I live in California but as many
times as I’ve left my heart in San Francisco, I have never
taken the time to explore the postcard-worthy destinations in nearby
San Mateo County. After a spending a few days in “The City,”
my husband, Rick, and I rented a car at the airport and headed south
on Highway 101, following the east side of the Peninsula. We sped
past the bustling cities and developed areas, opting to check them
out on our return trip if time permitted.
Cutting across the peninsula on Highway
92, we discovered that the region was unexpectedly rural, with occasional
smatterings of homes hidden among the groves of trees. The sun-drenched
hills were interrupted by verdant riverbeds and a patchwork of fields
of vegetables and colorful flowers. Were we really in California,
one of the most populated states in the nation? We had been on the
road less than an hour; and yet it was like entering another world.
As the hills gradually gave way to
the wind-worn land rimming the Pacific Ocean, the road ended at
Highway One. Whether you turn north or south, there are miles of
unspoiled beaches and bluffs in both directions. Driving along Highway
One or hiking one of the countless trails leading down the bluffs
to marine preserves where tide pools team with sea critters is a
experience in quality of life. Add to this a charming assortment
of villages, wineries, farms and ranches, and you have a taste of
what’s available on the west side of San Mateo County.
It was a pleasant surprise to find
this kind of undeveloped beauty so close to one of the most visited
cities on the planet. This is farm country, a rural coastal setting
not-to-be-found anywhere else on earth. Flowers grown here are shipped
all over the country, as are the strawberries, artichokes, cabbage,
and a variety of other produce.
While the choices of what to see
and do here are endless, these were some of our favorites:
HALF MOON BAY
Less than an hour’s drive from
the city of San Francisco, the “village” is located
slightly inland. Allow an hour or more to wander around the little
town. From antiques, collectibles and art galleries, to a kitchenware
store, wine and cheese shop, and clothing boutiques, there are plenty
of places to spend time browsing.
There are a quite few places to stay, including the fabulous Ritz-Carlton
to the south of town, and the charming Beach House Hotel on Pacific
Coast Highway just north of Half Moon Bay. Both properties are situated
at the ocean’s edge and have magnificent views.
The seafood served at Half Moon Bay’s
numerous restaurants is, of course, fresh. In fact, eateries throughout
San Mateo County feature menus that incorporate vegetables and fruits
grown on local farms. Clams, shrimp, mussels and fish are caught
in local waters and delivered to restaurants throughout the area.
This is an area of the United States where the “leave-a-small-footprint”
and sustainable tourism principles are practiced by both the locals
Try the CETRELLA BISTRO AND CAFÉ
in “downtown” Half Moon Bay, which has an eclectic menu
incorporating regional products into its delicious cuisine. Cetrella
offers a wine cellar of between 3500 and 4000 bottles of the finest
offerings. Not to be missed as a delicious appetizer are the fried
artichokes served with garlic aioli.
For an evening reminiscent of Jolly
Old England, stop by CAMERON’S PUB AND INN. Owned and operated
by Cameron and Lisa Palmer, the historic building has a fascinating
past. It was a speakeasy during the years of Prohibition, and Al
Capone’s sister reputedly used it as a gambling house. Even
more colorful is the story of the three upstairs rooms, now beautifully
decorated and rented out to guests. These quarters once served as
a tiny brothel. The grub and grog at Cameron’s are great,
and the unique décor includes a 2000-plus beer can collection.
HALF MOON BAY BREWING COMPANY is
situated in Princeton-by-the-Sea just minutes from downtown Half
Moon Bay. The award-winning brewing company concocts eight of its
own beers on the premises. Don’t miss the salmon served with
strawberry salsa. Fabulous! My favorite appetizer was the Ceviche.
For someone who’s not a “fish person,” I was amazed
that I enjoyed these flavorful dishes so much.
Treat yourself to a breath-taking
ocean view, while enjoying a scrumptious meal at the MOSS BEACH
DISTILLERY, located a few minutes northwest of the small airport
on Highway One. The unpretentious restaurant overlooks a portion
of the famous Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and offers spectacular panoramas
from most tables throughout the dining room.
Enter if you dare, for the Moss Beach
Distillery is haunted. Featured on “Unsolved Mysteries,”
the Legend of the Blue Lady recounts the death of a trio of ghosts,
a story which includes sex, betrayal, and death that left the unsettled
specters wandering the old speakeasy for all time. In addition to
the tasty fare served in the restaurant, people come to attend séances
in the hope of contacting, or even seeing, one of the resident apparitions.
We were there on a misty day, with swirls of fog hovering on top
of the sea cliffs. And yet, not a single bar stool moved, unless
a flesh and blood customer sat on it — or the prankster bartender
pressed the button that makes a rigged-up stool move “on its
ANO NUEVO STATE RESERVE
This is the world’s largest
mainland breeding colony for the thousands of elephant seals that
converge at Ano Nuevo each year. The best time to see the mating
and calving rituals is between December and April, but hordes of
the large sea mammals can be seen here throughout the year.
JAMES FITZGERALD MARINE RESERVE
Extending along the coast for three
miles and into the ocean for 1000 feet, the James Fitzgerald Marine
Reserve is a continuous series of tide pools containing an abundance
of sea life.
PESCADERO MARSH STATE BEACH
This is a good place to snap photos
of seals sprawled across the big rock platforms catching the warming
rays of the sun. With over 200 species of bird recorded at this
500-acre natural preserve, it’s also very popular for bird
watchers and other nature lovers.
At 100-feet-high, Pigeon Point is
home to one of the tallest lighthouses in the nation. Built in 1872,
it’s still used by the U. S. Coast Guard for navigation purposes.
Gray whales can be seen from this picturesque spot between January
and April as they make their annual migration between Alaska and
Several bungalows are situated on
a bluff adjacent to the lighthouse. In spite of the fact that they’re
operated as hostels and are extremely inexpensive, the accommodations
are a far cry from roughing it. Pigeon Point is a popular location
for artists, photographers, and anyone else who want a magnificent,
unobstructed ocean view.