Humble Hwy 280

I know you are probably wondering who writes an article about a highway? And that too one that many of us in the Bay Area drive on every day to get to and back from work. But I tell you, I love Hwy 280! Stanford University has called Hwy 280 The Most Beautiful Urban Highway in America, and I concur.  Especially the stretch from Sunnyvale (right where Fwy 85 and Hwy 280 intersect) all the way up to San Francisco. This stretch of Hwy 280 is absolutely beautiful.


I’ve lived in the Bay Area for over two decades now, 25 years to be exact, and I have driven on Hwy 280 hundreds of times. Every single time I drive on this freeway it never seizes to amaze me how beautiful the scenery is on this stretch of highway 280. Tall majestic green mountains on one side, and rolling hills and pastures on the other side are always a welcome sight; as compared to the usual buildings and concrete structures you see on other freeways.


The rolling hills and pastures change color from emerald green in the winter from all the rains, to a golden yellow in the summer. No matter what time of year I look at these hills they look beautiful to me.


As I drive past Palo Alto I watch for the cows that graze on the rolling hills. These cows always look so happy to be wandering carefree on miles of open land. I found out that they belong to Stanford University’s agricultural program.

Speaking of Stanford University, the University owns over 8100 acres of foothills and pastures in the center of the San Francisco Peninsula which is around Hwy 280 near Palo Alto, Atherton, and all the way up north towards South San Francisco. About 60 percent of Stanford’s land remains as open space. They have chosen to designate this land as “green space” which means there can be no development on that land. That is probably why in the last 20 years that I have driven on this stretch of Hwy 280, I have never seen a new building or new housing development, or any commercial mall pop up on this stretch. In all these years no new development!  It’s unbelievable in an area like the Bay Area where land is at a premium, and you are constantly hearing about farms and orchards getting bought out by developers for new housing or commercial developments.


I recall a local news story last year about Stanford University wanting to sell off a few acres of their land off Hwy 280 near Palo Alto. There was major out cry from the community as everyone was worried developers would buy up the land and invariably turn this beautiful green space into some new mall, or housing development. The community petitioned Stanford University to take it off the market. Stanford was not selling their land for monetary purposes (Their endowment grew to $21.4 billion last year), but they were selling those few acres more to diminish the amount of land they held in their possession. Stanford did listen to the community and took that land off the market, and it is still preserved as green space today.


Photo: Joggers on Dish trail

There are a few popular hiking trails and sights on this stretch of Hwy 280. Starting with what is affectionately called “The Dish.”  This area near Palo Alto is a hiking trail that runs over the hills where Stanford University has their radio telescope for research. Some portions of this space are devoted to habitat conservation, and Stanford’s Conservation Biology Program is using The Dish area to restore it back to its original native habitat.

For the community, The Dish is a popular hiking and jogging trail which is open all year until sunset.


Driving past Palo Alto you can exit Page Mill Road and Sand Hill Road to see Stanford University.  You can check out popular destinations such as the out door shopping mall Stanford Shopping Center, and you can go to University Avenue with it’s huge selection of restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, boutiques, and ice cream parlors.


Filoli Gardens is also off Hwy 280. Filoli Gardens is a historic mansion with beautiful gardens that are open to the public. You take Edgewood Road to get to Filoli Gardens. Edgewood road runs parallel to Hwy 280 and is another popular hiking trail.


After you pass Palo Alto and the Portola Valley area of Hwy 280, you come upon a portion of the San Andreas Fault which runs parallel to Hwy 280 closer to the mountains.  This portion of the fault is actually a beautiful lake. You take the Hwy 92 exit and then turn left or right to see San Andreas Lake.

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San Andreas Lake and Crystal Springs Reservoir off Hwy 92, are always full of water.  San Andreas Lake (from which the fault takes its name) is actually a “sag pond” that naturally formed in the valley of the San Andreas Fault. Strike slip faults are good places for lakes since the fault creates a low spot to collect water and grinds up the rock underneath, making an impermeable layer to hold the water in.

There is a popular biking trail that runs alongside the lake and a small bridge that crosses over the lake as you drive towards Half Moon Bay.  Many times I have stopped off the road at this bridge to take a look at the beautiful scenery. With the surrounding hills reflected in their mirror like water, it is always a beautiful sight.


San Francisco Utilities Commission has enlarged San Andreas Lake with a dam and created two additional lakes in the same area, Upper and Lower Crystal Springs Reservoirs. The dam holding the reservoirs in place is under a bridge off highway 280.

Crystal Springs Reservoir

Pulgas Water Temple is a local tourist attraction that you can visit on the West side of Canada Road, which is also off Hwy 280. This is a monument that was built to commemorate the 24-year water project to bring water from the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California to San Francisco and the surrounding areas. Check out my earlier post on our visit to the Pulgas Water Temple.

Pulgas Water Temple

From this point on you are getting closer to San Francisco. A few miles past Crystal Springs you reach San Francisco Airport. As you drive by the hills of South San Francisco, on a clear day you will catch glimpses of the bay.  Continuing northbound on Hwy 280 you finally reach San Francisco at which point you can choose to fork off onto either 19th Ave towards Golden Gate Park and Golden Gate Bridge, or drive towards the Embarcadero and the Bay Bridge.


I love driving on Hwy 280. In fact, when I pick up visitors and relatives from San Francisco Airport I always make it a point to take Hwy 280 back home; I might as well enjoy my one-hour drive to and from the airport. I also encourage visitors who rent their own cars to take Hwy 280, and I have always received the best accolades.


Our humble Hwy 280 is not just a freeway to get from one place to another, but a highway that makes me realize how beautiful Mother Nature is that even when she is cut through with such a mundane man made concrete structure as a highway, her shining beauty comes through.


Hwy 280 – you really are a beautiful urban highway.

For more information on Hwy 280, Stanford University, Filoli Gardens and all the sights off Hwy 280 check out these web sites.   Filoli Gardens   The Dish   The San Andreas Fault and the Bay Area   Pulgas Water Temple


11 thoughts on “Humble Hwy 280”

  1. I agree with Rose. Only you can write on a subject like Highway 280 and make it interesting!
    I enjoy driving on that stretch of the freeway towards the Stanford property. It is very pretty.

    Thanks for the information on other places.Will go see those in summer.

  2. U are doing great with your Topics selections … Infrastructure is the Key to Development and Progress . Also , Good Roads benefit the Travel and Tourism Industry …. It is not that it is Highway or my Wy – It is going all the Way – you are doing great with your tips on Cuisine , Gardening , Books , travel and now this ….so proud of you .

  3. What a refreshing observation! Thank you, once again, for giving your audience a fresh perspective and a new appreciation for such a mundane topic as Highway 280! I was smiling as I read this piece because only YOU can inject interest in such a topic.😜 Thanks for such an informative article and for sharing your enthusiasm and urging us to see the beauty of what surrounds us!

  4. Dolly — For Transportation Engineers , ambitious Entrepreneurs , City Planners etc – Highways is a Topic of enormous interest .. They are your Inter County and inter city Connectors . I once did a project on” Roads ” when I was working for a Research Firm , the Birlas wanted to build Highways all across India modeled on Germany’s “auoto bahns” .. Highways reduce Travel Time enormously besides providing great scenic Delight of Tall Trees and running Brooks . In Europe , Highways are very popular and one travels from London to Barcelona or from Paris to Rome etc with great ease and comfort . India needs more of these Highways ….

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