We flew down the twisty mountain road in a metallic gray VW Jetta. The wheels screeching tightly to the apex as I took the corner holding the steering wheel at 9 & 3 o’clock. Yes I was taught to drive this way at a rally school back in Sydney (Australia). The Jetta was a hire car. The surroundings screamed past us as I demonstrated to my friend how to take the apex on sharp corners for a smoother tight turn. Then we noticed a group of bicycle riders heading straight toward us. Well this is odd, I said. What are they doing on our side of the road. Oh crap, “we” are on the wrong side of the road. I jabbed the steering wheel to the right to get the car back onto the “right” lane. As soon as we did this a car zoomed round the corner on the right side of the road. We avoided a collision. Missed by that much.
You may already know this but in America everyone drives on the “right” side of the road. In Australia it is the left side. Today about 66.1% of the world’s people live in right-hand traffic countries and 33.9% in left-hand traffic countries. Being Australian I fell into the 33.9%. However it was time to adjust to the 66.1% and learn to drive on the right side of the road. In the beginning it takes some getting to used to. I found that having a non-Australia passenger in the car helped. Every time I would drift to the left (wrong side of the road) I would be instantly slapped back into gear avoiding another collision.
Unfortunately in the story above I was with another Australian and thus for us being on the left hand side felt comfortable so no internal alarms were set off until we noticed strange traffic patterns. I love telling that story because we spent so much time on the wrong side of the road feeling all comfortable until a shock later and we learnt one valuable lesson.
Roads are wide and big
One of the 1st things you will notice in Silicon Valley and well America in general, are that the roads are massive. Kramer (from Seinfeld) wasn’t exaggerating when he adopted a piece of the American freeway and showed us how wide the lanes are. They are huge here. You can practically dance around in your car on one. Not only that, most freeways have 4-5 lanes each way. That in comparison to Sydney (Australia) where the Sydney Orbital (freeway that takes traffic around Sydney) is 2 lanes each way – that explains the traffic issues!
Major roads in the valley
There are 3 major roads you can travel up and down the valley. They are, starting from the left (see map above in green):
a. 280 – Interstate 280 (I-280) is a 57 mile (92 km) long north–south Interstate Highway in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California. It connects San Jose and San Francisco, running along just to the west of the cities of San Francisco Peninsula for most of its route. This is what I call the sceanic route and you get to see the fog roll into the valley over the mountains – looks scary & beautiful when it’s happening (see pic below).
b. El Camino Real – El Camino Real (Spanish for The Royal Road, also known as The King’s Highway) runs between the 280 and 101 through all the major cities in the valley. It is the road to take if you intend to do some shopping / food hopping during your drive.
c. 101 – U.S. Route 101 (US 101) is one of the last remaining and longest U.S. Routes still active in the state, and the longest highway of any kind in California. From San Jose to San Francisco, Highway 101 is known as the Bayshore Freeway as it passes through Palo Alto and the other major communities along the San Francisco Peninsula.
When going to San Francisco for dinner or to party I like to take the 101 if I want to get there quicker or the 280 if I’m in the mood for a scenic drive. On the 280 you will get to see a lot of eagles (American National Emblem) and that famous fog San Francisco is so famous for. The fog starts rolling in around 5-6ish in the afternoon as demonstrated in the pic below.
American’s drive fast
Yes it’s true. American’s drive fast on both 280 & 101. I have a heavy foot but still find myself trying to keep up to the average traffic speed of 80 miles (128 km) per hour. In America as long as you are not driving dangerously a cop wont bug you. That sort of explains the mutual traffic flow at high speeds – mutual agreement. I love it.
So you have 3 roads to choose from when heading up and down the valley. This is great and has the power to beat boredom by allowing you to alternate your routes and keep the drive different. Now that you know your roads, here’s to safe and happy driving!