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Walking San Benito: San Juan Valley

This is the thirteenth in a series of articles in which local adventurer Jim Ostdick will introduce readers to the many walking opportunities throughout San Benito County.
The Luck Museum, home to the San Juan Bautista Historical Society. Photo by Jim Ostdick
Road sign near the Coke Farms. Photo by Jim Ostdick
Busy farms line San Justo Road. Photo by Jim Ostdick
Aromatic berry huts. Photo by Jim Ostdick
Pinnacle Farms on Duncan Road. Photo by Jim Ostdick
More berries! Photo by Jim Ostdick
Volcanoes (extinct, thank goodness). Photo by Jim Ostdick
Happy horse on Freitas Road. Photo by Jim Ostdick
Someone's been choppin' away, row by row. Photo by Jim Ostdick
Food: why we hike! Photo by Jim Ostdick

Newcomers to San Benito County may be unaware that much of the land where the towns of San Juan Bautista and Hollister are situated today was once under water -twice under water, actually. Those rich, productive farm soils in the San Juan Valley formed at the bottom of Lake San Benito and Lake San Juan way back in the Pleistocene epoch some 200,000 years ago. If you want to learn more about how all that happened and how long the lakes lasted, watch the slide show attached to the end of this article. If you want to take a walking tour of today’s San Juan Valley, read on.

On a somewhat toasty Tuesday morning, I parked near the Luck Museum in San Juan Bautista and started walking out of town on First Street toward Prescott Road. Local bicyclists are familiar with this route as a safer alternative to Hwy 156 between Union Road and The Alameda. Turning right on Prescott past True Leaf Farms, I was soon hoofing it along San Justo Road (facing traffic for safety) with great views of the Lomerias Muertas (the Barren Hills) to the north and Fremont Peak to the south. Depending on the season in this stretch, you might see artichokes or apples or peppers or berries or Lord knows what kind of fruit or vegetable growing here before the big “S” turn at Lucy Brown Road. The folks on this route stay busy.

Continuing east on Duncan Road from the “S” turn, I passed the driveway to Pinnacle Farms on the left (site of the Foster’s Saturday farmer’s market) and some exquisite, shade-protected berry huts on the right. The sweet scent of the ripening strawberries was intoxicating. Off to the north, just beyond the tree line marking the San Benito River, I could barely make out leftover terraces of the Pleistocene lakes at the base of the hills.

At the Bixby Road intersection, I stopped for a water break to take in the beautiful view of Santa Ana Peak and the Three Sisters. These cone-shaped peaks are remnants of a volcanic island arc that was once at the bottom of the ocean long before San Benito County came to be. Deep underground, beneath the valley sediments on which I stood, sit the basement basalt and serpentinite rocks attached to that island arc, all that is left of the ancient, now-buried ocean floor. Just ahead, on the left side of Bixby, what did I see? Palm trees for sale! I had discovered San Benito County’s geological memorial beach!

Turning left on Freitas, heading east toward Flint Road, there were more berry huts and trimmed fields of broccoli and strikingly landscaped haciendas with well-tended gardens and horses. By the time I got to Mitchell Road, I was more than a little hungry. I was ready to sit my sweaty self on a barstool at Chillin’ and Grillin’ and enjoy some grub. This seven-mile Tuesday morning amble was two hours and twenty minutes well spent. And Chillin’ and Grillin’ was a perfect place to end the hike.

To get back to my truck, I used the Dial-a-Ride service provided by the San Benito County Express. For stately gray, honorable senior citizens like me, it only costs $1.25. If you’re a young whippersnapper sort of hiker, you might have to pay a few cents more. Or, you could always organize a car shuttle with a partner. Either way, the walking is good, there are lots of things to see and learn about, and you get to claim another little piece of the county as yours. Pretty soon, you know, if you keep this up, you will have walked from Aromas to Tres Pinos and beyond.

A friendly reminder: the farms and houses along these roads are all private property. Trespassing is illegal and foolish. As my bright, savvy, young friends like to say, “Stay in yo lane.”

And please, my friends do not litter.

For a location map of this hike, please click here.

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Jim Ostdick (Palomino Dream)

Jim Ostdick is a retired Earth Science teacher and travel writer. A resident of San Juan Bautista since 2005, Ostdick's primary interests are California geology, energy conservation, outdoor recreation, and human-powered travel. He is the author of Palomino and the Dream Machine: A Retired Dude's Bicycle Tour Around the Lower Forty-Eight United States (, 2015) and Palomino Nation: My 2016 Crazyass Walk Across America (, 2017). Palomino Dream blog Palomino and the Dream Machine Palomino Nation


Jim, I've really been enjoying your articles on walking San Benito County, sometimes in areas we often drive but miss the sensory details one gets from walking. Having taken a quarter of geology for non-majors in college, I particularly enjoy your comments about the geological features surrounding us here in SBC. As my husband and I age, we are less interested in summiting peaks and grueling hikes than in studying the flora and fauna on the trails. "The sweet scent of the ripening strawberries was intoxicating" really resonated with me as it conjured memories of bicycling along Natividad and Old Stage Road with our kids when we lived in Salinas.

Palomino Dream's picture
Submitted by Jim Ostdick (Palomino Dream) on

Thank you, Wanda. Some people say that age is just a number. I am reminded of a quote from former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka:

"It's all mental except the physical part."

Keep on hiking,


I second Wanda's comments. Your geology lessons pique my curiosity and the next thing you know I am pulling out my geology text from Webb and Norris. On plant ecology field trips, the first thing my professor would ask the students was "tell me about the geology we just drove through." We talked about plants later, geology first. Geology defines the life around it and we just have to look for it like you do.

My wife and I have driven this route for 35 years and I never thought to hike it. We have watched that pomegrante hedge on San Justo Road grow from seedlings to producing trees. We have also watched the destruction of the apple orchards on Bixby Road. Hopefully on a slow Tuesday morning the Team Le Mans commuters are not out practicing their maneuvers through the "S" chicanes.

When you started this series, I thought "how many hikes in this county are there?" I figured 4 or 5 tops. Now I am eagerly awaiting number 14. Keep up the excellent work!


--William McCarey

Palomino Dream's picture
Submitted by Jim Ostdick (Palomino Dream) on

Thanks! My first Geology professor had this quote taped to his office door:

"Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice." - Will Durant

That's a little snooty, I know, but there is truth to it. 

Keep on hiking,


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