Quick Take:

May is here, and it’s the perfect time of year to enjoy some new bike routes — and the snacks along the way. Consider these three for this weekend or soon.

You can check out lots of local guides touting the best biking trails across Santa Cruz County. But for some of us, biking journeys are as much about all of the stops along the way as the destination.

We’ve put together three biking options for the season, from the short-and-sweet trips to a nearly 20-mile cycling journey. An added bonus? We aim to keep your entire trip affordable, including treats and additional activities.

For a brief but beautiful ride, hit the finished portion of the Coastal Rail Trail

When I was first moving to Santa Cruz, I was all set to land the Westside, and the finished Coastal Rail Trail offered its appeal. While I live in Live Oak now, I love to head over to the finished bike path and see all the local haunts that have popped up along the way.

A Santa Cruz local enjoys his ride along the Westside path.
A Santa Cruz local enjoys his ride along the Westside path. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

The path is not car-free for the first part of the journey, about two miles, but the finished bike path is dedicated to cyclists, walkers, runners and others.

Starting from downtown Santa Cruz, bike toward the Beach Boardwalk on either Center Street or Pacific Avenue/Front Streets, heading toward Bay Street to get away from the crowds and closer to the finished bike path. From there, you’ll have the chance to ride along the 1.2-mile path toward Natural Bridges State Beach, where you and your cycling companions can check out the views of the Pacific from your beach blanket.

This section of the bike path officially opened to the public in December 2020, and serves approximately 800 users daily.

11th Hour Coffee has taken over the Swift Street Courtyard location formerly occupied by Kelly's French Bakery
11th Hour Coffee has taken over the Swift Street Courtyard location formerly occupied by Kelly’s French Bakery. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

After enjoying the sights and sounds of the local wildlife — birds, crabs and whales, oh my! — head back to the path to hit up some of the lively spots along the trail. For early or mid-morning sustenance, you can’t go wrong with some pastries from Companion Bakeshop on Mission Street or a shot of caffeine from Verve Coffee Roasters, Cat & Cloud Coffee or 11th Hour Coffee, all within shouting distance of the trail around the Swift Street Courtyard.

To round out the day (or for an early afternoon drink), pull your saddle over to any of the nearby breweries or drinking holes, including favorites Apéro Club, Humble Sea Brewing Co. and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. If you time it right, you could be on hand for happy hour and/or cheaper options at the latter two, from $5 Fonda Felix empanadas to $5 pints on tap.

Starting point: Abbott Square in downtown Santa Cruz, 118 Cooper St., Santa Cruz
Ending point: Swift Street Courtyard, 746 Swift St., Santa Cruz
Distance: 4.8 miles
Time needed: ~1 hour; more depending on stops
Tip: Watch out for weekend visitors while biking past the Boardwalk; some walk in the bike lanes when the sidewalks become congested, without acknowledging that there might be folks cycling through.

For a hilly climb, head to Forest of Nisene Marks State Park

Nisene Marks is a go-to hiking destination on the weekends for many, but for others, it is also a great biking route. Biking into the park itself can be quite enjoyable — sans mountain bike or hefty tires — and worth checking out.

Starting at the Capitola Mall’s entrance on 38th Avenue, take Capitola Road to 46th Avenue and, to avoid the weekend traffic in Capitola Village, take Wharf Road to Soquel Drive and head east. Soquel is a hilly climb along some parts — especially around Soquel Village and near Cabrillo College — but those challenges are just a few bumps in the road on the way to a great forest view.

Aptos Creek
Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

When arriving at Nisene Marks, cycle through the trees on the main road toward the Aptos Rancho Trail, and go as far as your legs want to take you. From there, you can lock up your bike for a longer hike, such as the 10.1-mile trip to Maple Falls via the Bridge Creek Trail or the 6.7-mile Aptos Rancho Trail to the Oak Ridge Loop.

'Little Beach' has served its purpose.
Credit: Crystal Birns / For Lookout Santa Cruz

Once done at the park, head back toward Aptos Village for some nourishment. The development has a few options to choose from, from coffee and avocado toast at Cat & Cloud Coffee to ice cream and cookies from The Penny Ice Creamery. For a more substantial meal, head to Mentone for pizza and pasta or Parish Publick House for burgers and brews.

Starting point: Capitola Mall, 1855 41st Ave., Capitola
Ending point: Aptos Village, 448 Granite Way, Aptos
Distance: 8.8-21 miles
Time needed: ~2-4 hours; more depending on stops
Tip: Wear sunscreen! The vast majority of Soquel Drive is unshaded, and thus can make a challenging ride all the more sweat-inducing.

To get out of the city, head to Wilder Ranch State Park

Wilder Ranch is another great spot for some hiking, biking and/or picnicking on a gorgeous Santa Cruz day.

From a starting point in downtown Santa Cruz, follow the same route as if you’re heading toward Natural Bridges State Beach, along the finished portion of the Coastal Rail Trail. From there, keep going along the trail and, instead of turning toward the ocean, turn toward Highway 1; take Shaffer Road toward the Wilder Ranch bike/pedestrian path, and get going!

The park has a few options for cyclists to choose from, with beginner-level trails like the Ohlone Bluff Trail or more advanced trails like the Enchanted Loop. Bike rides can range in length depending on your comfort level, so plan accordingly for what you most want to accomplish.

The group of 12 Pedal the Pacific cyclists
Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

Prior to your journey, stock up on picnic essentials at the Westside New Leaf Community Market, grabbing sandwiches and drinks for a picnic at Wilder’s open picnic area. You can even grab some classic donuts at Ferrell’s Donuts on Mission Street, with just the added sugar shock to bike some more.

Starting point: Abbott Square in downtown Santa Cruz, 118 Cooper St., Santa Cruz
Ending point: Wilder Ranch State Park, 1401 Coast Rd., Santa Cruz
Distance: 10-15 miles
Time needed: ~2 hours; more depending on stops
Tip: Watch out for doo-doo. The park has many equestrians who use the trails, so you might have to swerve along the trail to not get stuck in a rut.

Grace comes to Lookout from just over the hill, originally from Sunnyvale but with a variety of journalism experience from across the country.After doing her undergrad at Seattle University, Grace earned...