Hills.
Go for a scenic drive and bring a picnic
For adventurers of the armchair (or passenger seat) variety, there’s plenty to take in by just going for a drive along Skyline Boulevard. As a motorist, the road has a special pace to it, unfurling in gentle turns with the landscape shifting every few miles to give visitors a new vantage point, of the Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. From north to south, coastal fog and eucalyptus groves shift to dense redwood forests, which then give way to grasslands dotted with old oak trees and wide vistas.
Consider stopping along the route at Alice’s Restaurant for a leisurely breakfast al fresco or grab lunch to go. Eat at public picnic tables, located at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve Anniversary Trail parking area or beside Alpine Pond at Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve.
Gaze at the stars from the wilderness
One of the Peninsula’s top stargazing spots is at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve. Make sure to sign up for a permit allowing you to be at the park after hours at least two weekdays ahead of your visit. Bonus points if you backpack the 1.5 miles in to stay overnight at the preserve’s Black Mountain backpacker camp, where you can spend all night enjoying the constellations and wilderness. Don’t forget to layer up and consider downloading a stargazing app to help you identify stars in advance.
Photos Courtesy of: David Ingram, Robb Most, Lily Fogarty, Achille Bigliardi