A California Bike Overnight: Sacramento to San Francisco

We spent three nights traveling from Sacramento to Redwood City via the Napa Valley.

Bicycle Adventurers: Kathy, Kristen, and Mike (with us in spirit via the Internet)

When: June 1–4, 2017, Bike Travel Weekend

Accommodations: Lake Solano County Park and CampgroundBothe-Napa Valley SP - California State Parks, Motel 6 in Vallejo, California

Distance: 147 miles total in four days

Bonus tip for this adventure: Lake Berryessa and the Glory Hole, Lake Hennessey

Day One

We began our ride in the afternoon on the cobblestone streets of Old Town Sacramento. After crossing the Tower Bridge and riding through West Sacramento, we headed toward Davis via the I-80 bikeway. The estuary was full of waterfowl. As we were traveling in the same direction as the traffic, the noise was not as bad as when we have ridden against traffic in the past. 

Davis is a bicycle friendly college town. The ride between it and Winters was a combination of bike paths and quiet country roads although the heat was beginning to wear me down. A stop at the grocery store in Winters provided us with food for dinner that evening as well as breakfast and snacks for the next day. While at the store a concerned driver warned us of using Highway 128, as it was busy with rush hour traffic, and suggested the more rural Putah Creek Road as a way to get to the Lake Solano County Park. 

The campground at Lake Solano County Park was a welcome haven from the heat and traffic of the day. Our pitch was private and large; the showers were free and hot although I did share mine with a rather large spider. After setting up our tent and having dinner, we retreated to the tent and were asleep in short order. We would have stayed that way if it hadn't been peafowl mating season. The peacocks were crying out for the peahens, which would answer in their strange calls. This continued into the wee hours of the morning. After that, all we heard were the occasional calls of owls and frogs.

Day Two

Hoping to beat the heat, we began our ride at 7:30 AM. Our first five miles on highway 128 rolled gently, but on reaching the Lake Berryessa Dam, the real climbing began. We had three ridges to climb Friday and the first had the steepest grades, nearly 1000 feet over 4.5 miles. It wouldn't have been so bad, but there was little shade and for the most part, nowhere to rest on the shoulder. Mind you, I did manage to find at least seven spots to stop and catch my breath and cool down. Once at the top, we had an amazing two-mile downhill that was over all too soon. 

The second ridge was longer, but the grade was much gentler, seldom over 3%. While riding through a five-mile stretch, mostly flat before the next climb, we saw half a dozen turkey vultures circling. Kristen thought they might be riding a thermal, looking to gain some elevation. I thought that maybe we needed to move faster. Turns out they had been disturbed from their dinner of a deer at the side of the road — not a pretty sight. 

The third ridge was harder than the second, but easier than the first. I only had to stop twice. We past by Lake Hennessey which neither of us had heard of before this ride. It was here that we started to see day riders on their road bikes. Kristen remarked that the difference between our bikes were like the differences between sport cars and RVs. 

At the city of St. Helena, we stopped at a well stocked store for a late lunch of sushi, cake, cookies, and iced tea. After a rest at a local park, hoping to let the temperature drop before continuing into camp, we headed back to the Silverado Trail for the last seven miles to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Once again our campsite was private and flat even though there were far more campers than last night. While the showers weren't free, they were hot and clean. We were asleep before 9:00 PM.

Day Three (and Four)

After breaking camp on Saturday, we headed back to St. Helena for breakfast at the Model Bakery. The food was so wonderful that we decided to stop for lunch at their location at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. The Silverado Trail, with its wide shoulders and gentle grades, was a joy to ride to Yountville, where we were able to get on the Vine Trail. When completed, this trail will provide an off-highway route to explore the entire Napa Valley, running from Vallejo to Calistoga. The longest completed portion now is between Napa and Yountville, and we enjoyed every mile. 

After lunch in Napa, we followed the trail along the Napa River to Kennedy Park where we were routed onto surface roads. We traveled on frontage roads along highway 29 until near the Vallejo airport. It was here that we had to ride 3.5 miles along an the extremely busy highway until we could exit onto residential streets. While the traffic moved along at the 55 mph speed limit (or at least I would like to believe they weren't going faster), we had a wide shoulder that made it less frightening. 

Once in Vallejo we made our way to our hotel and enjoyed hot indoor showers and lots of soft towels that we didn't have to worry about hanging up to dry. After a meal at a nearby diner, it was back to the room to catch up on the weather report and news. The weather report was welcomed; the news I could have done without. 

Sunday morning, we were up early for a great diner breakfast and then on our bikes for the ride to the Vallejo ferry terminal and our trip to San Francisco. The boat had a well-planned bike area so that it was no great struggle to get the bikes on the hangers with the panniers stored below them. The ferry raced across the bay, passing Angel Island and Alcatraz, reaching a top speed of 42.2 mph. In an hour, we were in the city and making our way to the Embarcadero BART station for the ride to Millbrae at the end of the line. We choose BART instead of CalTrain because neither of us wanted to carry our fully loaded bikes up the steep stairs on the CalTrain. BART allowed us to just roll on and off. Once at the Millbrae station is was a beautiful ride along San Francisco Bay to Redwood City where Mike met us.

Your favorite local bike shop? Walt's Cycle, 116 Carroll Street, Sunnyvale, California 94086

Bike overnight tips and tricks?

  • My favorite gear on this trip is my Surly Disc Trucker, Vala. We have shared many adventures, and I never doubt her ability to carry me to my destination. Next would be my Garmin 800 that allows me to download my route from Rides with GPS.
  • While I mapped out the route and noted all the points of interest, Kristen took care of the day-to-day navigation. She used a Garmin 800 to keep us on route and to advise me of the elevation changes that were coming.


HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your own bike overnight adventure!

3 responses so far ↓

James Hobbs - Dec 25, 2017 at 6:16 AM

Thank you for sharing your article of your cycling adventure, it was very enjoyable to read,and the route you had taken has lots of variety and interests along its way! With lovely countryside lakes and mountain climbs! what more could you ask for if the weather is nice. J Hobbs. UK.

Laura - Dec 28, 2017 at 3:21 PM

Great writeup Kathy! Sounds like a great trip, but for the heat. Me NO like the heat!

Kathy - Dec 28, 2017 at 5:28 PM

We are especially happy that we did not cancel our trip that my husband Mike broke his ankle. The area we rode in on the second day was extensively burned in the October wine country fires.

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