(The kitschy, the fun, the outright strange)
You’re in the middle of a long ride and you’re ready for a break, but you don’t want to go to either coffee house, donut shop, convenience store, or café. You have your carbohydrate-bars, gels and your water bottles are mostly full but warm. Maybe cold water would be nice and, of course, a bathroom would be handy, but mostly you’re looking for someplace cool and restful but also someplace interesting: a roadside attraction where even kitschy would be ok, possibly even welcome in order to help break up a long ride.
Santa Cruz Mountains/South Bay
With that as your criteria, a great rest stop in the Santa Cruz Mountains is The Mystery Spot of the famous yellow and black dot bumper sticker fame. It’s a corny tourist trap east of the beach town set in a cool, refreshingly dark forest. To see the so-called mystery, you have to purchase a ticket and walk up a steep asphalted hill, not easy in bike shoes, especially when it’s wet, and not especially restful, but stash your bikes, swallow your cynicism and give it a chance. The “mystery” will take your mind off a big uphill ride back. If returning to the Bay Area, Mountain Charlie Road is the most direct return route. It’s about four-and-a-half miles and 1100’ to the crest, once a toll road route built by bear-battling Charlie McKiernan, whose original cabin is on top.
Another sightseer-magnet is the Winchester Mystery House, located amongst bustling streets and not really in the middle of anywhere you’d want to bike. But if you’re headed to or from the very bikable Los Gatos Creek trail, visiting the gift shop and flipping through hordes of souvenirs gets you out of the sun but in the midst of bus-trip tourists waiting for their tour to be called.
If you’re biking roads paralleling the Guadalupe River southwest of San Jose, you can take steep-but-short Hicks Road (700’ in a little over a mile) up and over to arrive at New Almaden, which has the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum attached to the larger Opry House brick building. The very cool air-conditioned museum shows the history of mining the cinnabar ore, which was the source for mercury, or quicksilver, to assist with gold and silver extraction. Cruising back through San Jose to the peninsula, you might take Park Avenue through a mixed commercial and residential neighborhood and come across the spectacularly out-of-place architecture of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. The tour is very expensive but has a well-air-conditioned gift shop you can visit for free.
It’s not the oldest, not the most scenic, and in fact isn’t even the original structure, but Mission San Jose is well situated for a tour around the southern San Francisco Bay. Located in the Mission San Jose District of Fremont, the large white mission building—connected to the large South Bay city in name only—sits on busy and charming Mission Boulevard, actively serving the community plus has memorabilia inside devoted to its two-hundred-year-old history. It’s a good halfway point in the very flat Dumbarton Bridge-Alviso loop.
Toss in some vertical, located just north of town, Mill Creek Road quickly gets very narrow and very scenic, steadily climbing almost 1400’ in a little under 5 miles, shadowing the creek of its name to a turn around on the backside of, what else? Mission Peak.
Published Cycle California, July 2008, Vol. 14, #6