Biking Santa Cruz: The Ultimate Guide for Cycling the City

written by local expert Jane Elmets

Jane always knew she wasn't destined for a desk job... She has travelled all over the world and is passionate about noodles, sloths and her hiking boots! When she isn't busy adventuring around the world, you can find her reviewing travel gear and dishing out travel tips to all the places she's visited.

Santa Cruz is one of the best cities in the United States for cycling enthusiasts. From countless trails to abundant rental shops, this article will guide you through everything you need to know about biking Santa Cruz.

Biking is a well-loved activity all over California and has become increasingly popular in Santa Cruz as well. With new and existing infrastructure being developed, including increased bike lanes on city streets and more than 562 miles of trails to enjoy, cycling in Santa Cruz has never been easier or safer.

Whether you’re looking for scenic coastal views, desire to peddle through dense forests, or simply want to get from Point A to Point B, this article will cover all you need to know.

Where to Rent a Bicycle in Santa Cruz

If you’re worrying about finding a bike to ride in Santa Cruz, don’t. The city is absolutely brimming with bicycle shops that will provide you with the perfect set of wheels, along with a helmet and local tips to make your trip that much more breezy.

Some top spots to rent bikes from include:

  • Pacific Ave Cycles
  • Spokesman Bicycles
  • Current eBikes
  • The Bicycle Trip

If you don’t want to shell out extra for a bike rental, you can always book a vacation rental, many of which have bicycles included in the price!

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Santa Cruz Bike Trails

Biking Santa Cruz couldn’t be easier due to the sheer amount of trails that exist in this little seaside paradise. Not only is there a vast network of coastal bike paths to explore, but the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Trail System consists of a whopping 56 trails and more than 562 miles of cycling bliss for mountain bikers looking to get their fix.

As long as you’re willing to hop on your bike and hit the pavement, this city has got you covered.

But if you’re wondering where to start with your biking Santa Cruz journey, here are some top Santa Cruz bike trails to enjoy during your stay.

West Cliff Drive

If you’re only going to cycle one trail in Santa Cruz, it better be the West Cliff Drive Promenade.

Running along the coast past Monterey Bay, you’ll be treated to plenty of scenic sights on this three mile route like Cowell Beach, Steamer Lane, and the Memorial Lighthouse at Lighthouse Point, before ending at Natural Bridges State Beach.

East Cliff Drive

Stretching from Pleasure Point to Capitola-by-the-Sea, this is another iconic seaside bike trail in Santa Cruz.

You’ll ride along the famous surf breaks, past Jack O’Neill’s home (he invented the wetsuit!), and through charming residential areas with the most beautiful ocean cottages imaginable, before ending up in Capitola Village.

beautiful colorful town to bike to in Santa Cruz

Emma Mccray

If you’re looking for the best beginner mountain biking trail in Santa Cruz, Emma Mccray is definitely at the top of the list.

Nestled in Pogonip Park, this trail is super accessible from downtown and gives novice mountain bikers a taste of this heart pumping sport.

You’ll cycle through towering Redwoods, along bubbling brooks, and across wooden bridges, making this ride equally as scenic as the beachside trails.

Soquel Demonstration Forest Flow Trail

This is an advanced level trail, but the perfect spot for intermediate mountain bikers to really test their skills.

Start with some easy, fast downhill on singletrack before hitting a few jumps and obstacles that’ll take you through technical terrain.

The great thing about this trail is that it has everything- fast flowy downhills, banked turns and hard climbs- so it never gets boring! No wonder this was rated the #1 flow trail in the US.

Wilder Range Loop

This intermediate, four mile loop in Wilder Ranch State Park is nothing short of picturesque.

You’ll pedal through grasslands, get glimpses of the glittering Pacific Ocean and link up with two other trails: The Baldwin Loop and the Enchanted Loop which offer simple cycles with million dollar views (like the picture of the State Park below!). This is truly what biking in Santa Cruz is all about.

biking Santa Cruz in wilder ranch state park

Kennedy Trail

Cycling for the views? The Kennedy Trail will not disappoint.

Following a wide fire road, this trail starts out flat and downhill before a steep ascent with rolling mountain vistas and lush greenery surrounding you.

There are some great lookouts along the trail and plenty of paths to take. Either start your descent at Dogmeat Intersection or continue on to Limekiln Trail for a roller coaster-like mountain bike ride.

Watsonville Wetlands

For a great variety in trails, head out to Watsonville Wetlands, the largest remaining wetland on the Central Coast!

This stunning, flat area has more than seven miles of trails to cycle, along with a huge number of entrances, allowing you to start or stop wherever you please.

You’ll also find the wetlands to be top notch in terms of bird watching, so pack a pair of binoculars and stop for a rest to see what species you can spy!

Biking Safety in Santa Cruz

While biking Santa Cruz is generally a pretty safe experience due to the incredible infrastructure, there are a few safety tips that are worth keeping in mind.

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Bike at sunset near the ocean in Santa Cruz!-min

Wear a Helmet

This should go without saying, but you absolutely must wear a helmet while biking Santa Cruz. Since you’ll be riding along busy streets and through winding trails, a helmet is essential for staying safe while cycling.

All good bike rentals will come with a helmet. Make sure that it fits properly before taking off on your journey!

Get the Bike That’s Right for You

It may be tempting to rent a bike with tons of bells, whistles and bright colors, but it’s much more important to get a bicycle that’s the right fit for you.

While most rental places will ensure that your bike is the right shape and size, some basic tips are to make sure both of the balls of your feet can touch the ground while seated, and have one to two inches between you and the bike frame.

You should also carefully consider what you’ll be using the bike for. If you’ll be hitting challenging trails, you’ll definitely need a mountain bike, but if you’ll mostly be cycling along the beach, you should be set with a road bike.

Also, before leaving the shop, give the bike a test ride to ensure that it’s a good fit and in proper working order.

Obey All Traffic Laws

When biking in Santa Cruz, it’s of the utmost importance to obey all traffic laws like stop signs, red lights and intersections. 

Don’t be the dummy running reds just because you’re on a bike! 

Mind the Joggers!

Since most bike trails in Santa Cruz are multi-use, be sure to watch out for walkers, joggers or anyone else enjoying the trail.

It’s common courtesy to say “on your left!” when passing, to give people a heads up rather than zooming on by.

And there ya have it: everything you need to know when it comes to biking Santa Cruz. Hopefully this guide helps you get your feet on some peddles and the wind whooshing through your hair!

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