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Drive from Napa/Sonoma to Santa Cruz avoiding traffic

Drive from Napa/Sonoma to Santa Cruz avoiding traffic

Jun 3rd, 2007, 11:38 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2007
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Drive from Napa/Sonoma to Santa Cruz avoiding traffic

My best friend from college and I are taking a road trip up and down the California coast in a few weeks to celebrate our 40th birthdays - I can't wait! I've planned most of the trip, but I thought I'd send the forum a few questions over the next week or so to firm up some details. So here goes: If I'm leaving the Napa/Sonoma area around 3:00pm on a Thursday and driving to Santa Cruz, what is the best route to avoid rush hour traffic? Some posts on the site mentioned 101 to 85 to 17 or 101 to 92W to 280S to 17, but mapquest has a route going 101 to 580E to 980W to 880S to 17. We don't care about a scenic route for this part - we're just trying to get from point A to point B. Thanks!
lsims is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 12:14 PM
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101 to 85 to 17. You'll hit commute traffic at that time on any route but I do think this one will be better than the others. The 580 to 880 that time of day will be ugly.
TTess is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 01:08 PM
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Take 101 to the Golden Gate Bridge. Go to the right hand toll lanes. When you're through, stay in the right lane until you see the right turn signs for 19th Ave./Presidio (not very far). Take 19th Ave. & stay on it until it turns into 280. Follow 280 south to 85, then 17.

If you stay on 101 after the bridge, you'll have to drive through The City, and you'll get stuck in commute outbound traffic going south on 101, which is terrible! If you take the 580-980-880 route, you'll be driving through the East Bay, which is even worse!
Marinette is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 02:15 PM
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I would leave earlier or later.
mjs is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 02:40 PM
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Marinette's directions are the best ones. I live in Santa Cruz and have family in Sonoma, so I make this trip often.

To repeat, cross the GG Bridge, in the right lane. Get off at the first exit, you will be on Park Presidio Drive. This crosses Golden Gate Park and then you are on 19th Avenue. This does go through the city, but is 2 or 3 lanes wide, and the lights are timed.

This automatically takes you to Highway 280, which is an 8 lane (sometimes 10) freeway which goes through beautiful scenery, and behind Stanford University. We have never hit heavy traffic here.

At Sunnyvale take the Hwy 85 exit and follow that for a few miles to Hwy 17 and on into Santa Cruz.

You may run into traffic around San Rafael and on across the bridge, but you are generally going the opposite way of the commute. However, if you don't leave until 3 you will be in the 4 o'clock traffic around the bridge.
jtrandolph is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 02:53 PM
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I agree with the 280 to 85 to 17 route. That's what we do from SF too. There is no way to avoid commute traffic at that time, but this will probably be your best bet.
J_Correa is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 03:21 PM
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Thanks for the info, everyone - I knew it wasn't the most ideal time of day to travel, but we wanted to get to Santa Cruz and ride the Giant Dipper on the Boardwalk before it closed for the evening at 7pm!
lsims is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 07:11 PM
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Those are good directions from Sonoma but if you are in Napa, it's best to take 29 to 12 to 80 to 680 to 280 to 17. You would go thru Benecia, Walnut Creek, and Dublin to San Jose. Most of the time the commuter traffic will be going the other way except from Walnut Creek to Dublin and then on 12 to Santa Cruz. That part will be ugly. Good luck! Also, no tolls that way.
Supercilious is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2007, 09:53 PM
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Take 101, 280, 85 and then 17. Beware that the 17 has only two lanes and you can easily get stuck there. Also, there is no car-pool lane along most of the 17.

Traffic in the east bay and around East San Jose/Milpitas is unbearable.
Barkinpark is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 04:06 PM
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Actually Hwy 17 has two lanes in each direction, with a barrier between. The way to get stuck is to get behind a slow truck or go at a time when valleyites are heading over the hill for the beach.
jtrandolph is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 05:57 PM
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Living in Napa area, we have found the same route as supercilious to be best.
Take 29 south to 37. Go east on 37 to 80 (toward San Francisco). In Vallejo, take 780 east to 680. Go south 680 toward San Jose. Traffic is ok if you leave Napa by 2PM or 6PM. In between, you never know - could be fine, could be slow,
elnap29 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 10:14 PM
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Yes, elnap29 - we find the hwy 12 route about 5-10 minutes faster than the I780 route in Vallejo. But, both are good.

What's bothersome is that for some reason, the traffic at 3pm on Thursdays can be horrific. I don't know why for sure but maybe a lot of people are on a 4 day work week and Thursday is gettaway day.
Supercilious is offline  
Jun 4th, 2007, 10:31 PM
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Sorry, I find the East Bay route recommended by supercilious and elnap to be non scenic, out of the way and dull with no redeeming qualities.

Even if you are leaving from Napa, take 121 to 12 to 37 to 101 and across the Golden Gate Bridge to 280 to 85 to 17.

Trust me. I live in Santa Cruz, I grew up in Sonoma, I have family there and make this trip on a regular basis.
jtrandolph is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 09:30 AM
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Thanks, everyone - we're spending the night in Calistoga the night before and want to visit a few wineries that day before we leave for Santa Cruz, but we haven't narrowed down the list enough to know whether we'll be in Napa or Sonoma right before we begin the drive. I'll print out your various driving suggestions and bring them with me!
lsims is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 12:04 PM
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I certainly don't want to argue with jtrandolph who makes the trip regularly and enjoys his/her route. But, Isims is not from the area and while the Golden Gate Bridge is certainly scenic, driving on city streets through San Francisco at 4:30 in the afternoon is not pleasurable. Unfortunately, there is no North-South freeway through the city.

The East Bay route is interstate all the way from Cordelia to San Jose and although it will be heavy with traffic it's safer and shorter than the SF route from Napa.

We take this route all the time when we go to Sharks games and would never consider the alternative.
Supercilious is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 12:25 PM
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I would skip the napa wineries, leave by mid/ late morning and spend more time in Santa Cruz area.
trippinkpj is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 12:37 PM
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South of Santa Cruz is a little beach town - Capitola- it is really a cute town with lots of shops and restaurants on the water - was there over Mothers Day- its really a cute town so check it out - however looks like parking can be a problem- we parked a few blocks from the downtown area and walked into the central part of town-
sunbum1944 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2007, 12:45 PM
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Supercilious--driving from the bridge to 280 on Park Presidio/19th Ave. is not the same as driving through downtown SF streets--I'm sure you weren't intending to imply such. Park Presido and 19th are both divided roads with six lanes and although there can be heavy traffic, driving this route is not difficult even for someone not familiar with the area.
SAB is offline  
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