Bike, Beach, Craft Brew

Bike from Watsonville to Sunset State Beach in Santa Cruz County

Escape the summer heat with the wind in your hair and your toes in the sand! This 12-mile (round-trip) gravel trail leads cyclists from Watsonville to the sandy shores of Sunset State Beach.

From the Riverside Road trailhead, head southwest on the Pajaro River Levee Trail. After a mile of quaint homes and cactus gardens, the buildings give way to huge stretches of farmland, including sweet-smelling strawberry fields and colorful rows of cabbage.

At the intersection with the Watsonville Wastewater Plant, break to enjoy the shaded picnic areas. (Tip: Those looking for a shorter ride can use this location as a starting point for a kid-friendly 6-mile round-trip pedal.) 

Cyclists interested in bird watching can continue along the trail until it dead-ends at the scenic wetlands, where ibis, kingfishers, and plovers can be spotted. But those interested in sunbathing at the beach should turn right at the intersection with Thurwachter Road, then left on Beach Street. Soak up the salty air as you pedal the last 1.5 miles to Sunset State Beach. Cyclists are admitted for free, and there is a bike rack located next to the bath house.

Climb the sandy hill to reach beautiful Palm Beach, perfect for a refreshing dip in the waves after a long ride. Visitors can make use of the picnic areas and bonfire pits before retracing their route back to Riverside Road.

BONUS: Looking for a post-ride meal? Head over to Fruition Brewing, a local brewhouse that sources their ingredients from the Watsonville farmlands. Enjoy live entertainment while sampling their selection of beer, cider, and gourmet bar snacks. (Heather recommends the Guava Punch Buzz and Grilled Cheese Deluxe.) Fruition Brewing is located at 918 E. Lake Avenue, in Watsonville.

The Riverside Road trailhead is located at the intersection of Bridge St. and Riverside Rd. in Watsonville. From US 101, exit onto CA-152/Hecker Pass. After 17.5 miles, turn left onto Blackburn St. in Watsonville. Park in the public lot or for free on Bridge St. Gravel or mountain bikes are recommended for this trail.

Story and photos by Heather Werner,

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Photo of the East Brother Light Station in the San Francisco Bay Area

    Oh, Brother!

    Spending the night on a tiny island in the Bay? Intriguing. Spending the night in a lighthouse perched on that island? Sound the foghorn! East Brother Light Station Bed & Breakfast sits on a small patch of land in the strait that separates San Francisco and San Pablo Bays.

  2. Mill About Lakeside

    Bucks Lake Recreation Area near Quincy in Plumas County has plenty of beautiful hiking trails. For an easy hike with beautiful spots for sunning, swimming, and lounging on sand beaches or giant rock slabs, do the Mill Creek Trail.

  3. Camping at Chewing Gum Lake Emigrant Wilderness

    High Sierra Lake Hop

    Situated just north of Yosemite is a High Sierra wonderland that gets a fraction of the crowds and is a fantastic destination for backpacking. The Emigrant Wilderness is 113,000 acres of granite ridges, wildflower-strewn meadows, and cobalt lakes.

  4. The Secret Big Blue

    Set at 4,500 feet, surrounded by 52 miles of shoreline, and with sparkling sapphire hue, Lake Almanor is the other big blue. The secret one. This huge lake—idyllic in spring through fall for all kinds of water adventures—is a gem of Plumas County where you can relax without crowds.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Hot As (Bumpass) Hell

    So you like going to all the hot spots when you visit places? Well, in Lassen Volcanic National Park there’s a place so hot it gets downright steamy. Bumpass Hell is the largest hydrothermal area in the park, with sputtering mud pots, sulfur vents, and boiling pools. It’s California’s Yellowstone.

  2. Bucks Up!

    Come on in, the water is beautiful. Whether you like swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddling, or heading out on a bigger boat, Bucks Lake is a high mountain haven that’s easy to access, blissfully uncrowded, and surrounded by sandy beaches, picnic areas, pines, and aspens.

  3. Starcrossed Stairway?

    Built into the hillside next to the Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood Heights delights with historic homes, steep and narrow (mostly carless) streets, and enchanting city views. Best of all, it features a network of walkways and staircases that makes it super fun to wander and explore.

  4. Lunch at the Lakes

    Pack your own picnic and head for a lakeside lunch at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Then take your pick from a lovely trio of lakes accessed from the same trailhead. Follow it all up with a visit to Manzanita Lake on the other side of the park.