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. Camp and Kayak at Utica Reservoir in Stanislaus National Forest

    Sleeper Hit

    It's all about the water, and the camping, at Utica Reservoir in Stanislaus National Forest, a High Sierra reservoir perfect for kayak explorations and pitching your tent with the lake in the background.

  2. Wapama Wows

    Hetch Hetchy can be overlooked in Yosemite National Park because of its more remote location and limited facilities. But this is where you’ll also find one of the best day hikes in the park: Wapama Falls.

  3. Sheep Tight!

    You’re not going to have to count sheep to get a good night’s sleep at Sheep Dung’s beautiful property in Anderson Valley near Boonville. Four modern cottages—tucked far apart from each other among 500 acres of rolling hills—are designed for blissful solitude. And it’s dog-friendly!

  4. Hike Mount Tamalpais into Muir Woods

    Muir Woods Through the Backdoor

    A backdoor entrance into Muir Woods? Hike a tranquil trail that starts in Mount Tamalpais State Park and quietly leads into Muir Woods, letting you avoid the busyness of the main parking area.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. All the Wright Stuff

    Avoiding drama? That’s a good thing. Unless you’re talking about campsites. In that case, the more dramatic the better! And Wright’s Beach on the Sonoma Coast is quite the drama queen—27 campsites sitting smack dab in the middle of the wild and raging Sonoma Coast State Beach.

  2. kirk creek campground big sur

    Sur Bet!

    You can spend $1,000 a night for an ocean-view room in Big Sur. Or you can spend $45 and wake up to the sound of crashing waves and incredible views of Big Sur’s coastline when staying at Kirk Creek Campground.

  3. Secret Redwoods + Camping by the River

    Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park is a little-known gem where skyscraping reds (the tallest living trees in the world!) fly under the radar. Grizzly’s ironically small size and location off the beaten path provide near total seclusion, not to mention relaxing camping!

  4. Three Falling

    Three waterfalls, and fewer people. McCloud Falls might be the best waterfall hike in Northern California. There are bigger waterfalls in the state, but it’s the whole package that makes this 4-mile (round-trip) hike truly memorable.